What business can learn from the arts

February 21, 2011

ARTISTS routinely deride businesspeople as money-obsessed bores. Or worse. Every time Hollywood depicts an industry, it depicts a conspiracy of knaves. Think of “Wall Street” (which damned finance), “The Constant Gardener” (drug firms), “Super Size Me” (fast food), “The Social Network” (Facebook) or “The Player” (Hollywood itself). Artistic critiques of business are sometimes precise and well-targeted, as in Lucy Prebble’s play “Enron”. But often they are not, as those who endured Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” can attest.

Many businesspeople, for their part, assume that artists are a bunch of pretentious wastrels. Bosses may stick a few modernist daubs on their boardroom walls. They may go on corporate jollies to the opera. They may even write the odd cheque to support their wives’ bearded friends. But they seldom take the arts seriously as a source of inspiration.

The bias starts at business school, where “hard” things such as numbers and case studies rule. It is reinforced by everyday experience. Bosses constantly remind their underlings that if you can’t count it, it doesn’t count. Quarterly results impress the stockmarket; little else does.

So begins the Economist’s Schumpeter blog – the art of management – which describes the ‘thaw’ taking place in the business world regarding the arts and what they may have to offer business – managing ‘difficult’ people among them

Directors persuade actresses to lock lips with actors they hate. Their tips might be worth hearing.

But perhaps more importantly the article makes the point that arts organisations and artists have been used to problem solving, working with egos, adopting and adapting to change, getting the show up and running, satisfying customers and in many cases making substantial amounts of money.  Our newfound interest in renewal and regeneration post-apocalyptic-economic-meltdown may be lip service but might (just might) amount to a different way of integrating these two worlds which have much more in common that is often imagined.  If business schools (as outlined in the article) are finally willing to learn from the arts then it (hopefully) won’t be long before governments realise that funding the arts is as much of an investment in the future as funding universities, research and job creation plans.  Artists and arts organisations can then start taking the business world more seriously too – as a site for learning – rather than only a revenue generating opportunity.

If businesspeople should take art more seriously, artists too should take business more seriously. Commerce is a central part of the human experience. More prosaically, it is what billions of people do all day. As such, it deserves a more subtle examination on the page and the screen than it currently receives.

2 People reacted on this

  1. Ever since Richard Florida hi-jacked the term “creativity” for business use artists have been and are being lumped together with groups not of their choosing for causes not of their choice.
    You’ve done the same suggesting that artists and arts organizations are playing on the same team. Arts organizations and arts advocacy organizations are in the business of being an arts organization, a term that seems to have less and less to do with being an artists.
    Ever since the cultural wars of the 1980’s stripped artists of direct funding of their own projects and they have been forced to get funding from arts organizations for projects they organizations design. As a country we went from funding the production of art to the funding of the presenters of art.
    Every arts organization competes for the same funds that I could be using to actually make art.
    So let’s distinguish the two. They are not the same and becoming less and less so.

  2. You make really good points Richard, most of which I agree with. I would only add that splitting artist/art into the ‘good’ category and arts organizations into the ‘bad’ is a false dichotomy. Many from both communities work very successfully to increase artists’ access to funds (to create the work), audiences access to art and they continue to put pressure on central governments for the funds in the first place. You are right it has become unnecessarily complicated in some ways and I’m not sure what the answer to it is….

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