Beauty, Art and Creativity

Embracing creative solutions is no longer a luxury; it has become a necessity.
— Nancy Adler, Leading Beautifully

Our world is changing beyond measure. Sometimes its hard to get a grip on the massive flux so many nations are in, some many crises to deal with. Where do we find a way?

I was moved recently as I read a beautiful artist by Nancy J Adler which declared that finding beauty in life and the creativity and imagination which flows from it is an essential part of 21st Century leadership. We need to be willing again to inspire, hope and innovate – to genuinely look to change the world.

Central to her vision was art and creativity. Adler recognises the unique gift of art – that it is about being able to see things. Artists can be prophetic or visionary, seeing the world around them as it really is and being willing to speak out or share what they see. This can be challenging as often true sight and vision is the last thing we want to hear – yet hear it we must.

Yale Medical School ran an experiment to help medical students see reality the way it really is.  They asked half of the Medical study body to take an Art History course (see Yale Website – Jones & heart 2009.) Adler records “to their surprise and delight, they discovered that after studying art history, the medical students diagnostic skills improved significantly.” The research concluded that art:

  • taught people to see details
  • taught people to see patterns in things
  • is a way of viewing and seeing the reality of life around them

Adler concludes “rather than simply making global assessments based on what they expected to see, the art-trained medical students more accurately saw the actual condition of the patients.”  Art-trained students improved diagnostic skills by 56% whereas those who hadn’t were only able to improve by 44% (Dolev, Freidlander & Braverman 2001.)

Here at Space to Breathe we’ve found a similar connection between art and the imagination. Our approach to engaging with each person’s spirituality relies heavily on the arts – whether through music, spoken word poetry or creating or contemplating images. These practices seem to improve people’s understanding of the world – their meaning making.

One recent participant said “spending time contemplating my experiences was profound. The image we reflected on opened up so much meaning and reality to me – I left with a different view of my life.”

So often we feel compelled to use tried and tested modernist methods of training and leading.  This is the way it’s always been. Yet with our world changing so dramatically, might it be time for a new approach.

Adler’s mantra is to move from the decision making of a command-style leader to being designers – working with others to shape a new future around us. She calls out “business artists” who use design thinking to envision possibilities which for so long remained unthinkable but are now (due to technological change) a possibility.

Lets walk into these adjacent possibilities together… and see what happens.

(Nancy J. Adler’s article “Leading Beautifully: The Creative Economy and Beyond” is from the Journal of Management Enquiry (208-2011) dated 2011.)