In art novelty, originality, the new, are all important markers of difference. Their importance lies in their objectivity—the degree of newness can be measured. The same applies to business, although there we can call it innovation. The thoughts about innovation in business in the last few posts have some bearing on the definition of originality in art, though the context is a little different. The immediate context for art is not the market, but a robust history of modernism, which continues to provide lavish resources for practice. Reception might be important in the end, but art doesn’t have it’s origin in reception, in the way that products exist only to meet a market. So the hysterical economic rhetoric of creative destruction, disruption, changing the world etc., current in American commentary, is the symptom of a crisis not felt in quite the same way by art.
America has given up it’s manufacturing to China, we know, but that lapidary pronouncement does not convey the seriousness of a willing surrender of productive capacity and potential. When the likes of Thomas Friedman tell us that we have to work higher up the value chain as designers, innovators, entrepreneurs, they are well meaning but whistling into the wind. As artists we know better, because global conceptualism has proven that ideas can come from anywhere. Chinese conceptualists, curators, impresarios are as good as any, and we in the West have no special talents. We can’t possibly “innovate” or think our way ahead of the wave, because the power to originate belongs to those who make. The rhetoric of economic disruption, which includes a command to work harder, think better, innovate and create, in other words impossible performance pressure, is a panic reaction to the felt recognition that we’ve sold our productivity to China for cheap stuff, and that it’s not coming back. We’ve been hearing for years that economic suicide is the dawn of a new era—a service economy, a digital economy, an information based economy and so on. I guess that’s true, but it’s nothing to celebrate. The global economy as a whole is still based on production, on the manufacture of goods, but we just don’t own that part of it anymore. Meanwhile, art continues as making—and making new. Now, if business really could learn from art….