Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Artists Are Not Like Software Engineers

As mentioned in a previous post, last year I joined an artist studio after having spent more than 20 years in high tech. While I've rubbed elbows with artistic types in the past, I've never been in a work environment with them before, and although this may not come as a surprise to you, what amounts to a revelation to me is this: Artists are not like software engineers.**

This fact first dawned on me during the studio annual meeting (required by regulation because of the studio's LLC status), which was held right after I joined. I'm used to business meetings being called and driven by a major stakeholder or owner of the project under discussion, or at least someone who has a lot of skin in the game. This person sets a formal agenda and keeps people focused on its points during the meeting. The goal is to reach agreement on how each point is to be addressed, and to assign action items to participants. Following the meeting, the owner follows up to make sure each action item is addressed and closed on and the results circulated to the meeting attendees according to an established timeline. (And of course, the fact that time is of the essence goes without saying.) 

I submit that if you're a business professional, you've probably read the previous paragraph and thought, "And...?" But if you're an artist, you're likely squirming in discomfort entertaining the image of such an environment, and mentally looking for the Exit door. I could be wrong about this, of course, as I'm just in the learning phases about how artists experience such things. But at least based on my observations so far, artists don't tend to be nearly as linear in their thinking and their goals tend to be somewhat open-ended, allowing for unexpected things to occur. Serendipitous Things. Not that either approach to conducting one's particular type of business is better or worse than the other. The two are just very, very different. 

So, back to my first studio meeting. There was a suggested time for us to get together, and when everyone had arrived, about 20 minutes or so after the suggested time (I was probably the only one who noticed), someone suggested that we look at the LLC documents to see what we were supposed to do. The documents were found and dug out of their folder, and it was determined that we needed to elect officers. The current president called for volunteers, and one person volunteered for each spot, while another person wrote down their names and positions on a piece of paper. Because we had a new treasurer, there was some discussion about the bank account and how money was collected and deposited. The departing treasurer indicated that people new to the LLC should go to the bank and sign the signature card. Next, the discussion turned to our studio party and somehow (I was unable to sort out how it happened) the date was picked, and a menu decided upon. 

During the entire meeting, I was certain that nothing was going to emerge from this loosey-goosey approach but chaos, but fortunately had the good sense to keep my mouth firmly shut. After a surprisingly short period of time, the business part of the meeting faded into a purely social time, and that was that. Six months later, I can report that everything was carried off flawlessly, and with no fuss whatever. In fact, the way the studio operates is awesome, but I won't take more time for that here. I think I'm still a bit shocked. 

So here's my attempt at a visual illustration of the two types of meetings. Interestingly, both software engineers and artists like to draw pictures (although software engineers like to call them "diagrams").

Typical Business Meeting in High Tech

Annual Studio Meeting
** Disclaimer: Of course, I realize that no person is purely artist or purely software engineer, or purely anything else for that matter. Individuals are always a mixture, and imposing stereotypes ensures that nuances will be missed. Nevertheless, I'm going to do it anyway because, taken as a group, IMHO artists are in fact very different from software engineers.

You might also enjoy:
  • Overcoming Fear of Paint  -  Someone once said to expand your abilities and horizons, you should do one thing a day that makes you afraid.
  • More Fear of Paint - I'm still putting lots of paint on the page while holding my breath.


Tom Bentley said...

Megan, your image comparison of the business/studio meetings is hilarious. And having worked with both artists and engineers, apt. I think they both might like pizza though.

Megan Seagren said...

Glad you think it's funny, Tom. I hope my studio mates do as well. :) I'll have to research the pizza commonality...

Susan Holland said...

What a rich trip, Megan, to your mind and to your studio doings! The whole bit looks like wholesome, fertile soil for creativity-- especially with a definite sense-of-humor ingredient! Thanks! Susan

Megan Seagren said...

It is indeed, Susan. Thanks for stopping by!

Cynthia Freese said...

I loved this, It was fun and made sense to me. I look forward to reading the next entry!

Megan Seagren said...

I'm cogitating on the next installment about the artistic personality, Cynthia. Stay tuned!

Karen said...

I've been to plenty of both types of meetings, and was smiling as I read your experience with the arty meeting. Geek meetings do have their merits - everyone understands when someone says to wrap up a tangental discussion, where at a meeting with creative people the tangent can seem at least as important as anything on the agenda. It can make things run long. I like the contrast between my engineer husband and myself (an artist) when it comes to lost items. He immediately launches into detective mode - it's not just a matter of 'where is it?' but also 'who is responsible for it being missing and how did it happen?' whereas I look up from my book and say "It'll turn up." I am almost always right.

Megan Seagren said...

Ha ha. Very true, Karen. Bill never looks for things. He just asks me where it is, which I always intuitively know. That's not a good thing, is it?

Anonymous said...


Thanks. I just can't decide whether to be a butterfly or snail. As your illustrations show, the artists have fun. And, what if it turns out this is the party planet and we forgot to have fun.

I don't understand the check list below. Hope you receive the comment.


Megan Seagren said...

I think you could switch back and forth between butterfly and snail, depending on your mood. With you and I seeing to it, Kathie, I don't think there's any danger of folks forgetting to have fun -- at least not the folks in our circle!

XtinaBena said...

Hmmm... 2nd try... I seem to have lost my first comment.

Anyway ~ very funny Megan! You had me laughing! I love the comparison of the two flow charts although I didn't follow the logic of the tech chart, but maybe that's because I'm an artist. That one made perfect sense to me :-)

And I'm all for pizza, with wine too of course!