Last week, I went to see Roy Lichtenstein for inspiration.
The problem with running your own business is that you can spend so much time in the “stuff” of it that you forget to poke your head out and think big thoughts. So the Thanksgiving Holiday came around, and I decided I needed to break away from my routine, Two novels, one art exhibit, and five football games later, my mind is both quieted and racing with new energy. Which brings me to the art.
That would be the National Gallery of Art, which is currently housing a retrospective of Lichtenstein’s work. His artwork and the trajectory of his career are fascinating, and they provide five lessons from a master pop artist.
1. Great Design Is in the Details. Lichtenstein took an ordinary composition book as the starting point for one of his works. What makes the painting different is that he turns the mottled black-and-white specks into dancing molecules of energy. The artist understood that composition isn’t just the product, but how you package it.
2. Stick to Your Strengths. Lichtenstein experimented off and on with the broad brush strokes more typically associated with Willem de Kooning and Franz Kline. They were good at that style; he was not. His “broad brush” paintings look forced and unnatural, a good reminder that you do your best work when you stick to what you do best–and break out from your strengths (see #3).
3. Improve, Don’t Imitate. At various points in his career, Lichtenstein created works of art that reflect other genres that he admired (e.g., Cubism, Chinese landscapes, Impressionism). The exhibit includes a series of three Rouen cathedrals. They are stunningly evocative of Monet‘s work while remaining true to Lichtenstein’s core form. The lesson for entrepreneurs is that you can learn and take from your competition, but don’t lose so much that you forget what makes your product unique.
4. Be Adaptable. Early on, Lichtenstein created his trademark dots using a small stencil that he moved around the canvas. The result was uneven dots. Later, he had large metal stencils built that provided for far more uniformity, and it doubtless was more efficient too. The pop artist understood that tools and technology evolve and you need to evolve with them.
5. Wow Your Customers. Any retrospective usually has a few amazing works of art, others that are museum-worthy but not top tier, and some stuff that’s merely okay. Sound familiar? Not everything you do will be your best, and that’s okay. But make sure the product (or service) you’re putting in front of your customers is the best of the best. One example: Drowning Girl. The composition is classic Lichtenstein and comic-strip comfortable–and then you read the caption. Then it’s completely different, and you’re smiling (and wowed).
What lessons have you taken from art? What artists inspire you?