Stanley Tucci’s film ‘Final Portrait’ about Giacometti’s protracted but wonderful painting of the American writer James Lord in 1964 was released a couple of weeks ago. Lord wrote a book about the experience.
I could find only one reviewer who fell as completely under the film’s spell as I did. But I found the dissenting reviews so helpful: true insights into the unspoken expectations so many of us are working under.
To be clear right up front – you really, really don’t have to like the film. (It is slow, understated, ambiguous, and deals in impressions – I think beautifully – rather than strict narrative)
The power, however, of what is never made explicit is worth thinking about.
Some of the themes in the film link directly to themes I encounter constantly in Leadership training and coaching work. And this is knotty stuff. There’s no simple or binary answer.
For example – insecurity.
Giacometti is consumed, ravaged, by alternating periods of what almost reaches satisfaction and then consuming hopelessness that all (he) is worthless. Apparent destructiveness marks the shift of mood.
I’ve seen that in the workplace, haven’t you?
How much raging and roaring stems from fear of inadequacy? Can the rest of us respond to that fear, rather than the noise?
For example – perfectionism.
Clearly linked to insecurity, but here in the simple sense of restlessly tinkering and toying with projects. Giacometti started again, re worked, took another view, repeatedly. The results may be genius. But for most of us, knowing when to stop or simply leave well alone would amount to genius. In 1964, Lord created a final cut-off time. He effectively took the work away at the right moment.
For example – leaving much unsaid.
There is no back story – to any character – in ‘Final Portrait’. The result is a powerful concentration on how characters react to and with each other. They reveal more potential and depth. The viewer hasn’t been presented with a finished, polished, no-more-needed ‘bio’. How often does this habit of exchanging sanitized and complete ‘stories’ of ourselves and our work get in the way of what might be actually happening?
Or more importantly – what might be possible?
Leonardo said art was never finished, only abandoned.
Permission at last!
Leaving things undone: a creative act.