5 Creativity Refreshers for the Workplace from Work of Art

I love learning about artists’ creative processes. Combine that with a competitive reality TV show? SHUT UP! I’m hooked!

The Bravo cable channel has introduced just such a show called “Work of Art – The Next Great Artist.” Fourteen artists ranging in age from early 20s to the early 60s (and with all the demographic and gender preference diversity you’d expect) are set up in a group art studio and a cool apartment while they compete in a series of single-elimination art challenges. Sure the format is pieced together from any number of other shows, but I couldn’t resist seeking out the show which airs Wednesday nights at 10 eastern / 9 central (US).

It’s all pretty contrived, thus “Work of Art” doesn’t yield major revelations about creativity as much as refreshers worth considering in your creative and innovative pursuits, especially in the workplace. Here are five that stand out:

Be completely clear about a client’s requirements and violate them at your own risk.

With each challenge, contestants are given a category for the assignment, i.e. create a portrait, make a book cover. In both these challenges, the loser was ultimately deemed to have ignored the mandatory nature of the specified category. Amanda lost the first week’s portrait challenge by painting an expressionist floral picture (which didn’t look like a person); Judith lost the book cover challenge by imposing her style – hand prints and backwards writing – making her ”cover” largely unintelligible. Lesson learned – focus your creativity somewhere other than the client’s mandatories.

Cooperation and competition both fuel creativity.

There are many examples of cooperation evident on the show, from contestants sharing advice and assistance to posing for each other’s pictures. There’s also a fair amount of trash talking and mind games going on among contestants, too. No big skirmishes broke out in the early weeks, but with strong personalities who love telling other contestants what their art lacks, creative tensions are bound to erupt in subsequent episodes. It’s probably just as well, because emotional turmoil will likely do as much for the quality of the art as cooperation.

“Edgy” is relative.

Contestant Peregrine Honig lives in the Kansas City area, as do I. Here, she’s definitely one of the cool people, making a name for herself with provocative art, hip fashion (she owns a retail underwear apothecary), and various other projects she spearheads. Staying current on her through the newspaper and local entertainment tabloids, her creativity definitely seems edgy. Put her on “Work of Art” amid people with clear mental and behavioral impairments though, and Peregrine blends into the background (as one of her pieces was criticized for doing).  It’s a great reminder that edgy is relative; there’s always somebody who’s pushed edginess further than you have. Deal with it!

Be flexible, even if you’re not.

The winner of the first two challenges, Miles, is a self-reported obsessive compulsive disorder sufferer. Because of his oft-professed OCD, Miles typically begins art challenges by going through some type of pre-planned or ritual activity. Before screen printing, he constructed an entire darkroom; as others sorted through found objects for one challenge, he sat down and slept. Invariably though, something goes wrong. With the darkroom, his bulb for exposing images blew before he completed his artwork. Despite an event which might have been cataclysmic, he regrouped and used as much of the image as had already been prepared. Ultimately, he won the challenge based on a great idea and his willingness to vary from his plan.

Think first, create second.

Each assignment is time-constrained creating built-in pressure to start right away. In the book cover challenge, Miles picked “Frankenstein,” which he’d never read. He started by timing how long it took to read a page, calculating it would require 4 hours to get through the entire book. So while the other artists launched into their work, Miles curled up and started reading. Other contestants were incredulous that he’d waste hours not creating anything. Reviewing the book though, he identified a specific passage which infused his ultimate work. Other participants would have been well advised to follow his lead. One misspelled “Dr. Jekyll” and had to redo it after it was painted. For “Pride and Prejudice,” Jaclyn, who was unfamiliar with the work, used a semi-nude image of herself on the cover along with misspelling author Jane Austen’s name as “Austin.” Jaclyn landed in the bottom three and just barely escaped elimination. Maybe the old maxim “measure twice, cut once” needs to be “think twice, create once” when it comes to “Work of Art.”

Closing Thought

These “Work of Art” takeaways all relate to how an artist interacts with boundaries, be they about expectations, interactions, audience tastes, process, or time. It’s an interesting reflection of workplace creativity where boundaries are routinely introduced. Ultimately the winners in “Work of Art” and workplace creativity are those who can walk right up to boundaries and push on them without getting canned.

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