A view from Wien: The Death of an Art?

Note: This post first featured on “The Art of…” blog, under my name: David Atkinson http://davidsartof.blogspot.com/

Last week I had the good fortune to enjoy a formal reception and dinner in the roof-top Justizcafé of the Justizpalast in Vienna. I dined in the company of some bright new minds in management and organisational research, drawn from many of the top universities of the European states, and including some others from around the world – from Australia, Brazil, USA, and Canada.

While – like me – there were a few older “newly qualified” academics, the majority demonstrated the real potential of a younger generation to contribute many, many years of dedication to developing the body of management and organisational knowledge. The diversity of talent at that dinner was impressive; like children, their futures stretched out before them. Talking to a number of them, both during the reception and dinner and before, during the earlier events of that day, you could see and hear the passion they held for their subject matter.

Following that dinner, and in a less formal grouping – enjoying a simple meal and beers in central Vienna – I reflected on the prequel to the 23rd Colloquium of the European Group of Organisational Studies, in which newly qualified PhD graduates, and those still in the process of study, had been given the opportunity to discuss their work with a faculty of established European academics. I recalled – not for the first nor, I doubt, the last time – Picasso’s notion that every child is an artist; the problem is how to retain the artist in them once he or she grows up. Here, to be metaphorical, in my presence were some of the talented child-artists of the academic world.

It is ironic that, given the state of funding of academic institutions – particularly in the business and management schools into which these new academics are beginning to find their way – the expectations placed on academics to publish in only “certain” recognised A grade publications, or to produce research output that meets the “requirements” of sponsors, can seemingly act to constrain the freedom of thought and interpretation that acts to reveal new knowledge. Is the space between the academic world and the business world being eroded to such an extent that it is no-longer a space for creative play? If we lose this space at the expense of making the academic world a potential profit centre – as with any other market place – are we seeing the death of yet another artform?

  12 comments for “A view from Wien: The Death of an Art?

  1. davidsartof
    July 13, 2007 at 2:17 pm

    Hi Susan,

    And there we have a dilemma! Had we been members of, say, the Vienna Circle, sat in conversation around a table in a cafe, then the fact that I was responding to both previous comments would have naturally held your own comment to Consul, as you listened to mine (possibly – said in all good humour :). My contribution may (not would!) have changed your view; as your response may have changed mine – had I paused to sanction your intervention at that time!

    You have commented to me before that are inherent inadequacies of this system of blogging as a basis for communication let alone debate. I have to agree with you. We have surfaced yet one more inadequacy!

    As regards examples and flawed logic! I would counter that one can build a logical argument out of axiomatic premisses without recall to concrete example. Where do we start to conceptualise? Aesthetically, we might just “feel” that something is the case – do we always need to know? In the world of practice I may not have the time to establish the empirical basis for some action, before I have to act!

    You have all the freedom to discuss with equality – whether you chose to do so or not is, itself, an exercise of that freedom! I, for one, would miss your contribution to the debate.

  2. Susan956
    July 13, 2007 at 1:46 pm

    David, I am going to challenge you here. You talk about constraint. Why didn’t you just put my post up to Consul and then speak. To me you have effectively altered the connectivity of the discussion as it played out.

    I feel this was, running my eye over your post, a very covert mechanism to control, thus I see this as contradictory to the values you are espousing.

    If you cannot by the way provide examples then your logic was flawed. I only picked up on the sweeping assertion you offered. If each time I challenge you on what YOU say, you are going to tell me you are a conceptualist (and thus default out of your own statements) you don’t give me much room or freedom to discuss with equality.

    Am I annoyed..at a level..yes. But only about you intervening in the post seqence. I request that you please post this response up but I will not involve myself further.

  3. davidsartof
    July 13, 2007 at 1:13 pm

    Susan, Consul,

    Let me attempt a response to both previous comments before putting forward Susan’s latest response.

    (In my theory) the progression of “a work” of the process of “art” (let me say “artwork”) into an “Artwork” is a process of the socialization of that work. This process of socialization (or social acceptance) is a negotiation between differently held view points (for example critic, audience, collector, etc etc). This negotiation is, itself, in an egalitarian, even idealistic social-world, a form of peer review. The social collective (be that an artworld, nation-state, institution, business, or even family) will be conservative in many respects about what that particular collective holds as its core values or its principles of acceptance into that collective. The question? How does a new piece of Art come about?

    An anti-peer review stance does not hold valid if “artwork” is to become “Artwork”. But Susan’s manifesto of collective conservatism can be rightly judged as constraining! The conservative nature of the review process can discourage too much innovation and creativity, yet it serves useful purpose in controlling the rate of social change – that is the nature of democracy. In effect we are constantly negotiating our changing reality. The artist, as an entrepreneur, is the individual who, in effect, acts to stimulate change through what might often be considered subversive activity. The life of the artist is difficult and the path to be trodden strewn with obstacles and dangers. Change, certainly institutional change, can more often than not be effected from within by the “social entrepreneur”. Here there is a role for the “artist-as-social-entrepreneur”.

    “These petrified [social conditions] must be forced to dance by singing to them their own melody” (Karl Marx)

    My own observation concerns the fact that the academic world of the business and management school now, itself, holds the manifesto of commerce – yet it is seemingly ill prepared for the challenge. As (in the UK at least) government funding is steadily withdrawn, there is an increasing reliance on the funding of business schools directly by commercial enterprise itself. There is now the promise of a future in which the impossible task arises to persuade commerce to credit academic knowledge as having worth, unless it accords with its own manifesto. Business schools attract finance by virtue of their reputation and that of their scholars. Such reputations are built on the peer-review process through publication in the top journals.

    Thus we have my question: “Is the space between the academic world and the business world being eroded to such an extent that it is no-longer a space for creative play?” Yes! But by which camp is it being eroded? Is it the case that academics will seek to retain the primacy of peer reviewed academic knowledge, and gradually see a loss in funding opportunities, dying the death of dinosaurs? Or is it the case that the peer review process adapts fully to the political and commercial pressures to achieve appropriate funding and become a slave to the requirements of others? Either way, if we lose this space, we lose the valuable contribution of the art of the academic!

    To Susan, I do not offer you empirical examples – I am after all a conceptualist – yet it seems to me if I were to look for examples of academic journals presently overly influenced by commercial enterprise I would be unable to readily identify them. Is not the growing issue that, in practice, the journals have not moved their peer review process on to meet the growing realpolitik of commerce? In commerce, knowledge need only be plausible as the basis for action. There is work to do by both addressing the notion of an academic legitimacy for plausible knowledge as an adjunct to more formal, objective knowledge. And there is work to be done in the world of commerce in recognizing that new thinking will only emerge given the retention of certain academic freedoms. Long live peer reviews of enlightened academics I say!

  4. Susan956
    July 12, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    Consul…you were leading me to the water and I did bend and wet my lips…however…I didn’t drink. One has to remember two things..not all people want or need the same things. Some individuals truly thrive on being let loose in the playroom of life; others do not. If structure is kicked to the kerb out of hand then you are potentially being as dogmatic as too MUCH structure. I would urge you to accept that there are an array of people in this world and that there are innumerable fields beyonds the one’s we discuss. There ARE people who like to carry out other people’s trash and clean up their building (e.g. janitors) and some of these folk welcome the predictability and routine and thrive on that. I on the other hand welcome relative freedom but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware that some would be miserable having what I crave.

    I also suspect peer review has a bad name because of what had come before and the process that has served it. Peer review could be along the lines we are doing here; simply calling the ‘other’ or ‘others’ to be reflexive. If THIS was one approach to peer review I would heartily support it.

    I agree..absolutely..there are problems with “peer review” but that doesn’t mean the construct is itself a demon, just that we have cocked it up in many ways. If part of the anti-peer review sentiment is based on the premise that all who peer review are anally retentive conservatives who are bent on ensuring tradition and single mindedness is maintained then that is but one way to view it. The saying of not always throwing the baby out with the bathwater strikes me. Alter the process and approach – don’t necessarily kill the concept.

    July 12, 2007 at 12:00 pm

    I`m anti peer review: erasing originality and transforming subjective vanguard art into a revised hybrid influenced by multiopinions, might be political correct, but is more an act of artistic prostitution.

    Thanks Susan for mentioning Monique,(if interest Dave, here is her website http://www.moniquebastiaans.com ) she is one of the strugglers against the conservative traditional cultural status, being succesful with her innovative art, after 15 years of hard work.

    Mention apart is her incredible positivism, optimism, self confidence,her extroversive character, patience, and best of all, her absolute convincement that she`s on the right path and that nobody has influenced her career..

    Is that the formula we are looking for Susan and David??

  6. Susan956
    July 12, 2007 at 11:35 am

    David..re this from your post:

    “When the pendulum swings to the extent that the peer review process takes more cognizance of the commercial or political suitability of a piece for publication, than its right to exist amongst peers, then we may tend to see a demise of creativity and innovation.”

    Forgetting for a moment your reference to commerce and politics, I have to say that the peer review process has, for decades, and indeed centuries been conservative. Obviously there have been progressive moments or movements but one could argue that more has happened in the past ten years than across the past 100.

    However, there is still considerable room for improvement. And part of this will come (if people believe that commerce affects academic peer-referenced journals – which I’m not convinced in does across the board) when those who hold the manifesto of commerce are persuaded to credit academic knowledge as having potential worth within the commercial academy.

    As I said, who should try and persuade and how?

    Perhaps you could give me some examples where academic journals appears overly influenced by commercial enterprise..?

  7. davidsartof
    July 12, 2007 at 10:55 am

    Hi Susan, and welcome to this little debate.

    I do not believe I am advocating (in some way) the death of peer review. As you rightly state this is an essential check on quality at the advanced level of thinking/writing. My concern is not the peer review process itself, but the increasingly commercialised and politicised constraints within which that process must now work.

    When the pendulum swings to the extent that the peer review process takes more cognizance of the commercial or political suitability of a piece for publication, than its right to exist amongst peers, then we may tend to see a demise of creativity and innovation.

    In my view, the assessment of academic work is no longer, then, a review of craft skill but it is increasingly a mere measure of social acceptability. Craft skill is an essential element of my own art theory – though at one level it may consist simply of an ability to arrange a “found item” in some new context (Marcel Duchamp!).

    Without the display of some accepted skill or other, we are left wondering what is going on! And along comes our champion who realises that we are really looking at is some new innovative display of skill (for example Ruskin and Turner in the UK).

    The artist is bound to operate within the dichotomy of two principle, conflicting responsibilities; the one to artistic creativity, the other to social acceptability. If I go out on a limb and favour only one responsibility to the almost total exclusion of the other, then I may neither lay claim to being an artist, nor may I expect to be accepted as one by others. I am in no-mans land and I either await discovery or I start to explore for the way out! Welcome to the journey.

    If you are looking for an alternative peer-reviewed journal, you might want to take at my link to the Aesthesis project.

  8. Susan956
    July 12, 2007 at 10:05 am

    I have missed much of this however two comments that you can take as you will.

    David, I completed a cutting edge PhD. When I submitted I had received around half a page of comments on the work. I risked and in doing that went for high flyer examiners. I’m sure you know of Norm Denzin. He was one of them.

    I did very well. Notwithstanding this, I can’t obtain work in my field in academe in Australia and nor do the majority of creative writing ‘habitats’ (ad agencies etc) consider my background worthy of their attention. I am in no man’s land.

    I start with this narrative to display my empathy. However, in the face of saying this there are sound reasons to support peer refereed journals. I’m not saying the system of them is flawless or best but I’m not against it as such. I’ve never yet had an article accepted because I haven’t been moved to write the formula I know is required. Perhaps more fool me for not playing the game, establishing a stronger position, and bringing about change from an improved power base.

    I DO agree that writing, when sponsored by govt departments (which has been my major area of witness) is undeniably midline when written by academics.

    As to art. I believe we may be forgetting the craft of art. That some who work with innovative passion say in metal sculpture are better served by understanding proper welding procedures than not. Consul’s sister has a brilliant artistic site and I dare say she would have to know many and varied elements about the materials she uses in order to work with them creatively as she does.

    I therefore would content that a set of craft skills can support art innovation.

    I guess re the issue of academic writing and writers being enabled to cross into the commercial market needs sponsorship or advocacy. However, don’t think peer review may still not be a part of it.

    I examine PhD works David and I will not pass a work simply because the student tells me how clever it is and uses creative writing methods. There must be some criterion of quality otherwise I may as well pass a clever parable because the student justified that as reasonable. You are in business, surely you cannot say you deny the process of quality yourself with hiring staff or using suppliers et al?

    In sum, I absolutely agree that new ways need to be forged and it’s wrestling power from a few and asking them to support that’s the issue (in part). Who do we wrestle and when? :)

  9. davidsartof
    July 11, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    I prefer Darwin in the “space” in between practice and theory. There is no conflict (as I see it) between Darwinian-influenced theories and notions of “power” that can act to lift “Art” to “High Grade Art” (as you might put it) – thereby creating the conditions to champion (rightly or wrongly) one Artwork over another. If you like, power is the difference between “art” and “Art”.

    Core competency is not (I believe) readily transferable to this space! Though I would agree that nowadays much work in the space of pure practice might be centred on this idea. In the extreme, the notion of a core competence is almost in denial of creativity and innovation. Ultimately we return to some aspect (or other) of the notion of power.

  10. CONSUL
    July 11, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Sure you`r right. However( art in all it`s aspects) is one of
    the most difficult elements to deal with in practice.

    I would say, you need a high grade of Art to sell Art, and there we have Darwin again who imposes his presence in the “space” between, just because of the changing conditions of nowadays where the core competency of Hamel and Prahalad (Harvard )is the basic concept.

    Art (again, in all it`s aspects) is also a highly subjective materia without fixed judging concepts and the few ones who may impose a vanguard criterion are the established ones thus making it even more difficult for the emerging artist.

    Anyway a passionating subject without mathematic answer.

    PS: If you don`t mind I link your blog from mine and vice versa?

  11. davidsartof
    July 10, 2007 at 12:47 pm

    Consul, many thanks for your comment.

    A personal belief: Darwin was spot on! And we are left with the presentation and selling of the “Artwork” as a product of some person’s work at the job of “art”. Art needs its champions.

    My comment is that in the evolution of the structure of the academic world we face a danger in no longer having the ability to surface the academic-artist who remains free to express truly new ideas because it is easier to write and publish deconstructed knowledge than constructed knowledge. Where are the champions of the academic world?

    Evolution needs its action orientated winners; those who make excuses may follow. We thus do not need everyone to be creative! What anarchy would prevail if we were all entrepreneurs? We need to be careful of how we structure and play in this “space” between. I believe this takes us back to Kevin Roberts and his creativity@lancaster.

  12. CONSUL
    July 10, 2007 at 12:23 pm


    Thanks to Tony, an australian reader of my blog, I received the quote of Brian Tracy:

    “winners are action orientated and losers are excuse orientated.”

    I`m not saying that this is what`s happening in your article concerning the evolution of the creative play towards a commercial and interested situation, but don`t forget this is a tough world and Darwin`s theory is getting more and more applied, even at the academic world.

    I had this experience in one of my R&D companies that had patented an innovative emergency videoconference alarm system for elevators. No institutional aids, no help from the Politecnic (where 7 of my engineers came from)until I started to move press, TV and others. 2 Months hereafter we had different offers to form joint ventures with major multinational companies..

    Sometimes it`s not a matter of having the thing, it`s a matter on how you present and sell it!

    I think some of this is applicable on your article.

    PS: sorry for trying to change your blog`s color.I understand and agree with your comment hereabout.

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