Bijenkorf The Hague

Touch Points: How Business and Other Disciplines can Learn from Art

Dirk Dobiéy Business, Education, Insights, Organization 0 Comments

Over the centuries many touch points between art and business or other disciplines have been described and explored to various degrees. At Age of Artists, we deal with those connections that are reported to lead to better outcomes in business and society. This is what we have found so far:

  • Representation, branding, and social responsibility
  • Work-life-balance and community building
  • Artistic intervention and Artists in Residence
  • Teaching Artists and/or Arts-Based Learning
  • Art-based principles, practices, and processes at work

Representation, branding, and social responsibility. Organizations purchase art to exhibit within their buildings or in their digital space. They may build a collection and run in-house exhibitions. They sponsor events at museums or take similar action. In this way, they may try to express their brand and culture with architecture and design or use art to support marketing and sales activities. Organizations may see such an engagement also as pure form of social responsibility. By sponsoring artists or art institutions, they support the richness of cultural life. While this—in contrast to the following areas—is a rather superficial level of connecting art and business, it is the one that causes traditionally the most friction between the two disciplines, as many artists responded with resistance or counterattacks when they felt art was being used (or abused) for what they felt were wrong purposes or when the freedom of art was at risk.

Community building and work-life balance. Many organizations support shared activities amongst their workforce. A company symphony orchestra, a big band, a corporate theatre company, painting classes and other such activities can be found in both large and small organizations. And very often their output reaches a considerable level of quality in artistic expression. It improves work-life-balance, sense of belonging, team building, and networking – usually after working hours. Cultural activities at work vary according to the business cycle and have a statistical association with employee mental health, particularly in work environments producing emotional exhaustion, and may protect employees against subsequent emotional exhaustion. Such an effect was observable when the business cycle in Sweden went from ”good” conditions (which meant higher levels of cultural activity at work) to poorer conditions with rising unemployment rates.”[1]

Artistic Intervention and Artists in Residence. Artists may be invited to work with and in professional organizations. They might come for a visit, support workshops, or take on positions as a side job. Ariane Berthoin Antal and Anke Strauß provided excellent insights in their research report, titled “Artistic interventions in organizations: Finding evidence of values‐added.” They conclude: “There is evidence that artistic interventions can indeed contribute to such strategic and operational factors as productivity, efficiency, recruitment and reputation, but this is the area that is mentioned least frequently in the research‐based publications. Apparently, this is not necessarily what organization members consider as the most remarkable sphere of impact. Indeed, few companies that have worked with artistic interventions have sought to document such direct impacts. Instead, managers and employees seem to care more about how artistic interventions impact the factors that underpin the potential for innovation. The power of artistic interventions in organizations resides in the opening of spaces of possibility, which we call ‘interspaces’ in the formal and informal organization. In these interspaces, participants experience new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing things that add value for them personally.”[2] The challenge is that “artistic interventions are by definition ephemeral phenomena in organizations. They start and they end, so the responsibility for deriving the benefits for the organization and sustaining the effects lies with managers and the employees.”[3]

Teaching Artists and/or Arts-Based Learning. All around the globe a highly fragmented community of trained artists from pretty much every art genre engages with all kinds of professional organizations. Except for some networks and mailing lists, they are not formally organized nor is there a standard for what teaching artistry entails. What they have in common however is that they focus on knowledge transfer through performances, key notes, workshops, coaching, leadership development and even consulting activities. Usually such artists are masters of their discipline, i.e. music, theatre, dance or visual art and in addition developed a talent for engaging with other disciplines. They pass the “head, hand, and heart of art” over to individuals in business, science, social, or public fields. When asked why they expanded into other disciplines, they often respond with the perceived limitations of their artistic domain and their curiosity to explore other fields. Economic considerations might also apply. Teaching artists usually have rather shorter engagements with clients and the targeted impact is largely on changing people’s perception and on people skill development.

Art-based principles, practices, and processes at work: This is the area introduced and supported by Age of Artists. Here individuals display an artistic attitude and embed best practices derived from art seamlessly into their actual work. This does not suggest everyone is suddenly an artist, but it means that there is a broad understanding and appreciation for art-based processes on an individual, team, and organization level. This will lead eventually to behavioral change in individual employees and thus a cultural shift for the entire organization, economy, and society. Introducing methodologies such as design thinking or agile software development represent early stages of such best practices. What is particularly worth noting about this field is that it is immune to economic and business cycles. Once art-based processes are accepted as standard in an organization, they are not at risk of being budget-cut, while all the other areas mentioned will be under critical observation in bear market conditions.

Looking at all five areas of potential interaction and exchange between art and other disciplines, it becomes clear that art has already much positive influence on organizations and the people within. For instance, Michael Gold and Dario Villa suggest jazz as a metaphor for the “learning organization,” since it is an art form based in social learning that has innovated new products for over one hundred years and was the basis for great wealth and inspiration. Such examples illustrate the untapped potential for professional organizations or, as the authors put it, “perhaps there’s more to this metaphor of jazz as a model for improvising organizations than meets the ear.”[4]

Organizations that embrace art-based processes and provide an environment in which an art-based attitude can develop will more likely be able to succeed in a world that is highly complex, changes fast, where the competition is fierce and information grows constantly. In addition to established management best practices, learning from art–as a metaphor or literally–can help to address the main challenges organizations face today. By using methods, principles, and processes derived from the arts, we become more flexible and adaptive to change.

Sources:
[1] Töres Theorell et al., “Is cultural activity at work related to mental health in employees?” 2006-2010.
[2,3] Berthoin Antal, Ariane & Strauß, Anke, Artistic interventions in organisations: Finding evidence of values‐added. Creative Clash Report. Berlin: WZB, 2013, p. 3.
[4] Michael Gold, and Dario Villa, Trading Fours: Jazz and the Learning Organization,” 2012.

Picture Source:
Bijenkorf – The Hague, New Old Stock

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