The Art of Art – Playing Organizational Change

The art of….

Why do we spice up mundane activities and life’s challenges by calling them “The art of something or other?” What is so attractive about art? The art of moneymaking. The art of shopping. The art of fermentation. The art of fatherhood. The art of… As a hybrid professional, both artist and management consultant, I think something important shows up here. What does it actually mean, this claim that something has an art to it? What is it that we value so much in art? And what would the world look like if art were really part and parcel of what we do and how we do things. Is “the art of having impact” really the same as “the impact of having art.” Is “The art of hosting” really like “the hosting of art?” What is The art of Art? And how can art re-claim its role in societal and organizational change?

 Definitions of art?

I looked at dictionaries and browsed through artists’s quotations on the internet:

 Dictionary on art: The expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form such as painting or sculpture, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power – Oxford English Dictionary

Artists’ quotations on art:

·     Art is the elimination of the unnecessary – Pablo Picasso

·     I am more a friend of art than a producer of a painting – Paul Cezanne

·     The art of interpretation is not to play what is written – Pablo Casals

·     The essential function of art is moral. But a passionate, implicit morality, not didactic. A morality which changes the blood, rather than the mind – DH Lawrence

·     The main thing in making art is letting go of your expectation and your idea – Agnes Martin

What is it that makes the artists’ definitions so different from that of the dictionary? To me they are more uncompromising, more sensitive and more paradoxical. They don’t seem intended to worry us with trying to be right. More the opposite, they seduce us to color our thoughts on the subject with curiosity. So, is using the phrase “the art of…” meant to lure us into an ambiguous world where we are to be bold, sensitive and oblique? Maybe. Yet, in the case of moneymaking and shopping this seems an unwarranted claim. Money making is a business, shopping is a pastime. None of them is an art. The preamble ‘The art of …” is only meant to raise its status. To make it look like something that it is not. So, only artists can make art? I don’t think so. We can all be artists and maybe we are more truly ourselves if we think of ourselves that way. Because it is attractive right? Being considered an artist.

Radical aspects

What do we have to do if we want to turn something into an art? How do we reach this ‘higher status’? The artist’s definitions above point, I believe, to three radical aspects. Radical in the sense they are uncompromising in a heroic kind of way. The art of Art, to my mind, is that it is at the same time bold, relational and unboundend.


Art is bold. It is an affecting manifestation typically in the form of a representation, a statement or a performance. Duchamps shocked the artworld by exhibiting ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as a work of art (“The Duchamp’s Fountain,”1917).

In 1952 John Cage wrote “4′ 33,″ a silent piece of music lasting 4 hours and 33 minutes.

In 1995 Berlin’s Reichstag building was covered with 100,000 square metres of billowing silver-grey fabric by Christo and Jeanne-Claude. Bold….


Art is relational. It is creating a tension between artist, the work and the beholder. In her performace at the Moma (‘The Artist Is Present,’ 2010) performance artist, Marina Abramović places herself for hours at one of end of a table. Eyes closed. Visitors line up and sit opposite her one at a time and have a minute of eye contact. A moment of deep silent interaction ensues. Relational….


Art is unbounded. It is about many things. Last year (2016) the Chinese political artist and activist Ai Wai Wai placed a big order with Lego for a future art project. Because China is one of the Lego’s largest grow-markets, the company refused to supply him on the grounds that they would not support (his) political statements. As a reaction to this form of censorship, the artist called upon museums all over the world to help him collected stones in cars stationed outside to the museum’s premises. The backlash was that Lego reviewed its policy. Unbounded….

Art is magically transformational

Art is never exclusively political, social, ethical, organizational, moral, etc. It is about all of these things at the same time. And when it is, it is magically transformational. It becomes what Gregory Bateson called “the difference that makes a difference.” The piano in train stations: bold, relational and unbounded. A musical instrument that suddenly belongs to many categories of meaning. It becomes an open stage, a meeting place at the same time proving more effective in providing public safety than a host of policemen.

The difference that makes a difference – Gregory Bateson

 Calling something the “The art of fermentation” is not really an invitation to think of fermentation as an art. It just shows how, unconsciously, we like to be associated with art or what we think it stands for. What I talk about here is intentionality. The art of Art is about being intentionally bold, relational and unbounded. And about creating something heroic and uncompromisingly meaningful. When we want something to be an art, we must consciously draw out our inner artists. That part of us that has always been there to help us stand out and be special. To all of us that have responsibilities in organizational and societal change: let’s questioning the way we make decisions, set up meetings, launch ideas, create visions and share strategies and plans.

Let’s be intentionally bold, relational and unbounded about it. Only then call it “The art of….., ” and whenever you do, it will have an impact worthy is of its claim. Let’s be artists, more truly ourselves and let’s make a real difference!

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Jouke Kruijer

Jouke Kruijer