What Do Art and Art Appreciation have to do with Leadership & Relationship Building? Everything.

Giving broader meaning to very personal, innermost ideas or thoughts.

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In a recent Press Briefing where a university president of less than a year in the position was explaining the dreaded consequences and decisions warranted by budget shortfalls, he remarked, “I cannot imagine a university without a music program.” The liberal arts, he said, builds a well-rounded individual. His comments mirror those from leaders and managers in various fields and workplaces around the world. 

Art appreciation is perhaps one of the most “underappreciated” courses in an undergraduate curriculum. As a college professor who taught in art, journalism, and corporate communication programs, I remember the “why do I have to?” moans and groans during advising, particularly if a student had somehow managed to bypass the course as a freshman or sophomore. I would like to think that students who take art appreciation later in their status are more culturally aware as they travel domestically and abroad, and can readily integrate what they learn into other facets of their lives such, as relationship-building and leadership. Many of my colleagues outside the liberal arts, however, would and could link art (and music appreciation) to culture, but seldom to leadership. Then there were other colleagues who destined art’s purpose and benefit (and other liberal arts courses) solely to build “soft skills.”


Art appreciation students are taught to not express “like” or “dislike” as a critique of a work, but to go further in understanding uniqueness, agreeability, and to explore what works and why.

Undergraduate studies in commercial art taught me that problem-solving is both an art and science. Psychological, anthropological, and sociological theories, the principles, and elements of design, as well as math and physics, all constitute effective for-profit as well as philanthropic design. The cross-disciplinary ideas and concepts, in addition to the core math and science courses, the engineering, mapping, and the “Physics in the Arts” courses proved to be valuable knowledge in yielding creative solutions as I launched and developed my career.

My experience as both student and professor is that most “art” class projects are open to a three-tier critique – first by the artist, then by classmate peers and finally by the professor. Of course, we had to learn to defend our artwork but to also be open to ways in which we could improve. The advice garnered from the experience helped to (1) strengthen our work, (2) elevate our comfort level in succeeding critiques, and of course, (3) to merit a level of esteem among teachers and peers. We also learned to appropriately reference the feedback (positive and negative) to show we were listening and understanding.

Shifting a bit from the deliberately thought-provoking, problem-solving field of commercial design in which I spent most of my career, I spend several hours a day doing what I have always loved, and have more time to do these days – painting. Commercial design often involved interpreting and translating someone else’s ideas into a final product, which is certainly a benefit of having gone through so many rigorous critiques but didn’t always give me the options that I enjoy as a conceptual painter. My work involves experimentation with color, shape, and texture. Sitting in front of a canvas, I am still learning some qualities and values that are applicable and appropriate to stand in front of a group and confidently defend my decisions, listen, take criticism, and appreciate other points of view.


There is always room for El Greco, Picasso, Van Gogh, Salvador Dali, or Jasper Johns types who were visionary, progressive, and innovative.

The wonderful benefit that we all gain from art and art appreciation – no matter the artist, style, or medium – is the artist’s ability to give broader meaning to something that begins as a very personal, innermost idea or thought.

Even if you’ve never picked up a brush to paint, nor a pencil to draw, I challenge you to paint at least one picture in your lifetime and open it to critique. The goal here is not to envision yourself as an accomplished artist, but rather to see yourself as a conceptual painter, so keep these thoughts in mind. Begin with a sketch. In fact, do several roughs so that you have options or ideas that you might want to develop at another time. A sketch is an idea, a vision, a direction that you can amend or adjust when the conditions and circumstances dictate a deviation. Sketching, no matter how rough, documents the idea.

  1. Choose a medium and base that allows you to change your mind as you go. Anticipate possibilities. Expect mistakes. Plan for both.
  2. Liquescent. Dilute the thickness of the paint for fluidity and transparency.
  3. The best surfaces are not always one-dimensional. Look carefully at the texture of the surface on which you are working. There’s something really valuable and smart about respecting and looking deeply into how you can use the texture as an involved element of your design.
  4. Your imperfection is your unique signature. And what you see as a flaw or mistake is sometimes seen by others as openness, honesty, and/or originality.
  5. Versatile tools are within your reach. Tools are of all sorts and found in all sorts of places – if you’re imaginative.
  6. Be flexible enough to go in another direction. Do you need or want to?
  7. Paper (depending on the weight and texture) tears, a canvas is more durable. Appreciate and value durability and stamina, but also consider the times when delicacy is necessary.
  8. Let the paint dry. Don’t hasten to make a decision. Things might look different if you step away for a few hours (or days).
  9. Used directly from the tube, paint might not be the color you desire. Sometimes you have to attempt several mixtures and blends to get the perfect color. Make a color palate of the wonderful new discoveries in the process.
  10. Blending yields seamless transition between diverse colors.
  11. Use reliable sources and references to fill in details and to test your accuracy.
  12. Paint from memory as often as possible. The power of personal experience is important to creating art that is original, spontaneous, and reflects the authentic person that you are.

Famed author, Toni Morrison said, “At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” Until then, let’s paint! 

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