How to Deal with a Horse’s Ass (in your head)
What is the behavior I have to manage my head around you may ask?
What I find really hard is the person who has to be the smartest person in the room, and makes sure you and everyone else reflects that back to him/her. The person who is so sure they have the answers they don’t listen. Who talks over people more junior than them. Who is dismissive of other people they consider lower in the power structure. Who posture to make a point, instead of just being open and direct.
I’ve seen this behavior by execs to people on their teams (sometimes in front of me when I am the vendor). I’ve seen it towards my employees, and sometimes to me because I am selling, or because I am female, or because I threaten them in some way. I’ve seen it in groups which should be peers but where one person thinks he’s better/senior/more experienced/smarter and so throws his weight around. In board meetings, on panels, at dinner parties.
So it happens. You’ve seen it. But enough of the negative. How to deal?
I am inspired by Caravaggio in this circumstance. Caravaggio was commissioned by Tibero Cerasi to paint two paintings for the Cerasi Chapel of Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome in 1600. One of the conversion of St Paul, the other of the Crucifixion of St Peter. At the same time Cerasi commissioned Caravaggio’s competitor Carracci (a conventional Baroque painter, and Caravaggio’s contemporary) to paint the altar piece.
The first versions Caravaggio painted were rejected by Cerasi (only one is known to survive and it is glorious), and the history hints to their rejection being maybe motivated by Cardinal Sannessio’s desire to take them into his private collection. But whatever the reason, the net result was Caravaggio had to paint two more, and this time he chose to paint them in rich, high drama, and to send a message.
Meanwhile, Carracci painted the altar piece and the Assumption of the Virgin takes center stage of the Cerisi chapel. The Assumption is a beautiful, classically baroque painting in romantic pinks and blues replete with cherub angels, but it’s no match for Caravaggio’s stunning, dramatic flanking paintings.
So how did Caravaggio make a point of his opinion of his competitor Carracci? He painted a horse’s ass pointed towards the Carracci painting!
Here’s the chapel. The Assumption is in the middle above the altar.
You can see the Conversion of Saint Paul on the Way to Damascus is on the right. The horse’s backside is directed squarely at the Carracci painting. And it’s been expressing Caravaggio’s opinion for 415 years.
This is a truly glorious, extraordinary painting. It is Caravaggio at the top of his game, changing the world of painting forever. It has incredible depth, drama and detail and the horse is alive!
So when I have to play the game and be respectful and polite to someone I don’t respect I think about this painting, and how Caravaggio had the last laugh, and remind myself not to take any of this too seriously.