Well, what's your intention?

I am taking a painting class. Last night was the culmination of our 5-week introductory course and we had a sub. Our regular instructor, Gwen, went to Stockholm for an exposition so we had been assigned a fill-in. He may have introduced himself, but I really don’t recall him doing so. We were used to Gwen starting off the class by welcoming everyone and demonstrating whichever technique she thought we were ready to learn that day. Our nameless sub, however, took a different approach – walking around the room and watching us paint while interjecting words of wisdom whenever he noticed something he wanted to comment on or one of us asked him a question. It was kind of like a live version of Chicken Soup for the Painter’s Soul, but one of his little nuggets stood out to me, because it was about setting an intention.

Our final project was to paint a color still-life consisting of three to five objects. One of my fellow students was having trouble making her apple look real. She felt like she had create a “cartoon” apple and was asking what she could do to make it look more realistic, to which the instructor responded, “Well, what’s your intention?” When she cocked her head to the side and responded with a blank stare, he stopped the rest of the class and asked us all, “What is your intention?” We all chuckled nervously wondering what exactly he meant. “We all are doing the same thing,” he said. “In essence, we are all trying to notice what we see when light bends over objects. That’s it – that’s what creates color and value and shape and form – it is just light and objects.” But, how we do that depends upon what our intention is. To the student who had created the cartoon-looking apple, he asked, “Are you here to re-create that apple exactly as you see it, or are you here to create your impression of that apple in relation to the other objects in your painting? Because what you will notice if you are trying to paint a realistic apple will be different than if you are painting your impression of an apple. Setting an intention before you dive in to the project will help you define for yourself what it is you are doing and why you are doing it, as opposed to aimlessly painting, unless of course painting aimlessly is your intention…”

I remembered this little nugget so clearly because the same is true in our work. With any opportunity, challenge or change, setting an intention will help to define what it is you are doing and why you are doing it. It seems so simple, but achieving that level of clarity is sometimes difficult to do in complex organizational settings. Working aimlessly or without purpose is almost never the objective, but it can be surprising how frequently projects of all kinds begin without a specific, explicit intention to guide them.

Kate @ sr4