Why Artists Matter


I’ve always wanted to post that title and back it up with observations from a completely different and unbiased field.

And today is the day where I am delighted to announce just how valuable artists are to society (and I’m talking artists in the broadest sense) not for the art they produce but for the manner in which they produce it.

The fact is that the rest of the world could learn a great deal from the process of making and creating art. I’ve harped on before about the importance of encouraging creativity in life, in schools, and consequently learning that taking risks is a prerequisite to serious success in any field, and that learning from failure is an important and valuable aspect of taking risks. Hopefully a search under tags for risk and creativity and failure will produce all these posts!

The making of art and exploration of the creative urge usually involves a methodology, which, it transpires in Tim Harford’s new book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts With Failure is critical to success in every field in both the public and private sectors but for various reasons is very often ignored. With serious consequences.

Harford summarises the approach as the three Palchinsky principles (after a Russian engineer who analysed this method for dealing with complex real world problems):

First, seek out new ideas and try new things; second, when trying something new, do it on a scale where failure is survivable; third, seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along. (p.25)

All in a normal day’s work for an artist. Trying out a mass of different ideas, freely abandoning the no-hopers, learning from mistakes, spotting new avenues from mistakes, adapting constantly in the search for the solution. Ideally, unconstrained by fear or expectation.

It doesn’t always work like that. Rushing to meet deadlines, working commissions and preparing proposals (particularly for funding applications) can all conspire to fetter the Palchinsky approach.

But artists are demonstrably on the right path for much of the time.


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