• Skill: How to Rethink, Redefine and Reimagine It

    Reading Penelope Trunk’s “Brazen Careerist,” a fascinating blog offering “Advice at the Intersection of Work and Life, I discovered her posting on, “How to Be Lost with Panache.”

    Trunk offers 3 valuable tips to overcome feeling lost – be it in work or one’s life: One is to “Focus on transition points. Do a little each day;” a second is to “Risk standing out and being weird;” but, to me, her greatest and most original tip is to “Find beauty in the process of being lost.”

    Trunk found beauty in an article by Jerry Saltz, art columnist for New York magazine. Grand Tour is Saltz’s roundup about 19 of his favorite paintings in New York. Trunk notes that the captions Saltz creates for these, his favorites, are “phenomenal.” For this Malevich painting, for example, he writes, “Like an explosion in an airplane factory, the Cubo-Futurist masterpiece depicts gleaming robot peasants in curved metallic shards. The composition of snowdrifts, houses, and people spirals energetically toward a distant sled-puller, and recalls the artist’s childhood—a way of life that predated the Industrial Revolution and outlasted the Russian one.”

    Kazimir Malevich, "Morning in the Village After Snowstorm" (1912)

    Trunk exclaims, “Who has been more poetic about Malevich? Ever? When you are lost is when you need art most.”

    Of Caravaggio’s painting, The Denial of Saint Peter (circa 1610), Saltz writes, “Notice the dramatically gesturing figures, stark lighting, compact cropping, and complex moments of internal and external emotions. That is how Caravaggio essentially foreshadowed [in the early 17th Century] modern filmmaking.”

    Perhaps Salz’s most poignant comment on skill (or more accurately lack thereof) is related to Jackson Pollock. Referring to Pollack’s “Room of Eight Paintings” at MoMA, Saltz says, “Looking at these canvases (including One: Number 31, 1950), installed chronologically, reminds me that few artists were less naturally talented than Pollock. That he virtually willed himself to newness, deploying something that had been there since the caves—the drip…”

    Saltz defends his critical perspective: “I don’t look for skill in art… Skill has nothing to do with technical proficiency… I’m interested in people who rethink skill, who redefine or reimagine it: an engineer, say, who builds rockets from rocks.”

    While it takes skill to live with joy and meaning, it takes even more skill to rethink, redefine and reimagine our lives when we veer off path or become totally lost.  Trunk is brave enough to admit when she is lost and perspicacious enough to help us get our bearings by observing the inventiveness of artists such as Jackson Pollack, who “willed himself to newness” by building masterpieces drip by drip.

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