The Angel in The Marble

Michelangelo-David

‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.’ Michelangelo

I happened across this Michelangelo quote via this Hidden Brain podcast on the subject of marriage, and I rather liked it. Social psychologist Eli Finkel describes in the podcast his ideas around the all or nothing marriage, and how our expectations around marriage have grown to such an extent that a marriage that would have been acceptable to us in the 1950s would likely be a disappointment to us today, but also how the flip side of that is that with investment and work modern marriages can be more amazing than ever. Finkel uses the quote as a metaphor for how a great marriage can bring out the best of what’s already there and enable both partners to flourish.

Digging around a bit I came across this post from Editor and Screenwriter Nils Parker which uses the quote as a metaphor for the process of editing manuscripts:

‘Before they get to me, most manuscripts are essentially a collection of strong ideas and great stories that have been suffocated by authorial self-doubt, insecurity, and bias. My job, as the editor, is to clear all of that away and expose the greater truths that sit at the core of these stories. I shape the words around the mold created by their intent so that the ideas may come to life like they already do in the minds of their creators. The process is very much like a sculptor’s—an artist in an artisan’s body, chipping away at the rock diligently and purposefully until the image reveals itself.’

For Michelangelo, says Parker, the idea is already there inside the hunk of stone, and the eyes and hands of the sculptor are merely vessels through which it can be brought into the physical world. The post also references Michelangelo’s thoughts on the differences between sculpture as an artform, and that of painting:

‘By sculpture I mean that which is fashioned by the effort of cutting away, that which is fashioned by the method of building up being like unto painting.’

I’ve been reading around Professor Dan Cable’s work on the power of employees bringing their best selves into the work environment. It strikes me that in building high performing teams we too often think of a leader’s job as being like the painter, building (knowledge) and adding layers (of capability) when actually a large part of the job is in cutting away the things that can get in the way of enabling people to be their true and best selves.

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