A portrait of a conversation

I talk a lot about the narration of work, how it can help implicit knowledge to flow, and how our collective words can become a force for change. Recently, I’ve been watching a most interesting narration of the art of painting, from the perspective of the subject. This is not any subject, but a professor emeritus of art and an established art critic.

Virgil Hammock is narrating a series of blog posts on how Stephen Scott is painting Virgil’s portrait. It’s a fascinating read. In Stephen Paints a Picture: Part One, we learn about the inspiration behind the project.

I told him [Stephen]  about a book, Man with a Blue Scarf, I had read written by British art critic, Martin Gayford, of sitting for a portrait by Lucian Freud and how interesting it was to follow their conversation over the very long time it took Freud to complete the painting. One thing led to another and we decided to repeat the idea with me as the subject

In Part Two, we learn about a painting of Stephen’s that Virgil had used in a show this Spring.

It was a portrait of Stephen’s based on photographs, that of the poet Alden Nowlan (2009, 125cm x 100cm), that was included in an exhibition I curated at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Art Treasures of New Brunswick, earlier this year that made me want to learn about how the artist worked. Stephen did the painting as a commission for the University of New Brunswick Library. What drew me to the painting was the evidence of the artist’s struggle. This was no slick photo realist painting or usual university official portrait. I have seen plenty of both. They are all over the place at universities, mine included, which look like painted photographs of really boring people. I had known Alan and he wasn’t boring and Stephen’s painting made him look like how he was, a very interesting person.

alden-nolan-by-stephen-scottAs Virgil describes his conversations with Stephen, we learn about the artist’s particular craft, techniques and perspectives. There is a lot to discover. I think a lot of work is like that – easy to see the surface but much more difficult to perceive the undercurrents. Having a knowledgeable second party narrate the work in progress is also effective in ensuring that things are not taken for granted. Virgil asks questions that Stephen may not have offered up on his own. It shows the power of conversation in sharing knowledge.

These posts also highlight the need for reflective conversations, done while working, but with a goal in mind, to draw out better understanding. I think it is a good example for anyone involved in organizational knowledge management. Sharing knowledge takes time, usually one conversation at a time, and over an extended period of time. Management has much to learn from artists.

Stay tuned to the continuing story to find out how the portrait turns out.

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