Artistry Unleashed


Full Title: Artistry Unleashed: A Guide to Pursuing Great Performance in Work and LifeArtistry Unleashed: A Guide to Pursuing Great Performance in Work and Life by Hilary Austen
Author: Hilary Austen
Publisher: University of Toronto Press (2010)
Number of Pages: 199
How long it took me to read: 3 weeks
Where I got this book: received a signed copy upon registering for an event to listen to the author speak
ISBN: 978-1-4426-4130-3
Extras: A BBC podcast with Dean Martin and Professor Austen discussing Business Design and Artistry Unleashed in the Workplace, as well as a 3 minute video with Austen discussing why ‘life is not a single-answer problem.’

Like a Moth to a Flame

My alma mater was hosting an alumni event in San Francisco. I attended one once before in London, England. Although I didn’t find the English reunion particularly inspiring, the title of the book being showcased at this West Coast event was intriguing. I thought it might have the potential to help me come to grips with the phenomenon encircling me in my professional life, one in which ‘strategy’ has become synonymous with ‘creativity.’

It seems that if you don’t come up with something different, you won’t be around for long, regardless of your industry of choice. After all, how much can a broken wheel be reinvented before even the wheel decides to give up? Tested ideas are based on yesterday afternoon’s industry standards, and expectations change wildly overnight. I wonder, is there a formula that can set free the original ideas? I’m not one for math, but even I would consider memorizing that one.

Favorite Five

Whittling 13 down to 5…I propose that the top 5 quotes from this book are:

5. “Efficiency, mechanization, standardization, and automation are powerful forces that drive production, convenience, and reliability. Yet, while these sophisticated systems enhance our lives, allowing us to do more than any of us working alone could do, they also erect an insidious barrier…Protocols replace feel; rules replace personal judgment; policy replaces the active creation of balance. Convenience stands between us and the opportunity to engage, in a word, artistry.” (pp.4-5)

4. “In our goal-oriented society, artistry defies conventional wisdom. The harder you try to make it happen, the more elusive it becomes. Artistry emerges when you pursue a connection, or a feel for a discipline, rather than when you pursue particular goals. It comes to people who make judgements in response to change, rather than those who depend on the skills learned in yesterday’s lesson.” (p.21)

3. “…the most difficult problems we face are the ones that push us to the edge of what we know. Many people like to say that such problems occur more often or faster in today’s world than ever before. But every population that’s ever worked to push forward past the edge of certainty has felt the same daunting challenge.” (p.3)

2. “Balance and artistry do not coexist. Working with artistry means grappling with the interplay between mastery and originality in practice on an ongoing basis. In this effort, you will find yourself continually working your way from one extreme to the other, passing through happy moments of perfect balance that can be expressed in what you do, make, and say.” (p.111)

…and my pick for the No.1 quote is…

1. “When your efforts run in the face of conventional wisdom and accepted mastery, persistence can look like madness. If you succeed in the end, this extreme originality reformulates into a new level of mastery, sometimes even genius; if you fail in the end, you remain a madman in the eyes of others, and maybe even yourself. When you are in the midst of the journey…there’s really no way of knowing which one you are.” (p.129)

New Words

Words are wondrous creatures. Put them together and they paint a picture. Rearrange them and the scene changes. But to be able to see what they are saying, we must first know what they mean.

New Word: stultifying (adjective)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): [of the verb] 1) prove to be of unsound mind or demonstrate someone’s incompetence; 2) cause to appear foolish; 3) deprive of strength or efficiency, make useless or worthless
Synonyms: cripple, negate, quell
Origins: 1766; allege to be of unsound mind (legal term); from Late Latin ‘stultificare’ turn into foolishness; from Latin ‘stultus’ foolish + root of ‘facere’ to make; meaning cause to appear foolish or absurd is from 1809.
As in: “…spreadsheets aren’t as stultifying as creative types make them out to be; they truly are powerful tools to help us solve part of the problem.” (p.4)

New Word: redolent (adjective)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) having a strong pleasant odor; 2) (used with ‘of ‘ or ‘with’) noticeably odorous; 3) serving to bring to mind
Synonyms: 1) aromatic; 2) smelling; 3) evocative, remindful, reminiscent, resonant
Origins: 1300’s; from Old French ‘redolent’ emitting an odor; from Latin ‘redolentem,’ prp. of ‘redolere’ emit a scent; from ‘re-,’ intensive prefix + ‘olere’ give off a smell
As in: “Redolent of wild fennel and marjoram, the streets are bounded by medieval courtyard walls encircling kitchen gardens where potatoes, onions, zucchini, and tomatoes grow in the soft maritime climate brought in from the Gulf of Spezia.” (p.43)

New Word: perspicacity (noun)

Definition (Source: WordBook iPhone App): 1) intelligence manifested by being astute (as in business dealings); 2) the capacity to assess situations or circumstances shrewdly and to draw sound conclusions
Synonyms: 1) shrewdness, astuteness, perspicaciousness; 2) sound judgment
Origins: [of the adjective] First attested 1548, from ‘perspicacitas’ discernment; from Latin ‘perspicax’ sharp-sighted; from ‘perspicio’ look through
As in: “‘This intimate knowledge, made possible by years of close association with the organism McClintock studies, is a prerequisite for her extraordinary perspicacity.’” (p.166)

Conversation with the Reader

While I read, I write, and as I write, I read. Here’s some of what I wrote while I read this book:

“If someone were to ask me whether I saw myself as an artist, my immediate response would be, ‘No.’ How could I be so audacious as to place myself among the ranks of Michelangelo and Dalí. Who am I to declare my work, my contribution—regardless of how grand it may appear in my mind—as being in any way unique to this world?

“But hold on. Unique. Uniqueness. Individuality. Snowflakes. Perceptions. Experiences—not one the same as the other. Maybe all it takes is courage. Do I have the strength to the fight self-doubt? Do I have the faith in myself to make the decision that feels right? It seems to me that if I’m willing to be true to myself, to act with integrity and pay respect to things that matter to me (particularly to the ones that don’t make sense), then that gives me the tools to creative something different. Maybe that means I might be an artist after all.

“Artists create—they create from within. They tap into the inner vision gurgling, boiling, eventually erupting from inside of them. They manifest their imaginations into their realities. Artistry is creativity. It’s creation. The mastery of artistry comes when we can collaborate consciously with inspiration, and for that to happen, we first must acknowledge that not everything will make sense along the way. In fact, the illogical, the irrational, all the stuff that comes out of left field, all of it has to be part of the equation.

“So on the days when I discover astounding conclusions to problems I didn’t know I had, I can embrace myself as an artist. It’s thinking back on those ‘Aha’ moments that I appreciate the true nature of artistry. It’s not measured by the value of a fresco or the popularity of a name. Artistry is courage to walk with a different stride.”

“Featuring successful people in diverse roles is helpful; it adds a dimension of entertainment to an otherwise academic read. The open admission that it’s hard to work toward achieving mastery is refreshing. Actually saying, in black and white, that it’s stressful to operate at a level of artistry is honest, and that honesty is necessary. Otherwise, we plant seeds of enthusiasm in naïve soil.

“So many people seem to think that achievement comes at no expense, and that those who are willing to dole out the fees to pay the dues are somehow better endowed than the rest. It’s a choice. It’s just a choice. Artistry emerges when the choice becomes unnecessary.”

“The inclusion of so many quotes, so many perspectives, so many takes on what the theories actually mean, is most welcome; they make the book more digestible. However, they come from those who have made it to the other side, from some who perhaps don’t even remember being on the side of misdirection, and from some who probably try very hard to forget. It makes me wonder whether this book is a guide for those seeking a path to artistry, or a memoir for those who have already paved it.

“Is it possible to learn intuition—which, if you ask me, is the main protagonist in this tale—or is it just something onto which you have to be willing to collapse? Perhaps this is the ‘magnetic pull’ Austen talks about. I see the models, and I appreciate their value as road maps for curriculum developers as well as for those who try very hard to make sense of the invisible hand that guides the ones who’ve surrendered to the thought of being led by something greater than themselves. But as I work through chapter 4, I find myself wondering, ‘How is this book meant to be used?”

Diana McLain Smith is an organizational development consultant. Her thirty-five year career says she’s very good at what she does. She’s managed to decipher a code that enables her to dance the tango of human emotions, intelligent thought and institutional reaction without tripping. Looking at the shell of her framework, it’s awe-inspiring how someone could make sense of the intricacies of human interactions when I can hardly understand myself sometimes. She reflects on the challenges of being ‘so close that emotions flood your ability to see, or so distant that you can’t be moved.’

“It seems that to get to such a stage of artistry, you can’t avoid the analytical; it’s the bridge that joins the gut with the mind. But if you are of the artistic mind, if you don’t think in terms of balance sheets and flowcharts, how do you escape the artist’s poverty mentality? Is that where collaboration becomes essential? Can one person do it all, or is it inevitable that the majority of us will have to work together to unleash artistry?”

“Although it may be true on a subconscious level that artists don’t shun moments of resistance because they know that resistance can represent the very opposing qualities that create the variations that distinguish one practice from another, it is by no means a conscious choice made lightly by the majority. I think that artists of every kind strive to create originality—the very definition of art—however, it is very often with pain that they eventually succumb to crossing the bridge of surrender leading to their oasis of inspiration. Self-doubt is but one of the many temptations placed on the artist’s path, created to stimulate internal growth—a self-implosion of sorts.

“It is when the analytical mind enters the scene, that conscious thought and rational thinking influence perception; they change the direction of the view and thus the definition of the artist’s reality. Does rational thought change the outcome of the art? I think so. What is created becomes the product of the marriage of mind and spirit, offspring that seem to know well how to stimulate economies that would otherwise take centuries to appreciate the worth of art for art’s sake.”

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