Wolfgang Ullrich

“I admire the courage to make decisions where the consequences are not foreseeable”: Interview with the art historian and author Wolfgang Ullrich

Benjamin Stromberg Interview, Reflecting Leave a Comment

In his life, Wolfgang Ullrich has worked intensively on art and its significance for our society and is able to combine his expertise with compelling analyses of contemporary social phenomena. You could just see a critic in him, but master of reflection is more likely to fit – a quality that he also appreciates with his fellow men. 

We talked to him about our present society and how fruitful it is to think business and art together. “Generally, it seems to me that our society is perhaps the most differentiated and ambitious society so far. In many areas, we have experienced democratization, with many people also having the economic basis to reflect on issues. At other times it was not that easy. I keep observing in conversations with others, I quickly find a field in which they are versed quite well. It is not only about factual knowledge, but also about reflection, experience and sensitivity. Thus, quite a few things have happened in the last few decades, but perhaps this development is still under-appreciated”, he explains.

At the same time Ullrich sees a certain degree of arrogance of some people, which can arise from the possibility to design your own life individually and meaningfully. “Today you can express things that were not possible in the past, because it was largely determined what was considered as real and good life. Therefore, it is also fantastic that you can live in a highly individualized society. For me it becomes problematic at the point where people think that they can judge about others who have less opportunities to have a meaningful life. This happens because values ​​are often equated with morality and virtue. Then you believe quickly you are already a particularly moral or virtuous person just because you live by values. But you only were lucky, that you have talents as well as money and the time to make your own life meaningful.” A certain humility as a basic condition in the pursuit of your own happiness is something that can be observed in many artists. They know they have to pursue what is necessary with determination, courage and perseverance and have a personal position. But they also know that they have to overcome their own ego to create something new. Having your own values while at the same time being able to transcend them may seem contradictory. And it is. At best, however, it leads to subordinate your ego to a higher purpose, such as a piece of work, instead of making the individual way of life a common virtue.

Generally, Ullrich believes it is an excellent idea to enable such meaningfulness also through the companies in which we work. He supports the idea that artistic patterns of action could play a key role here: “As far as I have gained experience with entrepreneurs, I would say that I admire the courage to make decisions where the consequences are not clear. For example, you would not only get yourself into a tricky situation, but maybe even dismiss employees. The characteristics or inclinations of artists that you mentioned and have found (note: perceiving, reflecting, creating playfully and performing), are certainly also very useful for entrepreneurs or other people who want to succeed. “

Ullrich also emphasizes that the link between business and the arts should be reflected. Of course, there are still differences that should not be ignored, he states: “All that is looked for is similarities, which, for example, designate the entrepreneur as a conductor. It would also be effective to highlight differences. One should therefore ask the question, what it means that the entrepreneur is responsible for so many employees and most artists are usually not. Take, for example, the famous speech by Jürgen Ponto from the early 1970s in which he extensively and unilaterally invoked the analogies between artists and managers. I don’t mean that what he said is wrong, but you cannot say that they are so similar, and that every entrepreneur is also an artist and that every artist is an entrepreneur. There are still differences that we shouldn’t blur. “

In addition, entrepreneurs and artists differ mainly in terms of the audience and the product that they offer: “The dependencies are generally greater for an entrepreneur. But you don’t have to describe that negatively. If an entrepreneur has a social sense, he certainly uses it to the benefit of the customers. But for me, an entrepreneur needs this skill, but an artist does not. Of course, both “products” testify to this difference, and I also think it’s important that there are both kind of products in the world. There must be products that are precisely tailored to the needs of the customer, but there must also be products that are created according to the requirements of the producer. You need both, and most of all you need things that you might not understand or dislike at first. Only then do you deal with it. I would like to uphold this difference. “

Ultimately, for Ullrich the creativity and the serious interest are crucial with which entrepreneurs as well as artists can meet their audience. “Through his creative style, an entrepreneur can also establish a relationship with the customer. Nevertheless, you can also manipulate the customer a little in his wishes. Just last week I had a conversation with a very successful media entrepreneur. He told me that he went to every toilet on highways to listen what people are talking about. That is another reason why he has become successful. His belief is that you always need to listen to people and go wherever you find out about their worries and desires. “

Read the full interview here (German Only).


Interview by Dirk Dobiéy
Blog by Benjamin Stromberg
Translation by Benjamin Stromberg
Picture: Wolfgang Ullrich and Open Source

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