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How can writing an accounting text be art?

I’ve been working on a textbook for what seems like forever. Actually, one of my best friends and I have been doing this. Whenever people ask me the topic, which is payroll accounting, their eyes inevitably glaze over and they mumble a sort of  “ehrm” sound.



It’s not the sexiest topic in the world. Part of me feels embarrassed that I chose to coauthor a textbook about one of the most nerdy, probably least glamorous topics on the planet. I could go into the practical reasons why the text is important and why we wrote it, but the fact that it is being published at all is enough.

Today I ran across an article about the business of being an artist. As a business professor, I have to admit that I have had trouble understanding why someone would deliberately develop his or her artwork with the intent of  making it a career. I’ve probably looked like Mr. Cumberbatch (in the image above) when one of m students had the courage to tell me of their career plans as an artist. I guess I’ve always viewed the art business as being for people who either liked to be poor or had enough familial money to not worry about making a living.

Reading this article changed my perspective — both about my own work and about my students’ ambitions.

In Art, Inc.: A Field Guide to the Psychology and Practicalities of Becoming a Successful Artist, Maria Popova explains how selling your artwork is an investment in your own future. How people who create art are inevitably sought after to help other people understand the world or find meaning in their lives. As I consider the art on my walls, I realize that it simply never occurred to me that my purchase and display of other people’s art was a way to find meaning in my life.

But it is.

Each piece has a special significance for me. The painting of my brother and me when we were very young reminds me of my grandmother’s house, of innocence, and of times before adult cares overtook my life. A print of what I think is a Monet piece that depicts a bridge makes me think of my journey through life and  the way I see my purpose in it. Even my old watercolors of WSan Francisco, which reminds me of the house where I grew up, have their place in my life.

Popova’s article mentioned that the artist’s mindset is what defines their perception of their work. For me, writing this textbook has been so much a part of my life that it is as natural as breathing. I don’t see it as anything special because I’ve been writing for so long that the process has become commonplace. When my coauthor and I went to a professional conference a few months ago, it started dawning on me how unique this writing piece is. People I didn’t know were in awe of this work, which I found odd because of my perspective that it was ultra-nerdy but commonplace. And that it was a project on which I have worked without monetary reward that I have become accustomed to it being a labor of love.

What I didn’t realize until today was how much creative talent went into this work. And how much my coauthor and I deserve any material reward that comes. We have labored countless hours on taking a mundane concept for which only one not-so-good textbook existed and have engaged our skills, talents, and unique gifts to make a student’s life  — and understanding of this small, but very important, piece of accounting — a little better. And maybe, just maybe, it will enable the student to secure a fruitful career so they may buy a piece of art that lends meaning to their world.

So this tiny part of my life comes full circle. The study, labor, and artistry that went into creating this nerdy book is one of my gifts to the world. I am an artist.


Empathy impairment and its effects

I just spent the last couple of weeks with a relative who is empathy impaired. We’ll call this person Terri, just to protect identities.  Terri has a long history of  self-centered behavior, and I always classified it as abusive, often stupid. Terri has always treated the people around her with disregard that is reminiscent of a slavemaster. She’s from central Georgia, I told myself, and that type of attitude could well be a product of her upbringing. However, I knew her mother well enough to know that she was never treated as such.

Last summer, Terri cared for my children while we completed our cross-country move. I was incensed on many occasions at my children’s daily reports. During many daily phone conversations with my children, I could hear upsetting vocal tones and I was abruptly disconnected too many times to believe that it was anything other than deliberate.

The behavior I witnessed during this visit was no different. Self-centered behavior is normal to an extent, but hers goes beyond rudeness. Ignorance of other people’s needs may happen, especially when a person is distracted or in some sort of pain. Her willing ignorance of my family’s needs — not wants, needs — was impressive. Her response to emergencies, like the recent electrical fire, reveals a level of self-centeredness that  is damaging. I’ve come to the conclusion that my previous labels have been incorrect. I believe now that Terri lacks empathy. She has sympathy, but that’s not the same thing and she only directs it  toward situations of her choice.

Other words describe her, but I am loath to use them. Yet. The effect of her behavior is that Terri has alienated her children, children-in-law, and certain of her grandchildren to the point where they don’t want to be around her for longer than brief periods. My children have begged me to not leave them alone with her.  I cannot explain and can barely ameliorate her behavior, but I can and will spare my children to the greatest extent possible.


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