I went to Art School, you know. I was a dreadfully self-opinionated git and made myself unpopular with all the wrong people.
Nothing changes then…
I still paint occasionally. If you’ve ever watched the film or play “Amadeus” by Peter Shaffer, then you’ll understand that my artistic role is to play Salieri, fated by God to be good enough to realise that in comparison to Mozart I’m crap.
Fortunately, I did learn a bunch of stuff at college. My First Year tutor explained that if you use the right materials, prepped your surfaces properly (hmmm, the smell of rabbit size*), kept a limited and clean palette and worked on your technical skills, you’d probably be fine in the end.
Spend some time on art history you’ll see that if you’re good at the craft of painting, the art tends to follow. You have to have some raw talent, but artists are trained rather than born.
Back before art schools, painting pictures was a craft skill where you progressed from colour grinding to papal commissions. The path from apprentice to master wasn’t an easy one, and for every Velazquez, there were a thousand earning a living from painting uncomfortable landscapes, wobbly still lives and unconvincing portraits for the parlours of the middle classes.
Most artists have always understood or eventually found out the hard way, that you can paint to please yourself, but if you don’t want to starve then you have to find some clients and keep them happy. Jobbing painters always had to work out ways to make a living as times and patrons changed. For instance, the Reformation closed off funding from the Church and killed the market for their pious pictures of saints looking wistfully skywards whilst skewered by instruments of torture.
It’s not entirely insane to compare my career with that of a (minor) Renaissance painter. Started in someone else’s studio (high street general recruitment), found out that what talent I had was in headhunting and then manoeuvred myself into having a studio of my own, producing works that are recognisably mine in the medical technology genre.
Right now, I’m fortunate that my particular experience of finding senior people who know what they’re doing in medtech, and especially infectious disease diagnostics, is going quite well due to our present global challenge. Post virus, we assume that the tide will go out a little on diagnostics but nowhere near back to where it started.
Other areas of endeavour are less lucky, and some of them may never return. Like the 15th Century workshops in Bruges producing exquisite Books of Hours for the rich and observant, technology (printing) and events (Martin Luther) have conspired against them and it’s time to adapt their skills and talents to other fields.
And just because your abilities are wanted, the changing world around you will always affect the way that you do things. For instance, my preferred working method has always been to meet with clients and potential clients on-site, wherever that site may be. Right now meeting people is, er, challenging and any return to that pattern of working is still some way off.
Ziggy, the office wonder dog loves the 24/7 attention, not so the Mother Superior…….
There’s an upside, of course, my competition can’t go and see anyone either, so I’m not disadvantaged in that sense, and I’m adding an extra day to every week by not travelling, so my productivity has rocketed. Clearly, I would like to get back to visiting people on site, but there are plenty of workarounds, especially video conferencing, and I’m rather enjoying being in my own house every night. In the longer run, if my experience and the anecdotes of others is anything to go by, business travel may never return to its previous volume.
Around this time of year, I’d usually be prepping for the Medica trade show in Düsseldorf. Not this year though, for the simple reason it isn’t happening. Yeah, it might run next year, but my enthusiasm for overpriced currywurst may not return. What if most of the medtech companies discover that not only aren’t their sales and distribution deals much affected by the business event industry shutting up shop but that their numbers improve and they save a fortune in sending teams of people around the world to stand on expensive stands promoting plastic tube caps?
Summing it all up, it’s time to do some real thinking. The old world probably won’t come back, and there’s no point waiting for it. For my business, the money saved will go to our website and the way that we present ourselves to the world with less travel and fewer meetings. Precisely what this will look like should be in place by early next year.
You know, it’s not all bad when you put it like that. Without technology and social change, there would have been no Cezanne, Van Gough or Van Eyck and then where would we be?
* Rabbit size is a skin glue also called hide glue and is a general name for glue made by rendering an assortment of animal parts. It is a traditional glue used in the preparation of gesso, as a sealant (size) on canvas (and wood panels) underneath gesso, and as a glue in some book making. Smells and tastes as good as it sounds.