What are some of the critical aspects of leadership which we try to instill in our students at Loyola? How do these desired traits manifest themselves in our art?
Let me start with the first key ingredient to leadership and to artistic success: self awareness.
Self Awareness is critical to the artist, for many reasons: firstly, as a means of self improvement, and secondly, as a means to connect with others. Self awareness, which might also be called the inner critical voice, is a key component to all successful artistic ventures – the sine qua non of greatness.
A great musician learns to listen to their work; a great visual artist, learns to sit for long periods of time simply observing the work and considering how it might be improved; an actor will, if possible, watch recordings of their work. Along with this, the artist will be willing to make changes, adjustments, transformations, in the art work to improve and refine it. The process can be brief, or extremely long, but it is never absent.
For the leader, self awareness is crucial. How we perceive ourselves, and others, is a critical part of success – the ability to be critical of their own ideas and proposals allows leaders to grow and develop, transcending the more narrow vision which they may have brought with them into a given situation. Listening to others, particularly others who have much experience, and formulating ideas based on observations and careful research – are all a part of self-awareness. The willingness to confront our flaws and failings as a person, and as an artist, is an important step toward excellence, and a requirement for further development.
The concept of self awareness and the inner voice can be, however, a danger — particularly to the young artist. What if our inner voice is too critical? What if, instead of providing us with an honest assessment of our work, our inner critic begins to actually overwhelm us with uncertainty and feelings of unworthiness? This is always a delicate balance – healthy self criticism is one thing, but the incessant negative inner voice can destroy the artistic spirit.
Is there a solution to this dilemma?
Oddly enough, self awareness can also help us with this problem! Are we asking ourselves, for example, if we are being too critical of our work? Are we being honest about our successes and not simply focusing on our failures? How often have we spoken with a fellow musician, for example, after they have performed a concert, and heard “Oh, I really messed up that third movement!” or “I will never play THAT piece again!” — such comments reveal our human side, the fact that we are particularly vulnerable after a performance, but they should not be allowed to dominate our thoughts. The critical voice should not be allowed to wipe out the fact that a great deal of what was done on stage was very successful. In fact, many in the audience might have left the hall completely unaware that there were any issues at all!
The artist must always balance the critical voice with the voice of reason, and be able to move forward with a sense of accomplishment, even if a performance did not go perfectly. Self awareness helps us to deal with our emotions, and provides a sure refuge from the harsh and overly-judgmental inner voice which — if allowed to go unchecked — can end our artistic development.