Monday, July 6, 2009

Impact of a strong personality

I had a professor, Robert Nelson, who had a very strong personality and very clear views on what was important for art students. The combination of his strong personality and his almost single-minded emphasis on figure drawing as the root of all visual art had an interesting effect. Most of his students, myself included, went through a phase of imitating his unique style. Of course, we were all bad versions of the master, but I’ve been thinking about this recently: how a strong personality impacts those around them, particularly when that person is in a leadership role.

Can a strong personality lead without necessarily imprinting their own style on their team? And how does a leader encourage people to develop their individual style and strengths, especially when they are different (or very different) from that of their leaders?

To be fair, Dr. Nelson (who was also my advisor) always encouraged students to follow their own muse, find their own style, but his style’s influence was never far away. In retrospect, his real influence on me was his absolute devotion to the craft of drawing – the draftsmanship required to do good art, regardless of the form. But it took time for me to separate that from his own stuff.

Dr. Nelson has since retired and moved to Oregon (you can see more about him in this short video by Oregon Public Broadcasting). I hope he knows how much positive influence he has had over the years.

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