Recently, I wrote this blog article on my personal website. I was feeling nostalgic about my artsy days. I’ve had a very coloured past that included wild nights with a variety of artist friends, impromptu photo shoots, and the company of beautiful women, good wine, and many, many cigarettes. I’m not really sure why that flame fizzled, but it probably has a little something to do with losing my best artist pals.
People eventually leave. They go to Paris, New York, Vancouver, L.A. The ones who are mobile leave, and when you’re an artist with a job, you stay. So, the good ones left, and life wasn’t the same.
I’m writing this because now, I’m in the business world. I’m surrounded by people trying to impress each other with catchphrases, new suits, and a wide array of acceptable words that are office-friendly, but which nobody actually uses at home. I honestly can’t be arsed to compete with them that way. If anything, my imperfection is a selling point.
But, there’s something else that has made it easier to connect with clients: I’m an artist. Artists can see and feel things that others might not notice. They can smell it when you’re pretending. They imagine new ways of doing things because the status quo kinda sucks. And, the good ones aren’t scared of your authority.
In a way, an artist at the head of a company is a scary thought. They’ll do things differently. There’s a reason Steve Jobs is frequently disliked by hardcore tech nerds. What they don’t understand is that it’s not enough to have great tech. It has to connect with people, it has to be beautiful, it has to create memorable experiences for people.
People won’t like me for saying this, but the truth is, not everyone who’s an artist is also a visionary. And a big chunk of the arts community in Canada has gone to shit, mostly because everyone’s scared to be imperfect. When you sanitize the arts, you lose the rebels. And we’ve made cities too expensive for the arts to flourish.
We NEED artists in business. We need artist entrepreneurs. Because something has to change in the way we do things in North America. We need artists as policy-makers, we need them in government. We need new solutions dreamed up by people whose imagination hasn’t been educated out of them.
The minute we started asking for Masters degrees for roles that should only require advanced reading/writing skills, we created a system that rewards people who all think alike.
I like to think that I escaped the trap of business-speak by dropping out of university (seven times, it’s a long story). With only a high school diploma on paper, I’ve done pretty well for myself. But, I’m also incredibly driven, and quite stubborn. If we want fresh perspectives, we have got to get real with ourselves and start creating new positions that embrace how artists think, and which don’t require a university education.
There’s a boatload of people out there who have worked on Hollywood film sets their entire life, who have designed costumes, who have toured the world as stand-up comics. What do you think would happen if you put these people in an office, and presented them with challenges? Could be interesting, right? “Chief visionaries?”, “Theoretical designers?”, “Exploratory strategists!” Whatever the title, I invite you to make it happen.
One of the biggest problems facing Canadian business owners these days (other than lack of investment), is the inability to compete internationally because they’re not innovating enough. Or their brand is boring. Or something’s missing. I think they’re missing artists. Plainly put, that’s the secret sauce. Nobody else is gonna tell you your ideas suck. But, an artist will. So, hire an artist, and get the truth. Get new ideas. Get new designs. Become fucking awesome, because we need awesome right now.