I recently visited the Royal Academy of Art in London to check out the Abstract Expressionism exhibition. London on an early Sunday morning, looks much as I’d imagine it to look at rush hour in Victorian Britain.
I revelled in the opportunity to walk in a straight line without colliding with any tourists. I even stopped on the hour to watch the Fortune and Mason clock strike 10 in a scene reminiscent of Trumpton. How quaint.
My interest in art is that of an ignorant amateur. I don’t claim to have any understanding or taste. I just enjoy looking at things and seeing what thoughts appear. If I tell you this ‘Donkey Selfie’ drawing was the last artistic purchase I made; you’ll have some idea as to the level I operate.
Anyway, it was Sunday and I wasnt totally hungover, so it was with no small amount of smuggness (my 2nd favorite state of mind), that I entered the RA, clutching an audio guide.
The two main artists I’d heard of and wanted to see, were Jackson Pollock and Mark Rotko; contemporaries in the 1950s. I soon learned that this was the first time since that decade, there had been an exhibition of Abstract Expressionism in the RA. This was a rare treat.
Upon reflection my interest in this adventure was partly peeked by a nagging suspicion that a lot of “art” is over-intellectualised bullshit. So, I was partly challenging my preconceptions, and partly I simply wanted to make the most of a clear head on an English Sunday.
To cut a long, ambling walk short, I learned the tension in Abstract Expressionism, is between control and freedom. What appears to be chaotic is allegedly a result of purpose and control.
The embrace of chaos in the formation of these pieces is why I find this style so spell-binding. I feel in some ways Abstract Expressionism is a much more accurate depiction of the human condition than realism.
I began reflecting on the existence of the need for control and the need for freedom in the world of work. It seems as if Abstract Expressionism reflects the evolution needed in business. From the obsessive need for consistency and mechanistic processes, to the acceptance of chaos necessary in a human enterprise.
I’m fortunate as a consultant to work for short periods in lots of different companies. And I can tell you, the problems they face are all the same. Lack of communication, political posturing and unnecessary complexity purveys all. It’s no wonder that Accenture recently claimed that corporations can’t do innovation.
Trying new things is frowned upon or crushed by people whose job it is to fight for some semblance of consistency. The fact is, companies aren’t one organisation, they’re a collection of lots of small teams and cultures. Millions of pounds are spent trying to construct clarity in a chaotic world.
My view is that we are quite behind the Abstract Expressionists in the working world. The only people who have to accept chaos with control are those who work for themselves. And to some extent the chaos is self-imposed. The best evidence I can provide for this rationale is the fact that you can have regular passive aggressive conflicts with folks in work, who then become perfectly palatable outside work. Some people behave like arse-holes because they are trying to conform to mechanistic control structures.
Abstract Expressionism is controlled but with the purpose of releasing creativity. In this sense it is the reflection of the perfect innovative company. We need to take a long hard look at the world of work and strip out the controls that underestimate the value of people and the chaos they bring.
It’s time to delight in disruption and curtail control.