Is art self-evident: a leader’s perspective

Does art and the humanities hold a place for today’s leaders? This is a question posed to me during the past couple of weeks as I participated in a management class taught in New York this summer. We tend to think in terms of bottom-lines and metrics when it comes to management in many venues; performance is key. Instead of inquiring as to how we can enhance the experience , we want to know what is the  ROI of a proposal, what is the story from test/survey scores, and what’s in it for me?

Who decides what art is?

The reality is that we have plenty to learn from the world around us. While exploring at the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) earlier in the week. The Docent guiding our tour said something profound in her introductory comment, “Art is not self-evident.” Whether you consider something art or crap, it is up to you as the beholder to determine its value.

We were shown a piece of found art that consisted of a bicycle wheel pushed through a chair. My immediate reaction was, “what the heck is this garbage?” I saw nothing in it and considered it a joke, especially when the Docent told us that this was actually not even the original piece, as it was thrown out years earlier.

When she asked what I thought of it, I did not hold back (its that whole internal monologue thing). She simply smiled and said that my visceral reaction was exactly what she was looking for. Whether or not I liked it, the piece demanded a reaction from me. The Docent then showed me how the piece could also be interpreted by looking at its shadow, which resembled a wheelchair. Suddenly, this piece of refuse had become something important.

One of the authors I studied during the management class was Ayn Rand; specifically The Fountainhead.  Ayn Rand would have disagreed with the concept of art not being self-evident. Her philosophy of objectivism was such that everything is discoverable. A painting is simply a depiction of a moment in time that is not up to interpretation by others.

Groupthink tank

The same can be said for leaders who only seek opinions that match their own. Open up the possibilities through continued knowledge and understanding. By surrounding yourself with people who think the same as you, growth stagnates. Innovation and creativity is destroyed under these circumstances. Dissenting opinions are crucial to understand why the bicycle wheel is art rather than garbage.

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