Teaming With Art

A youngster looks up at a gigantic glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly and says: “Wow, how did he DO THAT!?” The sculpture is an installation of blown glass, glowing with color, suspended  in space, enormous in scale but as delicate as a living sea creature.  The young question is one of the highest compliments a viewer of any age can pay a work of art, since it’s in the form of a question (not a pat answer) wrapped in awe over how such an object could come into being.

In his life story, Dale Chihuly credits the role of teamwork. “Ever since I went to college I’ve been working with a team. Glassblowing is not an easy craft to do by yourself—it’s much easier with an assistant or a team.” The teamwork itself is artwork, as Chihuly works as a sort of choreographer of the complex, technical and rhythmic  dance of many team members as they turn molten glass into masterpieces. Chihuly’s teamwork is contemporary in its output but ancient in its process—certainly Michelangelo didn’t erect all the scaffolding, mix all the plaster, grind all the pigments or paint every brushstroke on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

To produce work of this scale and quality, an artful team has certain features:

  • A leader with a mind’s-eye vision of what the end product will be;
  • Technical expertise across many different necessary functions;
  • Motivation of others on the team to see and share the vision;
  • Knowledge that mishaps, screw ups and the unexpected will happen;
  • Persistence and resources to make the vision happen notwithstanding.

We see the same types of artful teamwork in masterpieces of legal work. With the upcoming 60th anniversary of the most  important Supreme Court decision of the 20th Century, Brown vs. Board of Education (decided May 27, 1954), it’s worth considering that landmark decisions like that are not just the product of one person working alone.  The case that ended de jure (if not de facto) racial segregation in the public schools of America had: a visionary leader for the plaintiffs, Thurgood Marshall; a team from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund that shared his vision; the technical expertise to design and build a winning litigation strategy; enormous hurdles to overcome and legendary persistence (Marshall won 29 of the 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court).  Chief Justice Earl Warren managed to get his team of Justices on the same page too.  For all its controversy and still-work-to-do legacy, Brown teaches many things, not the least of which is what inspired teamwork can accomplish.

It’s the sort of teamwork that can make you look with wonder:  wow, how did they do that.

Chihuly Garden and Class in Seattle

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