Art as the Answer in the Human-First Economy

Replace some advertising with art and flip the standard creative model

According to a recent Gallup poll, the percentage of Americans who are classified as "thriving" has reached its lowest point since the Great Recession of 2008. Trust is at an all-time low, and four out of five Americans believe we are more disconnected from each other than ever.

How is such deep isolation possible when technological advances have kept us "connected," even through a pandemic? A 2017 Harvard Business Review study confirmed that while real-world social networks are positively associated with overall wellbeing, the use of Facebook is negatively associated with overall wellbeing.

We are living in an age of illusory connection that is slowly chipping away at what makes us human. As marketers, we have a responsibility to facilitate real human connections that our wellbeing and livelihood so closely depend on.

How can this mass overhaul of connectedness occur? The simplest answer is in what author Gregory V. Diehl poignantly describes as "encapsulated empathy," that which makes us feel a part of something bigger than ourselves. The answer before us is art.

Art has been deemed by historians as necessary for a group of people to be considered a society. It transcends cultural divides, bypasses the intellectual, skeptical, judgmental parts of the brain, and distills fundamental human truths into viscerally consumable form. We know art when we feel it. It gives us goosebumps. It widens our eyes. It takes our breath away. 

For purposes of discussion, the arts include the creative process and product, any of the art and humanities disciplines, traditional art, contemporary art and popular culture. Art, in its most encompassing definition, is the outcome of authentic, uninhibited creative expression.

According to Americans for the Arts, today's most innovative businesses are partnering with arts organizations and artists to help solve issues that impact their businesses and communities. Art embodies a unique capacity to enhance awareness, knowledge and dialogue around complex social issues, as well as to connect across cultural differences.Corporations are beginning to recognize and invest in the capacity of the arts to promote positive social outcomes and vitality to the communities in which they operate.

Why the move towards art? Because we can feel the difference between creative pretense and pure art. For art to truly connect us in our humanity, we must go all in on art in its most unaltered form. Overlaying business objectives or communications mandates will limit the power of art as a connective force. In the words of renowned writer Jeanette Winterson, "What art does is to coax us away from the mechanical and toward the miraculous. The so-called uselessness of art is a clue to its transforming power. Art is not part of the machine. Art asks us to think differently, see differently, hear differently and ultimately to act differently, which is why art has moral force."

As marketers we might all consider a few ways to bring the human-connecting power of authentic uninhibited creative expression—of art—to the platforms and channels at our fingertips. As a first step, we can watch for ways in which objectives and processes have habitually automated and stifled creativity and challenge ourselves to step out of such limiting parameters to return to the essence of our craft: transcendent human truths as the ultimate source of creative inspiration. In other words, create from the inside out, not the outside in.

While it may feel risky to set aside our harder sell or data-driven communications mandates in favor of making pure art, there isn't much to lose in doing so. Realizing our business objectives is now entirely dependent on our perceived humanness.

Ultimately, the level of authenticity required to truly deliver art is so unprecedented and non-negotiable that this author believes an equally unprecedented approach is needed. Replace at least some of advertising with art and flipping the standard creative model—from how it gets made to how it gets bought.

If we are to leverage the power of art to change the world, the path forward is to align the craft with only the most essential and human elements of a brand, and then protect the purity of the artist's intention via uncompromised expression. Only that which is born from this magical place of flow will resonate as authentic, transcend our fragmented society, and connect us in our shared raw and emotional humanity.

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Jessica Lewis
Jessica Lewis is founder of The Idealists Lab.

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