Artistry as Capital

How do we begin to see our Artistry as Capital? How do we locate ourselves as artists in a global economy? What are some considerations for reframing or re-purposing our skill sets in order to survive the changing nature of the world market?

Firstly, we need to set aside traditional structures where art making has existing commercial value such as the film and television industry. We also need to fully consider the growing importance and valuing of artistic practice and artistic thinking as we leave the Information Age and enter the Conceptual Age where creators, innovators and empathisers are pre-eminent.

Acknowledging the shift occurring in business practice across the globe over the last ten to fifteen years, we see the advancing trend of many companies outsourcing and relocating production to countries such as India, China and Russia. In nearly all cases the motivating reason is to cut costs through significant reductions in labour and infrastructure. Any high volume and high demand product or service that can be automated is a potential candidate.

With continuing advances in information technology and more and more large corporations moving sites of production off-shore, the global market in a sense is both expanding and contracting. It is now possible to operate an enterprise at a local level and reach customers and clients world wide. Now more than ever before in history is it possible to live locally and act globally.

Automation of products and services continues to expand into countries around the globe. In order to secure their future, local entrepreneurs must look to products and services that are not so easily automated. While it is possible to print and publish a book in China for example, it is not yet possible to automate the content creation of that book. Creative knowledge is creative capital.

How much as artists do we value and appreciate our role in the global economy? How much are we prepared to think outside the square when it comes to developing and re-purposing our artistic and creative talents? How narrow or broad are our assumptions about our practice and sites of practice?

As an emerging artist in the 1980’s I saw my role clearly defined. I knew that my sites of practice were film, television and theatre. I knew I needed to get an agent and manager to represent me and I knew I needed to attend every possible audition that came my way in the hope of landing a role. I worked casual jobs to pay the rent, I waited for the phone to ring, I attended auditions and now and again I got a job.

Twenty five years later most of the emerging artists and practicing artists I know are still doing the same thing. A handful have been successful enough not to have to wait tables but essentially it is the same. Of course there are one or two exceptions. There are those that have formed their own film or theatre companies, created their own products, taken self written and self funded projects to festivals around the world. Essentially they have managed to create locally and act globally. Emerging artists Matt Zeremes and Oliver Torr’s work on their film Burke and Wills taken to Tribeca Film Festival in New York (q.v.) provides a clear example of an artist’s ability to think outside the square (in terms of standard forms of production and funding), create locally and enter a global context. These artists (actors) represent the exception and not the norm and this is one small example inside one field of artistic practice (acting).

Thinking globally is one of the elements supporting the development of Artistry as Capital. In addition to the vagaries and impacts of an expanding global economy are the increasing pressures on business remaining competitive and viable through innovation and creativity. There is also an increasing demand to create workplaces of flow and synergy where employees are respected, valued and encouraged to contribute. Creating a sense of well-being and building strong work-life balance is now seen as sound investment. It is no longer about getting the most from the least. Best business practice is centred around the creation of sustainable ‘family values’ in the workplace as opposed to more reductive work-ethic based practises of the past.

The need for creative thinking coupled with a growing recognition of the need for increasing abilities of emotional and social intelligence in communication and business practices is evidenced at all corporate levels. As leaders and managers develop and keep up to date with the technical and managerial idiosyncrasies of running a business they must also stay abreast of the growing demands of employees to secure work environments that support their health and well-being, creativity and their sense of belonging. To be creative, business must foster creativity. To excel at client and customer communication, business must foster and enhance creative communication practices. To create, maintain and sustain creative thinking and harness collective wisdom, business must develop and embed skills such as empathy, reciprocity, encouragement and thereby create a sense of belonging.

In short, the business world (it may not be fully conscious of this yet) is calling out to the world of the arts for inspiration and involvement. And in this sense our Artistry is Capital. Directly applied we can see many of these creative industries existing now: journalism, fashion, theatre, communication design, creative writing, visual arts, to name a few. Indirectly, many more creative opportunities exist for artists who are prepared to offer their artistic talents and/or re-purpose them for business. The way the world of psychology entered the sporting world is one representation of this, no sports team in the world worth their salt would consider not having a team psychologist. Whereas 10 or 15 years ago that would not have been the case.

The question arises: how many of us as artists have looked at the business world and simply not understood it or wanted to understand it? Have we played our part in maintaining a gap between the arts and what we consider to be the dry world of pragmatism, balance sheets and the bottom line? What would it take to build a bridge between the two? Of course we are talking about much more than arts companies seeking subsidies from established law and architectural firms.

As our societies move out of the Information Age, artists who are ready to move into the Conceptual Age will see expanding opportunities to apply their artistry to enhance and support innovation, creativity, communication and social networks. The arts will no doubt always have their traditional sites of practice. However as artists continue to evolve their various forms of practice they will increasingly enter the global economy building bridges between the arts and business communities where deep and fulfilling symbiosis will nourish and sustain both artistic and business practice.