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Artists should stop casting entrepreneurs as criminals

By Ralph Kerle - posted Friday, 16 September 2005

Daniel H. Pink, in his new book The Whole New Mind, suggests there is simply no longer any need to teach or learn survival skills. We live in a community of abundance where our daily needs in the main are met. This is especially true among Australia’s art and academic elites.

So the main preoccupation emerging in this world of abundance is not the desire to acquire more capital and assets but a search for meaning - a spiritual quest of some sort that this abundance allows us to pursue.

I am particularly interested in exploring the emerging sense of a "natural ecology" in the workplace. When the workplace is perceived in this way, the possibility arises of engaging management and employees in an aesthetic discourse. It will provide a more meaningful way of thinking about their individual contributions at work and to the general ecology in which they work: a way for management to think selflessly as opposed to selfishly.


Thos with occupations such as academics, writers, artists, arts consultants are in the main privileged in that they understand to a great degree the processes of creative exploration and production in one form or another and derive a living from it.

With the development of knowledge industries, the emphasis is on creativity and its application to develop knowledge for commercial purposes. The custodians of the processes of applied creativity are the artists in our community. For the future of our economy, both financial and social, the application of these processes needs to be taught and transferred to the main drivers of our economy, the movers and shakers in finance, government, manufacturing and agribusiness who are mostly very conservative and wary of creativity and the arts.

Richard Florida's epiphany, the inspiration for his first book The Rise of the Creative Classes, was when he adopted the methodology of looking at employment through the lens of the people rather than the organisations they worked in. So the transfer of knowledge becomes a two-way street. Industry needs to work hard at understanding what drives people personally, what challenges people in a contemporary society, and to engage in genuine aesthetic discourse to attempt to answer these questions.

Artists who can benefit greatly from such a discourse need to change their mindset and appreciate that business pursues more than just economic goals. "Making a buck at my expense" or "screwing the artist" are clichés that abound in art circles and they only assist in hiding the emerging possibilities.

It is very difficult to get this important discourse underway when you have comments of the sort made by Robyn Archer in her contribution to the 2005 Alfred Deakin Innovation Lectures (pdf file 83KB). Archer commented on her lecture in an article in The Age, May 9, 2005, under the heading “Curiouser and curiouser”, suggesting "the most powerful and perhaps accidental foe of the preservation and stimulation of curiosity is that all-pervasive factor of contemporary life: marketing".

She went on to provide a naïve history of the development of marketing and remarked by "the mid-19th century it was full with snake-oil salesmen and then later in the 50's used-car salesmen".


How one of Australia's cultural icons and the new Artistic Director of Liverpool European Capital of Culture 2008 can have published such an absurd polemic perpetuating the myth of the businessman as criminal in a very important platform for innovation in Australia (without a small critical whimper from her audience) begs the question - why make those comments in a lecture on innovation that has entrepreneurialism as part of its very essence?

George Orwell, in his classic 1946 essay Politics and the English Language, argued that the use of hackneyed metaphors indicates the author is either intellectually dumb (not a perception I have of Archer) or has a hidden agenda or meaning. The use of these "lazy and dead metaphors", as Orwell called them, in relation to business and marketing are very unhelpful, particularly when considering innovation, and can hardly be considered knowledgeable. This type of comment acts as a real impediment to getting any sort of meaningful and open dialogue or discourse under way between artist and industry. It suggests those artists who propose commercialisation as a way forward are making a pact with the (all male!) criminal classes!

There is always a tension between artist and entrepreneur. They have different agendas, yet each needs the other. The artist has the tools to create, the entrepreneurs the ability to turn a profit for themselves and the artist. And this relationship requires a great degree of trust and understanding to be successful - a meaningful aesthetic discourse!

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Article edited by Julie Marlow.
If you'd like to be a volunteer editor too, click here.

This article is a summary of an opening presentation written for the "How are we going? Directions for the arts in The Creative Age”, a forum of the 2005 Byron Bay Writers Festival, and presented at the SpART Conference, Melbourne 2005.

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About the Author

Ralph Kerle is CEO/Creative Director of Eventures Australia Pty. Ltd (experience design and production) and in that capacity he has worked for such Fortune 500 companies as Caltex, Fosters, Dairy Farmers, Foxtel, General Motors, Hewlett Packard, Kraft Foods, Nestle, Rolls Royce, Peugeot, Toyota, Telstra, Walt Disney, and Yellow Pages.

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