(The following is a presentation I gave to the Rotary Club on November 1, 2011.)
There is an uncanny connection between the arts and a particular society. Some how there is a bond between art and whatever progression or retrogression society is making. Be it militaristic, political, social or even scientific art always seems to be avant-garde to significant shifts in society. 5th century Greece gave rise to Pericles as well as to Phidias. 15th century Italy gave rise to Lorenzo de' Medici and to Leonardo da Vinic. 16th century England gave rise to Queen Elizabeth and to William Shakespeare. The Psychological Age of 20th century gave rise to Sigmund Fruad and Salvador Dali. So this begs the question, "What is the connection?" How is art, which is so often relegated to the second story of melancholy emotionalists, connected to so many things that we as a society deem much "more important." I propose that the link, the connection between art and society is a worldview. I think this is the case because art paradoxically speaks both to and about a worldview. It speaks to a society's worldview (either in support or in opposition of it) while simulations speaking about the artist's worldview (either in expression or in communication of it).
For our purposes today, we can define worldview as the lens through which one sees the world. I'm not proposing that it improves or impairs one's vision, but it does filter it. Your worldview sets the parameters for what you accept as truth or fantasy, what you believe is good or bad, what you define as success or failure. At this point you might be thinking to yourself, I didn't come here to get preached at, and you're right. So let me say this. Your worldview sets the parameters for what you deem as a desirable or a ridiculous product, as a reasonable or an outrageous price, as a model or a malicious company. Those indicators are worth their weight in gold. You can watch the news, talk to sociologists and higher market analysts, but I propose that one of the best ways to keep your finger on the pulse of your target audience is to keep your finger on the pulse of their artistic expressions. There's a connection between art and society. So long as we are selling to society, that means there is a connection between art and business.
We typically think that the only use for art in business is found in marketing and advertising. This is, of course, a very valid use of art and design; it's an excellent starting point. Images can convey what mere words never could. It's more than just conveying a message quickly. It indeed conveys the ineffable. It conveys what we often would never have the words to convey. Let me give you a rather comical example.
A couple of weeks ago I was handed a flier for a Halloween show for a metal group that goes by the name of Dog Head. Now, I'm not into the metal scene, as it were, so this flier would normally be of no interest to me. However, there is a guy at my church that just can't get enough of it! So, I read the band description, and it said, "Industrial Metal in the vein of Ministry and Rammstein with a GWAR-like show." Perhaps you are more versed in the world of "Industrial Metal" than I am, and you understand exactly what they are saying here. Presumably these words meant something to someone, but they were lost on me. So, I was still unsure whether or not to suggest this show to my friend at church.
Insert art here! I did a quick Google/Images search on my phone and found the following album covers for Ministry, Rammstein and GWAR.
OK! So, on the one hand: No, I guess I still don't know if my friend would have enjoyed this show. But, on the other hand: Yes, I can confidently say that if he received a suggestion to attend this show, it would not have been from me.
The same is true, of course, for the business world. We can postulate if a company, product or service will meet our needs and fit our preferences by the way they are presented. For instance, my brother is in the food business in Atlanta and used to work a sea food restaurant called Six Feet under.
You can see just by looking at their website that they have a certain way of doing business that will attract a certain kind of clientele who hold a certain worldview and bring certain expectations to the table.
He now works with a restaurant called The Vortex.
Clearly you can see from their website that they have a very different way of doing business that will attract a very different kind of clientele who hold a very different worldview and bring very different expectations to the table.
You're going to pay about the same at each place, it's just a different sort of pairing. Are you the kind of persons who would order spirits? Or are you the kind of person who would order booze?
We start off by using art to talk to our clientele, but we can't stop there. One sided conversation are rarely fruitful. We've got to learn to listen to our clientele through artistic expression, not just talk to them.
The easiest and most unobtrusive ways to do that from virtually anywhere on the globe is through social networking. When you keep up with your clients and potential clients on Instagram, Google Plus, Twitter, Facebook, Blog Readers and the like you get a glimpse at how they see the world. You get to see the world (sometimes literally) through their lens. You get to see what they think is worth mentioning and preserving. In other words, you get to see what they value. You get to see how they live their lives.
I've mentioned before how much I love Instagram because it accomplishes the social network burden while keeping the artistic weight. To me, it saves time as well. Note this Instagram picture from one of our friends.
Do you know how long it would have taken to tell this story? It would surly take more than 140 characters. But, here it is, conveying what's happening in a moment. But, there's more to it than just that. This is a snap shot into their home. You get to see what's important to them. You get to see what books they read, what music they like, how they dress. That's not even factoring in the reasoning behind this picture to begin with. Clearly this is not your classic Kodak moment, yet it is captured and cataloged for all of her friends to see.
Another way to acquainted yourself with your client's worldview is to visit their offices. We may not typically think of the workplace itself as a form of artistic expression, but it is in fact, multiple forms of artistic expression. Architecture, Interior Design and of course Artwork on the walls all artistically expresses (and often shape) the workplace worldview. It is unlikely that your client will have drawn out the architectural plans or painted the art on the wall or even decided what color drapes to use. But, they signed off on it. They work each day in it. They feel that it fits them and their jobs ... either that or they will apologize about it the entire time you're there.
When you come to my office you can see that I'm a guy who values openness and honesty. My entire office is one big open room (except of the bathroom). I want you to be able to see me and what I'm doing. Even though I'm very open I'm compartmentalized. Before I moved into my office I tried working from home and just couldn't do it. My oldest son was two at the time, and I found myself getting so frustrated because he was acting like a two year old while I was trying to work. I can't do both at the same time. I needed to be either a dad this moment or a business owner this moment; not both. You can get a sense of that when you visit my office. Though it's one room, it's divided into four different sections. If I'm going to work, I'll be at my desk. If I'm going to read, I'll be in my reading chair. Never the other way around! You can tell that I value historicity because I'm in a place built in 1893. You can tell that I value reliability. This great brick building was plastered over so I knocked holes in the wall and left them there. Under this clean facade is a tried and true brick building that has stood the test of time. I'm the same way; under all of the technology that I love and uses beats the heart of a 53 year old man. My wife makes fun of me all the time because I like music that was made in the 40's, movies that were made in the 50's and clothes that were made in the 60's. So, my office is an artistic expression of who I am.
Support the Art
Finally, we can get to know our target audience by understanding and supporting the arts, by understanding and supporting local arts, by understanding and supporting young, local artists. The time is coming when the success of a company in this area will be suspiciously related to how versed they are in the art of Malphrus, Mulkey and David. There is actually a perfect opportunity coming up this Saturday to submerse yourself into the underground world of local avant-garde art. The D'town Art's Coalition will be presenting their very first exhibition this Saturday at Cafe' 230. The event is called SuperFancy and will not disappoint. From 6 pm - 10 pm there will be horderves and a wine selection, but most importantly a chance to familiarize yourself with local art as well as with local artists. There will be a wide range of genres from abstract expressionism to symbolic abstraction to expressive realism to spoken word. You will have a chance to meet the minds and the hands that are truly expressing, even shouting out the worldview of the young generation at hand. What they have to say is worth hearing and what they have to show is worth seeing. These are the people that say with images what we can't say with words. The businesses who are listening and responding will reap the benefits. The companies who are ignoring or talking over will miss the opportunity.
There is a connection between art and society. That connection is a worldview. There is a connection between art and business. That connection is just good marketing.