Sunday, February 08, 2015

Creativity in Different Forms

Shortly after my last post, back at the end of December, my consulting business had a major project come in.  It wound up requiring a 7-day-a-week effort that is just now coming to completion.  I wasn't able to even go to the studio for a month.  One day, when I was a bit frustrated over the lack of time for making art, I saw a Facebook post from a friend that helped put it in perspective.  It was a quote from an anonymous source:

"I think everything in life is art.  What you do.  How you dress.  The way you love someone, and how you talk.  Your smile and your personality.  What you believe in, and all your dreams.  The way you drink your tea.  How you decorate your home.  Your grocery list.  The food you make.  How your writing looks.  And the way you feel.  Life is art."

Things have a way of slapping you in the face when you're ready for them, and I was ready for this bit of wisdom at that particular moment.  I realized that all my work on this project was, in fact, art.  And more than that, it was going to directly affect the lives of a great many people over the next five years, and many more indirectly for many more years in the future.

Okay, to back up a little and set the stage.  In my consulting work, I'm helping a couple of client companies put together contract proposals.  This particular proposal was in response to a call by a US government agency for companies who could provide specific services in developing nations around the world over the next five years.  One of my client companies is pretty well-positioned to do much of what was needed.  We brought in two other companies to fill in the capabilities that they lacked.  I wound up driving the effort to put the proposal together.

This was no small task.  The proposal had very specific requirements for what had to be addressed, which forms had to be filled out, what typeface and font size had to be used, the maximum number of pages, and so on.  Some of the requirements were contradictory: one form could not be filled out using the typeface and font size specified, for example.  And, since we were working with two other companies, I had to take their inputs and edit them into the required format and structure.

So how is this art?  Well, when I'm working in the studio on a "serious" painting, I've got something specific in mind regarding what I want the artwork to say.  Everything is crafted around that goal: the composition, things depicted, their relationships to each other, the play of light and dark, color choices, and on and on.  Everything is constantly being compared to everything else and tweaked to make the whole painting sing one harmonious song.  I'm not an impulsive painter, never have been, and cannot work that way, although I have great admiration for artists who can do it well.  I'm a linear thinker in the first place, and that trait was honed over 20 years in the Navy.

My proposal writing uses the same approach.  I had something very specific in mind, along with some given limitations of what I could and couldn't do.  Everything was crafted around the story that our team could do a fantastic job with any tasks that the government agency might need.  I built an outline (like building the composition in a painting), started filling in the major areas, added details, deleted less-valuable stuff to give more emphasis to more-important stuff, and in general made it as strong as I possibly could.  Then I sent it off to the client and partners for review.  When I'm creating a painting, I'll often ask a few people (my wife, for one) for their thoughts on the work-in-progress as I want to see if it says what I want it to.  In this case, it was very important that the experts in the client company and the two partners ensure that the proposal was (a) accurate and (b) compelling.  Then it went through revision after revision.  Again, this is something I do in a painting - there are many works where every square inch has been repainted multiple times.

So now we're down to the final few changes.  When it gets down to very minor wordsmithing, you know it's done.  And this one is very strong.  I'm extremely confident that we're going to get it.

I came to the realization a number of years ago that my goal in life is not necessarily to make a lot of paintings, but to create things that make a positive change in the world.  If I can do that through paint, wonderful, but it's not the only way.  This proposal we're finishing up will make a huge difference to the people who will actually do the work.  They're going to get the opportunities to work in places they've never worked before, and they'll be helping people who really need their services.  Even after the contract is over, the results of those services will be making a positive impact.  And this wouldn't happen if I did a crappy job with that proposal.

So I'm happy with the results of my work for the past month.  It was creative and it will have an impact.  But now I want to spend some make-up time in the studio!