Friday, June 18, 2010


You know, I had had different plans for how I was going to spend my life at this point of my life...and it wasn't to continually rehash middle school math. Sigh. Below is a photo of Michael beginning summer math tutorial to catch up with the standards of his new school in the Fall. It's been interesting (euphemism for frustrating) teaching math to Michael -- if you show Michael how to do one exercise, and the next 99 exercises are similar in structure, he will do the next 99 all correctly. But, the next day, he won't necessarily remember how to do the same type of problem, which means he is not always getting the concept of the math. He is the best mimic and copy-er which, if one thinks about it, has been one of his ways of surviving his prior orphanage-life (to copy, to blend in...). Now, we have to teach Michael by not just teaching subject-content but also to gear his brain to conceptualize versus to (simply) copy. The issue is not simply one of math but also one of culture.

Conceptualization, of course, is often the dividing line between the greats and the ... crowd. If, for example, you take a look at Vermeer's painting "The Girl With a Wine Glass," you might see just another domestic scene of an interior with a painting hanging on one wall. But if you click on the link and go through the right-side explanations by Vermeer expert Arthur Wheelock, you'll see reference to "the careful placing of the upright ancestral portrait between the two male figures focus(ing) on the artist's concerns for the lack of moral constraint in contemporary life. The rigid pose and somber treatment of this passage enhances its none-too subtle admonitory message." Keep going through the prose about this painting and you'll see the layers of complexity in Vermeer's conceptualization of a painting of "a girl with a wine glass" (and one reason I honor it through SILK EGG).

I've always been lousy at math. So I used to think it ironic that I had an international banking career when, without the calculator, I couldn't ever resolve many math problems. But what I then observed (and I guess my prior employers realized) is that the ability to resolve math problems is something. But more valuable at times is the ability to frame the math question. Ultimately, management is an art and it's one reason why artists (or those with artistic leanings) often end up being great corporate managers (one of my favorite CEOs is one I met who had poetry books on his shelves in addition to business tomes). In both the arts and business, answering an inherited question is always easier than framing the next (apt) question.

So should artists take over corporations? Based on many recent examples, how could artists do worse than the monkeys who successfully clambered up the corporate ladders, yah?

But I've also observed how many artists find it difficult to respond to a question often asked in bottom-line oriented businesses: WHAT'S THE BOTTOM LINE?

On one level, the artistic mindset -- if it is one coming from being as open and expansive as possible -- would have to be re-geared to be able to focus on and privilege a certain matter in order to determine a "bottom line".

What I've observed is that in both the arts and the corporate sector, it's the combination of a fluid mindset that also can hone into what's important at a particular point of time (that bottom line) that can generate "successes."

This next paragraph was then going to share the secret for making a million dollars in a million seconds. Sadly, that will have to await another day as I now must go instead to prepare a fractions tutorial for Michael...

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