Survey reveals perceptions and insights to help forge common ground between business and art cultures

The perception is that art and business speak different languages, inhabit different worlds, and “orbit different suns,” says Jeff Pike, Dean of the School of Art at Washington University in St. Louis. But in reality, the visual arts play an active role in business culture, he says. The Washington University School of Art surveyed how artists and businesspeople view each other and came up with some important insights.

“Traditional studio professionals must learn to market and sell their work, to negotiate with galleries, and to navigate applicable copyright and tax law,” Pike says. “I see the contributions our alumni and faculty make through fashion design, publishing, illustration, advertising, graphic design and through the print and electronic media, and conversely, some of the staunchest supporters of contemporary art are forward-looking businesspeople, but stereotypes by both groups persist.”

Washington University art students forge common ground with businesspeople.
Washington University art students forge common ground with businesspeople.

Starting in the fall of 2002, the School of Art at Washington University began researching the perceptions of artists and business executives toward one another, conducting one-on-one interviews with senior executives from a broad range of industries and occupations.

Pike says the survey reveals some important insights into how “arts people” and “business people” can come together.

“Businesspeople value creativity,” he says. “They make sharp distinction, however, between individual expression and ideas that work for a larger organization. They often express interest in developing better relationships with artists, but they fear that the ties will be based on artists’ desires for support and patronage rather than on mutual respect and benefit.”

Language is a major roadblock, Pike says. “The words “art” and “business,” evoke powerful stereotypes. But we’ve learned that focusing on terms like “creativity” and “innovation” can help forge common ground between the two cultures.”

Pike notes that these insights can also help arts administrators better understand the business point of view, and to develop projects that are cooperative and mutually beneficial.

On March 19, the Washington University School of Art will sponsor a national symposium, with the University’s Center for Aging, on “Visual Design for an Aging Population.” The conference will examine the basic physical changes that occur in aging and their impact on communicating visually to the elderly population. “The conference will present the latest research on the challenges and opportunities faced by entrepreneurs, social policy analysts and visual professionals,” Pike says.

Pike says the School of Art is also establishing a Visual Services Clinic in the school that will provide visual branding and communication services for entrepreneurs, funded by a major grant to Washington University from the Ewing Kauffman Foundation to expand entrepreneurship education across the campus.

“Such initiatives demonstrate the kind of fresh, creative approaches art schools can provide,” says Pike. “Savvy corporations willing to break from the pack and truly engage the arts as a competitive resource will discover an innovative yet often overlooked font of business intelligence.”