The New York Times recently missed an opportunity to talk about bringing your whole self to work, as writer Michael R. Gordon wrote a piece about the work life of David Richardson, yet didn’t challenge the subject’s assertions that his two professions are mutually exclusive. Here’s the story.
Lt. Col. David Richardson in his own words is a “painter who fights.” He’s an artist showing his colorful Expressionist paintings in a Georgetown gallery through the end of January, and in February he’ll be deployed to work with Afghan security forces. Unfortunately, he doesn’t view his disparate occupations–artist and Marine–as integrable, even though they’re both extensions of himself.
Colonel Richardson does acknowledge the considerable influence of his tours of duty in Asia on his painting. During a tour in South Korea, for example, he had small canvases made for him by a local carpenter, hauled them back to his studio on his bicycle, painted symbols on the individual squares and then clamped them together to form larger works, which comprise part of his “R Series” on display in Washington DC. The faint arrows, similar to the directional markings on a tactical map, are one of the rare carry-overs from his military world.
Interestingly, his mother is an artist who paints landscapes and flowers, and his father had been a Navy diver in World War II.
Now, the catalog for the show mentions his travels to Japan and Korea, but at his request never suggests that his military service took him there. As well, during the long lulls between patrols when he and his Marines were holed up with Iraqi troops in a dilapidated soap factory in Fallujah, he never hinted that he had a passion for art.
By his own account he has long led a double existence. “It’s been pretty compartmentalized,” he said about his two lives.” “My father taught me to talk the talk. You don’t talk about art with the Marines, and you don’t talk about the Marines with artists.”
So it sure would be tidy to blame his father for limiting his worldview. Yet as an adult, he bears some responsibility to challenge what he’s been taught. At the same time, his gestalt smacks of the restrictions imposed by “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”
Clearly, these two distinct areas of work are related — within Colonel Richardson. Yet it’s difficult for him to work openly as a Marine and a painter. While we acknowledge that the stress of war impacts each troops’ state of mind in complicated ways, we have a hypothesis that if Col. Richardson were to come out in both worlds, his openness and mindfulness would make him a better artist and a better Marine.
Do you lead two or more distinct professional lives? What are the challenges you face in integrating them?