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Strategic innovation and art
Strategic Innovation and Art
Michael Moeller, Cornelia Stolla, Alexander Doujak (Hg),
Strategic Innovation. Building New Growth Businesses,
Strategic innovation and art
How can a work of art be used for strategic innovation in business? What core
competences in art can be used to promote strategic change? How can art provide
new business perspectives?
Über das Neue [The New Way] is the title of one of today’s key works in the theory of
art (Groys 1999). For the author, the cultural theorist and philosopher Boris Groys,
culture is the sphere of economic logic "par excellence" due to its dynamism and
transferable ability to innovate. Groys sees "dynamism" and "innovation" as key
concepts in cultural production, which are always utilized in establishing "the new",
and therefore the recurring question of how “the new“ comes about is. In other words,
not just something which engages those in the sphere of economics. The pressure to
innovate however is stronger in economics than in art, which is not measured in
terms of its ability to create the new. Artistic innovation today is expressed in the
constant blurring of borders between art and non-art, between fantasy and reality.
“The new“ is in the novel and in the unconventional.
The strategic innovative potential of art
When discussing strategic innovation, the key question is: is art strategically
A starting point for innovative business concepts is breaking the rules. Renewal can
only occur when rules and routines, developed throughout a company’s existence,
are broken and the development of the company takes a different route. The world of
art is now characterized precisely by the 'unadjusted' or the 'other'. The basic rupture
with conventions corresponds directly to a societal expectation of artists and
functions such as a 'cachet', as the following anecdote demonstrates; “At a party
recently, a few senior gentlemen, all Managing Directors of large German
companies, were chatting about their private art collections. The most senior of them,
the CEO of a Group, proudly told the men about an experience he had a few weeks
earlier. He was introduced by the gallery owner himself to the artist Georg Baselitz,
who had asked straight away if the CEO owned one of his works of art. The CEO had
to admit that he did not, at which point Baselitz responded: “Well then I won’t talk to
you“. The snubbed man did not find the artist’s response offensive or rude; he was
rather impressed by it. On the same evening he bought one of Baselitz’ paintings."
(Ullrich 2002, p. 24)
Due to their low levels of standardization and formalization, art production and
expression are - to a large extent - risky ventures. Artists possess the outstanding
skill to develop specific strategic actions to compensate for this, which is not
recognized enough by actors from other realms.
It is also considered to be strategic and inherent to artists to challenge their own work
and to characterize the 'self', and it eventually directs and develops the artistic terms.
And lastly, it is the entrepreneurial spirit, which in addition to idealistic motive, pushes
the artist. The image of the entrepreneurial artist can be traced back through several
epochs of art history, from Rembrandt van Rijn and Paul Peter Rubens, to Hans
Makart, Andy Warhol, Mark Kostabi, Jeff Koons and Damian Hirst, to name a few of
the most popular artists who have gained market recognition. The organization and
division of work in the studio on the one hand, and “self-promotion“ on the other
hand, has made different styles and ideas an indispensable part of the artist’s work
and self-conception. In order to be successful, an artist must become the object of
public debate, gain access to the media and become the main object of interest,
alongside his work of art. In this respect, artists are also strategically innovative.
The English artist Damien Hirst, is one of the most well paid artists worldwide. He is
recognized as one of the great “young British artists“ in the 1990’s for marketing
himself and for his business-orientated-approach, so influencing a whole generation
of artists. He initially caused a stir for his animal cadavers preserved in formaldehyde
including cows, sheep and a tiger shark. In a different series of exhibits, Hirst
awkwardly arranged surgical instruments and hundreds of boxes of pills in frames
In 1998 Hirst and his business partner opened a VIP restaurant in Notting Hill, called
“Pharmacy“, which soon evolved into the in-place for the 'who is who' of the
international pop and art scenes. The whole concept was Damian Hirst’s idea and to
bring it all about he welcomed the ideas of famous names in fashion, interior design
and graphics. The doctors’ uniforms for the waiters and waitresses were designed by
Prada, the interior by the English designer Jasper Morrison under the name Shooting
Star, and the corporate design by the first class graphic artist Jonathan Barnbrook.
Every little detail was thought through. The restaurant itself was a work of art, from
the aspirin shaped bar stools to the elaborate menus and wine lists, the crockery with
chemical elements and the ashtrays shaped like molecules.
In 2003, the restaurant closed, and in October 2004, the interior of the restaurant was
sold at Sotheby’s for ₤10 million.
Art as a service provider
"I provide services," says the American artist Andrea Fraser about her art. She also
provides commissioned works, for Vienna's EA-Generali Foundation for example.
Marking the re-establishment of their exhibition space in 1995, the foundation invited
the artist to explore the function of contemporary art for the employees in particular,
and for the company in general. By doing so, the insurance activities associated with
the foundation were to be given a public image and created the international
perception of its dedication to art. At the time, the foundation's collection, as well as
its permanent exhibitions, had become an important force on the art scene. The
company's commitment to art however was received differently by the employees on
the insurance side. The daily exposure with artworks at the workplace was a constant
source of potential conflict at the foundation, despite an internal outreach program.
Over a year, Andrea Fraser conducted interviews with employees and members of
the board of both the company and the foundation, and closely examined files,
correspondence, positions, advertising campaigns and statistics. She summed up
her analysis in a report presented in public, and linked to an exhibition of the
foundation's collection for which she selected the works. In this project, and in some
other of her works, Fraser repeatedly uncovers institutional structures and strategies
by questioning (mechanisms of) self-representation — a kind of corporate analysis
from an artistic point of view.
This interest in looking at a business from an artistic perspective is something that
Fraser has in common with several quite varied artistic attitude. Artist Placement
Group (APG) is often considered an original model for this. It was founded in England
in 1966 with the goal of positioning artists outside the art world in a broader social
context of economics and politics. This was intended to improve the marginalized
position of the artists in society and grant them the role of decision maker. On the
basis of work contracts negotiated by the APG, they brought artists to companies,
where they were involved for a certain period in daily work, and, just like an
employee, were paid for their time. At the same time, they were granted sufficient
autonomy to document their experience in artistic shape and form. Until the late
1970s, such placements took place in cooperation with the British Steel Corporation,
ESSO Petroleum Co Ltd., British European Airways, British Rail, Hillie Co. Ltd. and
the National Coal Board. In 2004, APG’s entire archive was purchased by the Tate
Gallery in London.
"The quality of the results is critically dependent on how the work process began, and
how it is shaped. If an artist participates in entrepreneurial processes, then a different
kind of quality is implemented in the company: artistic thinking." (Neidhart 2003, p.
140). The German artist Mathias Neidhart explains his approach as an artistic
"process consultant" e.g. for Daimler Chrysler. When twenty engineers were sitting
down together to develop a new head gasket, Neidhart sat alongside them as the
21st member of the team. His contribution was to provide another conceptual
approach, for example by way of visually supported work. With images, contexts
become clearer, and the problem-solving process was thereby differently reflected.
By changing representation, a transformation took place in the mind.
Creativity as a core competence
Every innovation predates creativity. The secret is to discover similarities in
completely new contexts and to combine the previously unrelated.
Even in commerce, innovation requires new ways of thinking, looking and acting. If
creativity was, for decades, only reserved to art, it is now a decisive competitive
factor in commerce. Commercial creativity increasingly determines the sustainability
and market opportunity to be gained. This development started at the end of the 20th
Alois Schumpeter´s “Schöpferischer Wirtschaftsführer“ (creative manager) known for
his innovative ability has today been revived as an entrepreneur.
Through the new binding properties of creativity, the well-discussed link between art
and business can be reviewed. The relationship was previously defined through the
economization of art; through the transfer of financial and management resources
from business into art. However, there has not been a satisfactory exchange of
symbolic resources in exchange for financial assets that has worked. Art and
business have previously been two incompatible domains. This can change in a
knowledge-based society. Art can open up new ways of thinking, new perspectives
and new ways of acting, which should have the opportunity to penetrate and
influence business. The potential of said transfers from art to other fields and
systems is seen, for example, in a comparison between the competences of artists
and the respective competence of managers.
For both realms, terms like context, strategy, intervention, and projects characterize
the current orientation. Values and capacities like creativity, flexibility, networked-
thinking, and discourse are of great importance in both areas. Social, economic, and
political interventions are made at both ends but are given a different value and
reception by society.
The Austrian artist Erwin Wurm embodies creativity. His starting point, and self-
conception as an artist, is that of a sculptor. His work is aimed at the search for a
widened understanding of sculpture and the mistrust for the pre-designed form and
its implication in classical art and sculptural terminology. Through temporal, staged
arrangements of people and everyday things captured on film or on camera, Wurm
creates long-lasting sculptures. Arguably, his most important work cycles are the
“One Minute Sculptures“. Complete or only in the form of “instructions“, he features
his actors in crazily absurd situations and dysfunctional states through equally
absurd new orders.
His most witty and ironic visual representations and takes on the lifestyle symbols of
daily life (e.g. in his sartorial sculptures) have already inspired the advertising and
pop culture industries, such as a photo section for a fashion magazine or a music clip
for the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. Many of his works are also statements on the role of
artists in society, as well as the art business. Intellectual work is not only not to
depict as, for example, the philosophizing about philosophy in his photo series
’thinking about Kant’, it is mostly seen as ’unproductive’ in the classical meaning of
capitalism. The photo series “Instructions for Idleness“ show the artist in an array of
evidently unproductive situations, as they are pictured in daily life.
The German art group Reinigungsgesellschaft (Martin Keil and Henrik Mayer)
belongs to a growing number of artists who engage with change in social values and
the transformations of the working world. In 2001, they distributed a questionnaire
among 300 large German companies about their attitude towards artistic skills. The
results were published under the title Forum Unternehmenskultur [corporate culture
forum]. This comparison of art and business skills showed that art is above all
spontaneous, intuitive and creative, while profitability, influence, and productivity
stand on the business side of things. Also interesting is that the conceptions that
businessmen have about the idea of work largely corresponds to that of the artistic
self-image. Self-realization is more important than earnings or other factors. In
response to the question "Can business imagine co-operating with artists in a way
that goes beyond the usual forms of art promotion?”, 30% responded with the
answer, "No, because artists have no direct skills relevant to the business area."
Meanwhile, 53% responded that they could imagine such collaborations improving
the communicative atmosphere of the business and binding the employees to the
company more strongly. 17% sees the possibility of a direct link to the development
of their products.
For prospective areas of work between business and art, the development of social
competence, the development of cultural capital, communication between parallel
value systems and the raising of levels of knowledge were most commonly named.
In order to utilize the connecting competence of creativity, alternate roles and new
value systems are needed – on both sides. To achieve this, art and business need to
work in equal measure.
Art-based learning for business, Sonderausgabe Journal of Business Strategy,
Vol.26 Nr.5, 2005
Marie Brellochs/Henrik Schrat (Hrsg.), Produkt & Vision. Eine Versuchsanordnung
zwischen Kunst und Wirtschaft, Kadmos Verlag, Berlin 2006
Boris Groys, Über das Neue.Versuch einer Kulturökonomie, Frankfurt am Main 1999
Doris Rothauer, Kreativität & Kapital. Kunst und Wirtschaft im Umbruch, WUV, Wien
Klaus Heid/Ruediger John (Hrsg.), Transfer: Kunst Wirtschaft Wissenschaft, Baden-
Mathis Neidhart, "Als Künstler kann man in anderen Systemen freier operieren,"
interview with Klaus Heid in: Klaus Heid and Ruediger John (eds.), Transfer: Kunst
Wirtschaft Wissenschaft. Baden-Baden, 2003.
Wolfgang Ullrich, Der Kreislauf von Kunst und Geld. Eine kleine Ökonomie des
Antiökonomismus, in: Zdenek Felix/Beate Hentschel/Dirk Luckow (Hrsg.), Art &
Economy, Ausstellungskatalog Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Hatje Cantz Verlag,
Ausstellungskatalog Deichtorhallen Hamburg, Hatje Cantz Verlag, Hamburg 2002
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