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    Entries in art (5)


    White Flag

    Happy Independence Day!

    Regular readers of the blog might notice from time to time that I drop in the occasional modern art image to accompany some of the posts I run here. On Independence Day I figured why not run a post that just featured probably my favorite American modern artist and one of his most famous 'flag-based' works?

    Jasper Johns, (1930 - still happily alive and well), is an American artist born in Georgia, and who studied briefly at the University of South Carolina (my alma mater, go Gamecocks!), and went on to study and work in New York City where he began to produce some of the period's most iconic and interesting paintings and collages.

    Johns often used flags and maps and targets as a basis for his work, and in 1998, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York bought possibly Johns' best known piece White Flag (below). While the Met would not disclose how much was paid, "experts estimate [the painting's] value at more than $20 million.

    Here's what 20 large worth of White Flag looks like:

    Jasper Johns - White Flag, 1955

    You could, I suppose, read some kind of deep, political or philosophical significance into the re-imagining of the iconic American Stars and Stripes in this monochromatic manner, but art historians tend to think that really wasn't what Johns was intending with White Flag.

    Rather, the artist challenges the viewer to think differently about an object with which they would be instantly familiar, and one they have only envisioned in the expected way. We've all, at least those of us here in the USA, have seen the flag thousands of times. It appears, always, as we'd expect it to.

    With White Flag, Johns asks us to confront our expectations and assumptions - not so much about the actual flag itself, or our country, or its politics - but more deeply and fundamentally about anything with which we've grown familiar.

    You 'know' what the flag means and looks like, right?

    White Flag makes you question that, or at least think about it some, and perhaps think about anything that we believe we've already figured out, take for granted, and might not ever change.

    Or maybe it's just something cool to look at.

    Have a great day!


    Reboot: Even Superman Can Start Over

    I've been a comic book fan, off and on, since I was a kid. You know the old question that sometimes therapists ask, about recalling one of your earliest memories from childhood? Well one of mine anyway is a vivid recollection of buying an Amazing Spiderman comic for 25 cents from a local shop.

    Image - DC Comics

    I still have that Spiderman book as a matter of fact. Looking through it recently, apart from being amused at some of the old advertisements, I was struck by how little the characters seemed to change over the years. They (mostly) look the same, act the same, and behave in ways we come to expect, and certainly appreciate.

    But after 30, 40, and for some even 50 years of stories, (referred to as 'continuity' in the comics world), even classic heroes start to look a little dated, and their writer's and artist's ability to craft stories and images that can still resonate with modern readers, (while not alienating long-term fans), gets increasingly difficult over time.

    With that inherent conflict and difficulty in mind, long-time publisher comic publisher DC Comics this fall is embarking on what is being termed a 'Reboot', they are essentially a starting over at issue #1 for all if its currently published titles, including such venerable books like Batman, Superman, and Justice League of America. This reboot or relaunch will allow DC to refresh the characters design, and in some cases, through the magic and creative freedom of the comic book form, make them younger and more contemporary. DC writers and artists can simply inject new life into some traditional characters and storylines that the public probably takes for granted from familiarity.

    It won't be easy for DC to successfully pull off this 'reboot'. Fans of these comics and heroes won't simply conveniently forget what are in some cases decades-long interactions, backstories, and emotional connections with these characters. But for DC, the desire to revive an old form of storytelling and genre, and the economic need to attract a new generation of fans to these titles are too compelling and have been deemed worthy of the reboot's risks.

    What does this little comic book story have to do with the worlds of Human Resources and the workplace?

    To me, the most compelling angle behind the 'reboot' is the human one. Sure, having Flash or Wonder Woman get a new costume is interesting, but for that to actually be successful in the marketplace, DC has to attract, recruit, develop, and reward the best artists, writers, designers, and editors it can find. These supremely talented people are the real key to whether or not this reboot, or really any major commercial initiative will be successful. And for DC, while the allure of the brand, and the ability to make a mark on legendary titles and characters like Superman and Batman surely are a recruiting magnet to some extent, eventually the very best talent will not be content simply carrying on 50-year old traditions.

    The very best talent wants to tell their own stories. 

    By 'starting over' DC is not just making a play to connect with new fans and readers, they are making a play to their talent community as well. After all, someone makes the Green Lantern green after all. It will be interesting to see how it all pans out. 

    Anyone want to compare notes on Batman #1 once it comes out?



    It is a nice painting though

    This post is not about technology, (are any of them anymore?), not about workplace issues, not about some kind of pointless diatribe on social networking or any of that.Have say about $150M laying around?

    This post is about art, or rather it is about a specific painting, Jackson Pollock's 1951 work titled 'Mural'.

    The current owner of 'Mural' is the University of Iowa, and not unlike many colleges and universities around the country, these days the University is faced with a difficult set of economic circumstances. Shrinking financial support from Federal and State government sources, rising costs for infrastructure and facilities, and increased expenses for labor and employee benefits all combine to put Iowa, and many if not most other state Universities in a challenging position.

    But Iowa has something, an asset of sorts, that no other University can claim. They own 'Mural'. And by some accounts, 'Mural' may be worth as much as $150,000,000 on the open market.

    You read that correctly, that was a one-five with a whole bunch of zeroes following along.

    Understanding the current financial challenges that will likely linger for the foreseeable future, Iowa state Representative Scott Raecker floated the idea of selling 'Mural', making the argument that the funds from the sale could fund, in perpetuity, as many as 1,000 annual University scholarships for Iowa students.

    The idea of selling the Pollock piece was understandably met with resistance -  the piece is iconic, irreplaceable, and could impact the University's ability to solicit future non-monetary donations and contributions.  Ultimately the controversy and concern over selling 'Mural' has led to the proposal to sell the piece to be abandoned. 

    For now, 'Mural' remains hanging on the wall in Iowa, the (potential) $150 million remains a dream, and no high school students in Iowa are working on the first drafts of their 'Toss Paint at the Wall Scholarship' essays.

    The Huffington Post ran a long, thoughtful, and persuasive piece on why selling the painting would be a bad decision by the state. The arguments about the 'priceless' nature of classic art, an understated but palpable concern about foreign interests buying our uniquely American culture, and the kind of ivory tower, 'we are better than that' positions taken by some of the involved parties add up to a compelling argument.

    But to me it is an argument that eventually goes wanting. Selling the piece doesn't destroy it, or devalue the contribution made over 50 years ago.  Most university benefactors would (I think) be ecstatic at the ability to endow hundreds of full academic scholarships in perpetuity. And who knows, maybe one of the thousands of students that could benefit from such an endowment would produce a work or art that surpasses 'Mural'.

    Heck, most of the people that look at Pollock think to themselves, 'He just threw paint on the canvas, my 5 year old could do that'.

    In fact, when waking up to the idea that 'Mural' might be worth 150 large, I may hang up the blog for a while to toss some paint at the wall myself.

    What do you think? Are some works of art really 'priceless', no matter what?


    Strange Creatures with Amusing Names

    In the 1930s a British tobacco company, the W.D. and H.O. Willis Company issues a series of illustrated animal cards, that comprised a kind of matching game.  Each card contained a portion of an illustration of an animal, a rhino, leopard, or platypus, etc.  The cards could be 'matched' to assemble the correct entire animal, or, more interestingly, be combined to discover new creations like in the image at right.

    From the official instructions on the cards:

    The complete series comprises 16 animals, each in three sections, and by mixing the sections you can produce a large number of strange creatures with amusing names.

    It is natural when playing this kind of game to want to build the 'correct' creature, to align the front, middle, and back of the armadillo or the alligator - to get the 'right' answer. 

    But it is much more interesting to mix up the cards to build something new and unique and totally original. And likely much more exciting and scary than the 'right' animal. 

    I think that analogy carries over to what can happen in the organization as well.  We create, as a matter of tradition and I suppose necessity, roles and job descriptions like 'programmer', 'analyst', 'recruiter', that are the functional equivalent of the 'right' animal in the card game.  But the problem is that most people, likely the most talented and interesting people, don't really fit those roles and descriptions, at least not totally.  Like in the card game, they are maybe one third a 'programmer' and one third an artist, and maybe one third a community leader. Or a combination of accountant, bowler, and glee club singer.  

    While I don't think organizations can or should attempt to create that try to formalize these odd combinations of traits or characteristics, at least perhaps some more awareness of and recognition of the diversity, complexity, and 'interestingness' of the people that comprise the organization's talent pool would be beneficial.

    What could some of the benefits be?  Perhaps to better tap internal talent for new ideas and innovations, to gain increased knowledge of some of the drivers effecting workplace health and wellness, to find or discover ideas and opportunities for enhanced community outreach and volunteerism, and even possibly to unearth new marketing and business development opportunities in underserved market segments. Heck, maybe just to make the office a little more 'fun'.

    The truth is all organizations are made up of 'strange creatures with amusing names', and mostly we try to fit them into classifications and roles that are better described as 'mundane creatures with common names'.

    What seems more interesting to you?


    You can 'play' the animal matching game online - here.






    The image on the right is an example of an Alexander Korzer-Robinson piece called a book sculpture; a kind of paper art that focuses on what he calls the “inner landscape". Big Servant Boy

    It is a kind of excavation, where he removes pages and pieces of the book until the only parts remaining are what he chooses. Indeed, what is left is something new—a book whose inner images are selectively revealed.

    Visually quite stunning, a physical manifestation of what we all 'know' but often have a hard time understanding and appreciating.  No matter what is being packaged and delivered in a complete form -  a book, a story, a system, or even an organization's collection of messages and stories.

    We know intuitively that no matter how much time we spend creating the perfect collection of information, technology, or narrative and painstakingly crafting the most complete and coherent story possible, that it is likely that it will be dissected, disassembled, and more often than not, reassembled and re-purposed in ways and for reasons that could not have been envisioned by the original creators.  

    The image on the right was created from a large encyclopedia volume.  Think of a typical, complex technology solution or a massive collection of organizational information like the encyclopedia volume.  Thousands upon thousands of pages, each one containing some relevant and to someone, important information, but in the whole too broad, too unwieldy, and too complex for any one individual's (or small group) needs. 

    Of course the encyclopedia has an index, it is an easy matter to simply look up the term or subject of interest, and find the precise information that is needed. Probably the same capability exists (or soon will), in the complex enterprise system or the organization's knowledge repository.  The process is straightforward, realize a need for some bit of data or information, seek it out, incorporate it into the current process, project, transaction, deliverable, etc. and move on. An easy process but often an inefficient one.  So we resort to the classic tricks to help us more easily locate the same information the next time - dog ear the pages, sticky notes, paper bookmarks.  And there are certainly digital equivalents as well, online bookmarks, shared favorites, user level personalizations to corporate systems.  These shortcuts are helpful, they help us get more efficient, but they are not transformative.

    A transformational capability would allow us to not only 'mark' the important parts of the system, or critical bits of information in the knowledge repository, it would allow us to reshape, re-constitute, re-assemble, and even re-imagine the information in a way that does more than simply organize but in a way that allows the opportunity to re-invent it into something more meaningful, relevant, and perhaps even artistic.  

    I think the next set of breakthroughs in enterprise technology won't be delivered by solutions that simply continue to tack on feature after feature, i.e. by adding more and more pages to the encyclopedia.  The real winners will be the ones that allow users to much more easily cut away the parts they don't need, discover the parts they do, and reveal for themselves and others something even more interesting and powerful inside.