— Cultural Sources of Newness

Learning more from artists than from wizards

Someone kindly sent us this link to an article in the New York Times about “The Rise of the New Group Think, suggesting we might want to reflect on it in this blog (he sort of apologized for not doing it himself). My husband is off at the fitness center for an hour or two, so I thought I would take a quick look to exercise my brain while he works on the weights.

The author of the article (Susan Cain) happens to be the author of a forthcoming book (Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking), and she feels she has discovered a soul-mate in “the other crucial figure in Apple’s creation: a kindly, introverted engineering wizard, Steve Wozniak, who toiled alone on a beloved invention, the personal computer” (p.1). 

I was open to learning from this wizard until the author quoted from Wozniak’s autobiography. “Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me … they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. In fact, the very best of them are artists. And artists work best alone …. I’m going to give you some advice that might be hard to take. That advice is: Work alone... Not on a committee. Not on a team.”

The reduction of artists in this world to the genius who works in isolation is so misleading that I cannot take advice based on such a notion. Collaborative work is a core feature of most art forms today, obviously– but not only–in the performing arts. I had the privilege and pleasure during the past three years of studying an organization in Paris which hosted four residencies for conceptual artists. One of the residencies was a collective of three artists (1.0.3) for whom creation is by definition a collective process. They and the other artists chose to participate in the Eurogroup Consulting residency program specifically because they do not work in splendid isolation. Other artists from diverse art forms who work in artistic interventions in organizations (e.g., in TILLT’s Airis projects in  Sweden and conexiones improbables projects in Spain) also consciously seek out these opportunities for inspiration and collective work. That is not to say that they do not also need and use time alone, to think things through and to create. If we let go of simple dichotomies and outdated images of artists and creativity, we can learn a lot more from and with artists than the author of this article and the wizard Steve Wozniak suggest. For example, artists can help make us aware of the limitations of believing that we live in our heads and help us tune into bodily ways of knowing.

And speaking of bodies–I think my husband got a better workout at the gym than my brain did from this article tonight. Maybe the forthcoming book will be weightier–if not intellectually then at least physically so that I can lift it rather than weights at the gym.