As University of the Arts London (UAL) Vice-Chancellor Nigel Carrington has commented before, you are more successful (in many walks of life) with at least some creativity under your belt. Indeed, the top three skills demanded for any job are communication, followed by problem-solving and creativity.
Reflecting on the seven months since the EU referendum, and this week’s Supreme Court decision on Brexit, it is clear that those in power have a lot to tackle over the upcoming months. Over the next week, we will be looking at how they could draw upon the seven creative behaviours required for success (as outlined in The Creative Stance) to negotiate the best possible deal.
Arguably one of the most important drivers of creativity and the reason we start with this one. Often treated as a mysterious ability handed to us by genetics or chance, but everyone has an imagination, it’s just used in different ways. Crucially, it can be enhanced, fostered and nurtured, and this is where art schools excel.
“Artists and designers do not celebrate the status quo but ask questions demanding new creative ways of thinking.” Bob and Roberta Smith’s work ‘Letter to George Osborne, 2015’ – extract from The Creative Stance
For those negotiating our Brexit deal, artist Bob and Roberta Smith concludes with some poignant advice:
“We must encourage people to imagine a future where their voice can be heard.”
As far as Brexit is concerned, we are in uncharted waters. Those at the helm must provoke themselves, as Professor Boyce suggests, to understand something outside of themselves.
“How do you provoke yourself? Try to understand something outside yourself, not just yourself. Become aware of how the spectre of the artist, of you as a body, is constructed socially. This will be a problem only if we choose to ignore it.”
Sonia Boyce RA, visual artist and Professor of Black Art and Design, UAL
Rigour is where creative flair and craft come together and both are needed for success. In the words of Grayson Perry, Turner-prize winning contemporary artist, broadcaster & UAL Chancellor:
“A happy life lies in steering a course between rigidity and chaos, and good art is no different. I often joke about having two artists in my head, whom I characterise as the ‘Hobbit’ and the ‘Punk’. I need both my Hobbit and my Punk rigours to make good work.”
With negotiations over Brexit and the drafting of the White Paper, workable policies and examples that communicate how we go forward are what’s needed. Perhaps we’ve been a bit too much ‘Punk’ up until this point, and now is the time to be a bit more ‘Hobbit’.
Award-winning filmmaker Cécile B. Evans defines existential risk in The Creative Stance as “an irreversible threat to the survival of our species.” Many felt, and still feel, Brexit could post such a threat. However, she continues: “The risk as an artist is to accept that at my best, I am similar to everyone else. I do not have any solutions to mitigate existential risk.”
For those leading us through Brexit negotiations, risk and threat must be turned into benefit and opportunity. Successful innovation always involves risk, and our leaders must be innovative if they are to negotiate us through this successfully.
Sonya Dyakova, Art Director of Frieze magazine (2011-16), a Russian born graphic designer, educated in the US and now living in London, reflects on the importance of agency in creating an identity and managing relationships in the creative industry.
“It is admirable to stand up tall and independent; to be able to achieve a lot with very little; to be able to negotiate your own terms. This is part of education – learning how to deal with obstacles and swim against the current.”
Balancing individual flair and leadership while collaborating with international clients and their requirements is a tricky job but there’s an art to it:
“Collaboration is accompanied by ideas of openness, sharing and community. […] Try to find clarity in what you are trying to say – don’t hide behind stylistic or decorative noise.”
Brexit negotiators need to recognise the voice of the people whilst leading delicate negotiations with other nations. Much like managing customers and clients in the design industry, perhaps our leaders need to focus more on collaboration and clarity of communication rather than getting caught up in the ‘decorative’ noise.
Lucy Orta, curator, visual artist and Professor of Art and Environment at UAL, tackles the role of ambiguity in art and design. Orta describes it as ‘not having one obvious meaning’ which can be a great strength, as she explains:
“Being ambiguous is always on the cusp – neither-nor, casting doubt. Where there is doubt, there is space for great imagination…The work of artists who deliberately toy with notions of ambiguity will have a better chance of transcending communication barriers, and offering something of interest to a larger number of people.”
However, as Lucy acknowledges “living or being in a state of ambiguity is a very demanding idea to entertain […] As an artist, ambiguity is something I grapple with every day, on different levels. During the process of creation, as an idea evolves from a doodle, to the sketch, to the drawing […] into a form that can be clearly materialised into three dimensions.”
Creating artwork involves balancing and reflecting on ambiguity – and negotiations should be no different. Those leading on Brexit negotiations may want to follow this useful advice:
“We have to learn to balance confidently on the tightrope and develop the reflexes to change colour like a chameleon. Then we can confidently use the characteristics of ambiguity to cast doubt within ourselves and others with intelligence and sincerity. Where there is doubt, there is space for self-innovation and for stimulating the imagination of others.”
The seventh creative behaviour needed for success is resilience. Neil Cummings, Professor of Practice and Theory of Fine Art at UAL’s Chelsea College of Arts, reflects on his twenty years of teaching art and speaks about collective resilience:
“The glory of British art education is not reducible to the numerous artists who go on to win prestigious prizes which represent 1% of artists. While we rightly celebrate their achievements, […] the glory of British art education is the resilient 99 per cent – artists who go on to produce, the vast creative commons of invention.”
Cummings concludes with a summary of resilience which many will feel familiar with in this political climate.
“Resilience is a creative response to shocks, threats and disruption, and a desire to persist. The challenge, then, is to ensure that the values I value are resilient: to occupy resilience.”
This is the final creative behaviour in this seven part series. The advice and wisdom of thirty leading artists, teachers, graphic designers, filmmakers, fashion designers, museum curators, sculptors and award-winning writers has been brought together in The Creative Stance, a book co-published by UAL and Common-Editions – essential reading for anyone who has ever felt the desire to create.
The book is available to order online via the publishers website and is available in all good bookshops & online stores