I recently heard a panel discussion by some accomplished professional artists about a variety of topics, which ranged from the motivation to paint to the creative process to commercial success. It made me think of parallels between art and business and the role of philosophy—ethics in particular—in both.
What struck me was the almost disdainful attitude of some of the panelists toward the outcome of the creative process: finished paintings. One artist said: “Ours is such product-oriented society; we shouldn’t be attached to the products [of art] but just enjoy the process of creation.” While this statement was made in the context of advice to an audience of aspiring painters, it contains a big philosophical error: it ignored the fact that we need material values from food and shelter to art in order to live and to enjoy life.
Creating material values is a process to be enjoyed but not an end itself. Material values, including art, are necessary for our survival.
In an earlier blog post (“Productive work and happiness”) I argued that it is important to choose work that you enjoy. But the enjoyment of work is an integration. It includes enjoying the work itself (with the recognition that challenge is part of it), the creation of material values, and the benefits of material values.
There is no such thing as working for the sake of work without caring about the outcome, in any field, whether you are building houses, producing microchips, publishing books, teaching students—or creating paintings. We work to produce values: houses, microchips, books, education, paintings, and other art forms, either for ourselves or for trading with others.
We need values for physical survival, for enjoyment of life, or for both. For most of us, art is a value that concretizes our other values and therefore helps us achieve them. For professional artists, it is also a source, not only of livelihood but of a central purpose and self-esteem. To learn about the role of art in man’s life, I recommend reading Ayn Rand’s collection of essays, The Romantic Manifesto, first published 50 years ago.
Another artist on the panel remarked that he did not much care whether his paintings were selling or not, and that commercial pressures were hampering his enjoyment of creating art. This is another manifestation of the same error, with the addition of a mistaken, second-handed focus on others’ evaluation of one’s work, or “commercial pressures.”
Creation of high quality products, including paintings, must start with a primary focus on reality, not on other people. While it is true that buyers of products, including art, have needs or wants waiting to be fulfilled, the most successful producers and artists—painters, writers, musicians, and others—are prime movers: they create original, innovative products that create their own demand.
Steve Jobs, and other innovators like him in other industries, did not conduct popularity votes among customers (or imitate their competitors) to decide what to produce but focused on creating best personal computers and smart phones, trusting—correctly—that in time there would be plenty of willing buyers for them.
Creating high-quality art, like creating other high-quality material values such as personal computers or mobile phones through a business, requires first-handed focus on reality, doing one’s best, and actually producing paintings (or other forms of art). The rest—commercial success—will follow (in which marketing plays a critical role, of course).
Originally posted September 22, 2012.
Jaana Woiceshyn teaches business ethics and competitive strategy at the Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Canada. She has lectured and conducted seminars on business ethics to undergraduate, MBA and Executive MBA students, and to various corporate audiences for over 20 years both in Canada and abroad. Before earning her Ph.D. from the Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania, she helped turn around a small business in Finland and worked for a consulting firm in Canada. Jaana’s research on technological change and innovation, value creation by business, executive decision-making, and business ethics has been published in various academic and professional journals and books. “How to Be Profitable and Moral” is her first solo-authored book.