Leadership Insights: Interview With Matt Appling Author Of Life After Art

Matt Appling HeadshotIt’s my pleasure to introduce you to Matt Appling today. He’s the author of the newly released book Life After Art (This is an affiliate link. If you click and buy from it, I get a small commission. In fact, Life After Art released today! Matt shares his heart and how he feels leadership and art can intersect.

When you purchase Life After Art, Matt and his publisher have decided to give away three great resources to help the book sink in even more. You’ll receive the Life After Art deluxe e-book, the Life After Art Field Guide, and The Art of Storytelling! To receive the free bonuses, all you have to do is email your receipt to [email protected].

Matt has also been gracious enough to offer a copy of Life After Art to one lucky blog reader. Read on to discover how you can win a copy of the book.

Q1: Matt, would you please introduce yourself to my readers who may not know who you are? What are you doing and how did you get here?

I’m an art teacher, a pastor and a writer. I started my blog, The Church of No People four years ago, where I have written three times a week since then. I teach elementary art and high school art history, which inspired my first book, Life After Art. And I lead a house church. My wife, Cheri and I have two dogs. So, I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades.

Q2: Art seems to have taken a back seat to other topics in school and in life. Rarely do you see art encouraged in the workplace. How can leaders encourage their staff to be more creative and to create art?

Art has some tough obstacles to overcome in the adult world, precisely because most adults left art and creativity behind in their childhoods. I think companies like Google have a great system where a portion of employee work time is undirected. It’s just “free time” where employees tinker and act creatively and independently. Some of that companies biggest ideas have started from that free creative work time. Maybe it starts with creating a culture that values creativity more than constant productivity.

Q3: Google has done a terrific job in fostering creativity. You mentioned the undirected work time. Do you have any suggestions on what an employer can do to ensure their staff has margin to have the “free” time to create?

I think it depends on the industry that you are in, but I think some broad rules apply. Pastors and ministry leaders have to discipline themselves to take a Sabbath that’s not a Sunday, and that’s a discipline that is long lost on most of us. We never stop! We never give our minds the creative margin to just enjoy and exist. I had a lightning bolt moment with Life After Art while walking my dog, not pouring over papers. Leaders have to ensure their workers are able to really, productively rest. And we all have to have the discipline to leave work at work, not bringing it home on our phones or laptops. Let our minds explore and absorb the world.

Inside the workplace, it’s the same principle of changing the culture from a culture of productivity to a culture of creativity. Creative people understand that inspiration doesn’t just hit between 9 and 5 or when a committee meeting occurs. So to demand that every moment of the work day be occupied with tasks may be sabotaging the creative flow of the workers. Give people time and space to let their minds work, even if their bodies aren’t apparently working.

Q4: You share in Life After Art how you make your students critique their own artwork. You state that this helps to fend off laziness. How can we apply this strategy as we’re leading those around us?

Self-critique keeps us humble, but it also keeps us sharp as we lead and work. No one is above critique, and there are no 100 percents awarded in life. Whether you’re leading a classroom of children or a giant corporation, it pays to end the day and replay the days events in your mind, taking note of what went well and what didn’t.

Q5: One of the points in your book is that we have the freedom to succeed or fail. There are some leaders that would disagree with this line of thinking. What would you say to them?

People who say failure is not an option, I believe do not have a realistic view of themselves or the world. The most successful people don’t learn how to avoid failure. They just learn how to deal with failure. If you want to stifle creative thinking, create a culture where failure is not an option. Then you’ll have a bunch of workers who put all their energies into not messing up, not attracting negative attention.

Q6: I agree that the failure is not an option is an unrealistic view of the world. How do you create a culture where failure is an option?

How do we create a culture where failure is an option? Tough one. It has to start with parents deciding to lighten up on their kids at little league when they miss a goal. It starts with teachers that show kids that failure is a normal, necessary part of learning. It starts with removing the artificial consequences from failure that make it so unappealing that no one will risk it.

Q7: Edwin Binney, the creator of Crayola, was mentioned as a creative giant in the book. This example was to show that creativity isn’t always what people think it is. Who else has been a non-traditional creative giant?

You’re right. I made Edwin Binney an example of a creative mind because the CEO of a chemical dye-turned crayon manufacturer doesn’t sound very creative. But creativity has a home in every life and vocation, because it’s how we are made.

Creative giants may not be obvious, but they are the people who are shaping our world, for better or for worse. I chose Binney because most of us don’t know that name. There are a million little creatives wandering around, inventing things, thinking differently, changing the way you and I live, though we will never know their names.

Q8: I like how you say there are a million little creatives wandering around. We may never know them by name but they’re doing something great for the world. I also believe there are little creatives affecting each and every one of us. Who has been a little creative in your life that has inspired you to create art?

When I think of creatives that inspired me, I honestly think about all my art teachers, toiling in anonymity in their classrooms. They put their heart and soul into their students, not because they were going to become famous artists or anything. Just because it was who they were.

Q9: In art, we’re often encouraged to color inside of the lines. As leaders, we often encourage our team to stay within certain boundaries. Is there a time to color outside of the lines or to cross the boundaries which have been set?

It depends on which lines we’re talking about, and you’re readers will just have to read the book to get the full context of what “coloring outside the lines” is all about. But I’ll say that as leaders, we have to be the ones to give permission to color outside the lines. As parents, we have to be the ones to encourage children to color outside some lines, while recognizing that other lines are permanent and may not be crossed.

Q10: After creating a work of art, we will step back and criticize the mistakes. I’ve done the same as a leader, second guessing my decisions. Is there a way to overcome the temptation to see the errors and embrace the art we’ve created?

I also highlighted Bob Ross, famed television painter on PBS as a creative giant. His mantra was “We don’t have mistakes here. Just happy accidents.” When we become consumed with our mistakes, then critique is no longer healthy. Nothing we create is ever going to be perfect. Even the biggest heroes of the world are flawed heroes. That’s what makes us human, and our work unique. Embracing what we’ve made for all of its flaws is part of the journey to becoming a fulfilled human being.

Q11: I love how you mentioned that everyone is a creator. It’s an inescapable truth down to the fact that we’re able to reproduce and create a child. Why do you think we forget this fact?

I don’t know exactly why we forget this, but I think it’s a symptom of our modern lifestyles, focused on paying the bills, keeping up with the Joneses, and achieving the “American dream.” That’s what we were told – implicitly or explicitly – that life was all about.

Q12: Do you think there is a way to overcome the desire to live the modern lifestyles that are so focused on things other than art? What can we do to remember we’re creators?

Rejecting the overwhelmingly prevalent modern lifestyle and mindset is an exceedingly difficult choice, and I say that as someone who finds himself too often trapped by it. It starts a little bit at a time, chipping away at some excess belief or possession, and it probably takes a different shape for each person. For me, blogging has provided a great platform for my thinking about the world to grow and evolve, because I’m consciously thinking about the opinions I take for granted and evaluating whether they actually make coherent sense. It takes a lot of self-awareness and critical thinking about the messages we receive from the world, rather than accepting them at face value. Above all, it’s a spiritual discipline.

Q13: Life After Art paints the picture that there’s something bigger than us. There’s a master creator who designed us and gave us life. How has God shown his artwork to you?

When we create something, I think we are more connected the mind of our Creator. Creating is the first thing God does in the story of Genesis. And while I can marvel at all of the beauty in nature, I think humans are some of God’s most interesting creations – how He can take a bit of dust and form us into the people He wants us to be.

Q14: Thank you for your time today Matt. Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Life After Art has been a labor of love for me, and I sincerely hope it encourages people to be better creators, better leaders, better…well, human beings! So many people are afraid they missed their calling in life. Well, when we get back in touch with creativity, we are re-learning what we were made to do with our lives.

Life After Art book cover by Matt ApplingI’d like to give a huge thank you to Matt for opening up and sharing his leadership ideas with you. He’s given us a lot to think about.

If you think Life After Art would be a great book for you, you can pick it up at Amazon by clicking here.

Now, it’s what you’ve all been waiting for. The giveaway. As Matt and Moody Publishers have been so kind as to provide an extra copy, I’d love to get it into one of your hands. I’ll choose a winner on Thursday, April 4th, 2013 and announce the winner on the blog on April 5th, 2013.

What do you have to do to enter the contest? Two things:

First: Share this post via a tweet. Or click HERE to share. Be sure to tag me in the tweet (@JosephLalonde).

Second: Leave a comment in the comment section answering the following question –

Question: How has art influenced you in your life and leadership? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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