Why is Art interesting for Executive Education

Pushing people out of their comfort zones into a set of new opportunities and searching for a cross-disciplinary practice is a legitimate aim in any art and executive learning programme, and this is also the reason why the artists keep coming back.

Art is connected with the concepts of novelty, innovation and authenticity, performance excellence and sensibility, and a special ability to unite people from different backgrounds and with different preferences. Many virtues of human endeavour come together in the arts, whether these are newly created contemporary expressions or skilled interpretations of our cultural heritage. Clearly contemporary leadership can learn from the arts, and many executive people do this on their own regularly by reading, listening to music, going to the theatre, exploring visual arts, singing in a choir etc. Yet, creating an environment of aesthetic exploration, a laboratory of performance practice and a search for a deeper and more intimate relationship with artistic excellence is a completely different strand.

Rather than staying in the traditional audience position these aspects can be explored and staged in the frame of the executive educational universe with great results. With the right facilitation and a critical, but open-minded approach from both artists and programmers, a mutual learning environment can be created – often a surprisingly efficient one in terms of speed of learning, intensity and understanding of the game changing potential in various organisational surroundings and of rising complexity in any business.

Pushing people out of their comfort zones into a set of new opportunities and searching for a cross-disciplinary practice is a legitimate aim in any art and executive learning programme, and this is also the reason why the artists keep coming back. The nature of the learning methods is close to the processes by which art and artists mature and explore aesthetic possibilities, as all artists keep learning throughout their careers.

Isn’t art in a business school just another word for advanced entertainment?
Where does the special value for an educational program show up?

This is an essential and very relevant question.

Good intentions of delving deep into the leadership environment can easily end up in a pleasurable ‘feel-good’ spirit rather than a necessary and relevant learning process. This might be the largest danger of having skilled artists joining executive education, that all get seduced by the beauty of the product and don’t scrutinise the process of creation, refinement and process of progression thoroughly enough. And we as artists must constantly remind ourselves and the participants, that we are not here to please anyone, but to observe specific behaviour, challenge simplistic assumptions about leadership and reflect on unleashed potential.

Another serious risk is “instrumentalism” – the using of artistic methods merely as tools for training communication, presence, presentation techniques etc. Of course there is nothing wrong with that in itself, and often aspects of technique enters the aesthetic laboratory, but restricting the approach to the arts this way will leave a lot of interesting possibilities behind. Allowing an artistic intervention on the art’s own terms allows us all to create deeper links between aspects of leadership and the core elements of artistic practice.

About author
Conductor, speaker and founder of Exart Performances. Associate Fellow at Oxford University - Saïd Business School
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