Finding Picasso: The Quest For Creativity

Head of a Young Man (Detail) Pablo Picasso

In a world of algorithms and tick boxes, Picasso still encourages us to look at the world – and talent – in a different way.

The first time I really ‘got’ it was on a visit to the Picasso Museum in Paris. Wandering around this enormous – and grandiose – 17th century Parisian house, with room after room of paintings, prints, sketches, sculptures and ceramics, I found myself continually having to remind myself that this was all the work of one man, this Universe of Art; this Universe of Alpha.

And this was far from the extent of it. Nowhere near the complete collection. Other universes, beyond this one, existed in Antibes and Vallauris, Barcelona and Malaga – not to mention the stars found in public and private collections the world over. Not to mention the numerous poems and two plays he also wrote.

Did this man ever sleep?

(Apparently he did – most often going to bed around two in the morning and rising somewhere between ten and midday – proving, by living to the grand old age of 91, that night owls needn’t be doomed to an early grave if they are allowed to follow their own rhythms.)

But awake, and woke, Picasso’s eye took in everything he saw, and, perhaps, everything he thought and felt, transmuting it into lines, brushstrokes, forms. He stole, subverted, accelerated and amplified, evolved and revolutionised.

And refused to allow himself to be boxed in.

And, in this, is the real genius of Picasso.    

No artist before, or since, has been as prolific – or as diverse. Most artists find their ‘thing’ and stick with it. There are subtle, slow transformations; maturations; revisitations. No so with Picasso, who plays, experiments, and masters – and then moves on to something new.

Picture a Picasso in your mind’s eye and you might conjure up a fine-faced Harlequin lost in a desert, the shards of a still life, a tribalistic dance or a primitive embrace. You might see rose or blue, beaches or beasts. You might land on any planet in the Picasso universe.

Specialisation was too restricting for Picasso. Specialisation would be a universe made too small for his colossal imagination. A canvas that comes in only one size, a cage.

Yet we’ve learned little from Picasso, the true giant of 20th century Art. Success, we are told, belongs to those that specialise. Will only come to those that specialise. So we try to find, in our work, a canvas we can bear to keep on repeating.

Linear careers, a clear evolution, is what the talent seekers are looking for. Reinvention is viewed with suspicion, derision: a jack of all trades, a master of none. We push our young to specialise early. To find the box that’s right for them and to stick with it. Everyone knows what they’re getting then.

But while we may want to identify talent through evidenced mastery, what we need right now is something else.

According to the World Economic Forum, what the 21st century organisation really needs is more creativity. A lot more creativity (in fact, creativity is deemed the third most important skill to recruit for by 2020, which is, let’s face it, a blink of time away).   

The question is how are we going to be able to identify that truly creative talent if we only assess it through a restricted (and restrictive) specification. The most creative people I have worked with, and, indeed, recruited, have done all sorts of things, tried many different paths, come from other walks of life, other places. They’ve been able to make new connections (the key to original thought) because their lives have given them the chance to explore a broad canvas; to visit numerous worlds.

Creativity is found in the intersections. Creativity craves experimentation; exploration. To find it, you have to look deeper, think wider, and put aside conventional thinking. Put aside your box-ticking. You need to get comfortable with the abstract, the outsider; the jack of all trades that can apply their multiple (and possibly, meandering) experiences to conjuring up new ways of thinking and doing.

If you really want to head into 2020 with a clear sighted view of the future, with new ways of looking at the world, forget searching for purple squirrels and unicorns: find your Picasso.

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