Don’t seal it off from everything! The same applies to art. Hamlet is still being performed because the play is still ambiguous. If there were ever a successful attempt to pin it down definitively, it would be over. The same holds true for vision and for people; they need to be clear and unclear at the same time. The leader is a visionary, but what did he say exactly? That’s the key.’
Interview: Koos de Wilt
I’m primarily literary. As a child, I lived and breathed the Kameleon and Arendsoog series obsessively; I went to the library first thing in the morning, and came back in the afternoon to borrow new books. Books are for browsing and for turning into collages, creating connections between unconnected elements. I did that back at college and I do it now at De Baak. Others perceive it as a strikingly broad scope that offers meaning and significance, but for me it’s more about warding off boredom; it keeps me off the streets. My journalistic outlook on life seeks out depth within that broad scope. I love leaps from one point to the next. Give me private domains, journals, columns and essays. I love aphorisms, sayings, highlights of a novel. Biographies also offer that scope, providing insights – more so than monographs that delve into a single topic. Maybe I’m an immature reader looking for my own reflection. I have to be able to see myself in the story. It’s always about neurotic characters in the role of the protagonist. Saul Bellows or A.F.Th. van der Heijden write novels colored by an autobiographical undertone, rather than books based entirely on imagination, as Marquez did in 100 Years of Solitude. That’s too fantastical for me. What I read should say something about me.
‘I’ve noticed that the fringe is the core of what’s coming and that the sideline cuts to the heart of the matter where innovation is concerned. And it often turns out to be art.’
I also turn to books for support, the way someone else might go visit a friend. After three pages, my mind wanders off to contemplate whether I agree with what I’m reading. Maybe I’m simply looking for confirmation. Poetry is the most condensed form of that phenomenon. I read poetry like a teenager does, over and over and over, the way we used to listen to the same song for the 26th time. Menno Wigman, Herzberg, Kopland and Hoppenbrouwer; these are poets I deeply identify with. I also look for the childlike wonder in the text. It’s the playful, unexpected, guilelessly disarming aspect that I love. That’s the case with my own behavior too. People who think it’s strange aren’t worth it, in my opinion. I can’t stand people who look down on it with a disdainful, banker-like expression. But that’s exactly where my own challenge lies. I deliberately engage in a relationship with those people. I’m not one to spend a year digging deep into individual research. When I was a kid, people around me thought I’d become a writer or a professor. I always smiled at that; in essence, I was much more a boy who read through the encyclopedia so I could explain it to my audience. Essentially, that’s what I ended up doing.
‘I tend to see art as the pinnacle of achievement. Studying history at college, I was struck by the realization that the fringes of society became the norm over time.’
I tend to see art as the pinnacle of achievement. Studying history at college, I was repeatedly struck by the realization that the fringes of society became the norm over time. And that was frequently considered art. What remains intact when we look back at these times? Mondriaan’s work? I’ve noticed that the fringe is the core of what’s coming and that the sideline cuts to the heart of the matter where innovation is concerned. There is no need to advocate what is already evident. Leadership also means advocating the things that are not evident. Enterprise is about breaking through preconceived notions and creating different combinations. Similarly, the conventions of modern art can be relinquished now. I hold that Rembrandt is more difficult than modern art. I come from a generation where the reverse was true, but these days we need an expert to help us look at older artworks and tell us what we’re seeing and what it represented. Now that we are starting to comprehend modern art, we have reached the end of its era. We see that breaking out of a convention has become convention in its own right. The circle is complete, and that is the irony. When the abstract has become a mechanism, space opens up again for figurative art. If you can paint flowers in a figurative style again, despite the existence of photography, it represents a breakthrough.
‘Leadership also means advocating the things that are not evident. Enterprise is breaking through preconceived notions and creating different combinations.’
I enjoy confronting art with enterprise. Like any other interaction, that confrontation isn’t linear. There is no cause and effect; it’s a matter of mutual influence. Art can be used, because practical usefulness only leads to repetition and traditional craftsmanship. Greater variety increases the chance of innovation. Not that everything necessarily has to change for the sake of change, but it is a simple fact that everything is constantly in motion. It is an inescapable fact. Change and movement have become self-evident and do not need to be advocated. For that reason, there is a school of thought that pursues resilience, stability and embedded establishment. Art can offer a moment of reflection when everything is in motion. When everyone says that capital is the focus, it’s interesting to look at an area where that factor does not appear to be the primary motivation. If you ask an artist what an artwork costs, you don’t expect him to answer, ‘Well, that took four hours to make, so it works out to…’ That would make you laugh. If an art gallery did that, it would be challenging to me. But what happens if you turn it around? That creates space. ‘Why do you paint pictures if you don’t sell them?’ the businessman asks. ‘Why would that matter?’ the artist replies. ‘That’s not why I paint them. I’d like it better if I did sell them. I sell them to live, but I paint them to sell.’ And the businessman says, ‘But then I wouldn’t make them at all, in that case.’ To which the artist replies, ‘I do want to live, and I make them because I’m alive.’ I want to bring these two into dialogue with each other; I surmise that we need new combinations to create new solutions.
‘I love artists who work with perception as it happens naturally. The rooster and the bird in CoBrA, or the child in art.’
All entrepreneurs are creative and destructive at the same time. They break things down and build new houses with the old stones. Everything stays the same and everything changes. Homer talks about love and the quest. When everything around you is changing, you need the illusion that everything stays the same. You see that happening now, in the times we live in. That’s why we’re trying here at De Baak to facilitate a convergence of realities, a convergence of experiences. You can have the same experience in a museum or in a chat with the taxi driver, or by walking everywhere instead of taking the car. But we don’t have time for any of that anymore. So that’s where we come in: we intensify and compress opportunities for experience. And the dialogue with art is part of that. I love artists who work with perception as it happens naturally. The rooster and the bird in CoBrA, or the child in art. Or an image pregnant with the event that is left out of the frame, as we see in Hopper’s work. It’s intense: something is about to happen, is happening, has happened… The woman on the bed, the empty bar… I see that in Moesman and Willink too: what’s happening here? Cubism also intrigues me, primarily as an interesting point in history: What happened there? Why is the visual imagery of cubism so effective? Showing the same object from different angles all at once – a woman with three eyes. Our eyes were not yet accustomed to the sight, so it was shocking, but now we say: such beauty! That phenomenon of shifted perception appeals to me. Chagall’s man with a violin floating in midair, for instance. It offers an impression, but also evokes a question.
‘Beauty without barbs is too easy. It’s irritating; it conquers you effortlessly. It’s like a woman without scars.’
Beauty without barbs is too easy. It’s irritating; it conquers you effortlessly. It’s like a woman without scars. When you go to an art gallery, you shouldn’t buy the first artwork that you think is beautiful. You should buy the one that keeps pulling you back, making you look again and lingering in your mind as you drive home. The same is true of a good course: it shouldn’t be absorbed too easily. There needs to be friction, interaction. It could be a teacher that makes you angry, occupies your thoughts for a while – and then leaves you wanting to call him and say that you understand his point. That’s the disadvantage of pleasing people. I know how to do that, but the question is whether it contributes anything. Painters depict reality in a different form than you initially saw it. By having me only look at red in ‘Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue?’, for instance. I find that deeply intriguing. What is it in mere paint on canvas that moves us so powerfully? Or a word. A colleague once said, ‘A person is a lump of meat that emits text.’ A sentence like that makes you feel that people and art are so much more. If I buy a painting and break it in half in front of the painter, the artist is horrified – because the artist himself is present in the work. Mr. Detergent doesn’t mind at all if I rinse that laundry detergent down the drain.
‘We’re all walking around in a forest and everyone knows that it has its limits, but no one knows where the closest edge of the forest is.’
Business success depends partly on creativity and partly on determination. We’re all walking around in a forest and everyone knows that it has its limits, but no one knows where the nearest edge of the forest is. We do know that the person who keeps walking and doesn’t give up eventually reaches the edge of the forest. That takes perseverance and character. That can also be dysfunctional; it means not considering the risks and not entertaining doubts. An intellectual might ask himself if he’s on the right track, but entrepreneurs don’t question themselves like that. Cruijff says: ‘Playing football means playing forward. Playing football backward is wrong, and shooting for the sides is a waste of time too.’ We often think: well-rounded people achieve well-rounded results. But a person who is already complete doesn’t have that drive to achieve something. It’s our foolishness that gets us this far. Wisdom would inspire deep reflection, Buddha-style. We want to end up wise, but we also know how advantageous it can be to let your imagination run wild. Leaders often have something wrong with them too: they didn’t get enough attention in when they were kids. It’s a combination of talent and neurosis. I see it in myself and I see it in artists. And it should be celebrated! Monet painted seven sheaves of grain, Pierre Jansen once said. Why so many? If you have one, aren’t you done already? That’s frustration, running into a brick wall and looking for ways to deal with it. Transforming something negative into something positive. It’s circular thinking, not linear. The circles of inability/ability, disadvantage/advantage, knowledge/ignorance: these are the circles that keep us going. That’s what we call happiness: our inability to be happy is our constant quest to become happy.
‘An entrepreneur should be full, but also empty. Another parallel to art. You need to leave room for the personal interpretation of the viewer.’
An entrepreneur should be full, but also empty. Another parallel to art. You need to leave room for the personal interpretation of the viewer. A powerful impression created by an artist is more powerful because it leaves room for the viewer to engage with the work. Just like the strongest individuals showing their weakest points. That creates space for engagement. Don’t seal it off from everything! The same applies to art. Hamlet is still being performed because the play is still ambiguous. If there were ever a successful attempt to pin it down definitively, it would be over. The same holds true for vision and for people; they need to be clear and unclear at the same time. The leader is a visionary, but what did he say exactly? That’s the key. If you express it too clearly, people would disagree with it. That open space is exactly what makes it possible for one person to see one aspect and another person to see something else. But both people agree about the visionary part of it. That’s what a leader does, and that’s what art does. A leader adds enchantment to reality and offers the viewer opportunities to create something new. The entrepreneur looks for new combinations, which the managers then need to put into practice. They don’t really have much affinity with new combinations and with art. It holds them back from arranging things, from getting down to business. Leaders are always halfway there, but never arrive. Neither do artists. Nothing is worse than an artist who has arrived at his destination. It’s like leadership: heading for the horizon and knowing full well that you’ll never get there. A manager might say, ‘If you know that you will never arrive, why would you leave in the first place?’ As if arrival at the destination is needed to legitimize the journey.