When asked about the greatest artists of all times, names like Da Vinci, Picasso, and Dali often come to mind. Very rarely — almost never, even — names like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk pop up.
Now, you might argue, that’s because they aren’t artists. They are businessmen.
It’s true, but not so much.
As time passes by, the business world has shifted a lot. And by shift, we are talking about a paradigm shift. The basic underlying concept of the business virtue.
Until 10–20 years ago, when we are talking about business, we are talking about exchange. The essence of business is trading. A seller provides goods and services and a buyer gives money or other trading tools in exchange for those goods and services. As a seller, or business player, the main focus lies in how to make profit by selling their products.
Now, however, business has seen the bigger picture. Companies no longer sell products — they sell ideas, beliefs, something so… I dare say, abstract. People no longer buy things because they need them. People buy because the items represent them. Because the brand’s values are in line with them. Because the campaign touches their hearts. Purchasing behavior is no longer determined only by price and quality. People want things that make them feel, something meaningful, something creative.
Something like art.
But arts in business are not delivered in painting, sculptures, or animations the way people would usually describe arts as. In business, our very form of art is called (and I believe you’ve heard this word a lot) brand.
If you’re still not convinced, let’s first take a look on what constitutes an art.
What is Art?
Art, per se, is not definitive in its nature. That’s what makes something an art, actually. How everyone has their own perspective in defining it.
Brad Bass, a broadway actor, mentioned that “ Art is imagination in motion. Taking something from the brain and transforming it into something tangible; something that can be questioned, loved, hated, moving, and easily remembered or forgotten.”
Frank Albinder, a conductor, answered that for him, art was work. A work that “can provide inspiration, comfort, delight, and peace.”
And my personal favorite, an interpretation of art by Michelle Gaugy, a gallery owner and art consultant, is that “ At its most basic, art is a cultural conversation. It is generally initiated by people called “artists”, who tend to be especially sensitive to what is happening in the culture — and sometimes have special training — but it is completed by the people in the society who view, experience , talk about and therefore participate in what the artists have created.”
The three answers vary greatly, and at this point, a beginner like me would still be confused to pinpoint what exactly art is. So, just like any other amateurs, I resort to my best go-to when it comes to finding definitions.
According to Oxford (*scoffs* classic…), art is defined as “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.”
Thus, combining the default definition from the dictionary, and the various answers from multiple artists, I’d like to conclude 3 components of what can determine if something is an art, or not.
Imagination and creativity.
An art requires imagination and creative skills to be made. An apple is not an art. But if you picture the apple to be some sort of a dragon, and actually create it. That’s your art.
An art possesses emotional power, both for the artist and the audiences. It becomes a means of emotional expression for those who create the arts and as quoted from Rainbow Rowell “Art isn’t supposed to look nice. It’s supposed to make you feel something”, an art will make the audiences experience emotions.
Last but definitely not least, art is supposed to be meaningful. That is exactly why abstract art was born. Art has evolved from its conventional role of representation, to an interpretation of meaning. That’s what sells the arts. It transcends visual aesthetics and what’s visible for the eyes. It aims for something much… bigger, something more philosophical, something that requires a process of thinking by standing in front of an art work, in the middle of the exhibition, drowned in your own thoughts as you stare at a single stroke of brush.
Those being said, something that requires creativity, builds emotional response, and possesses meaning are the characteristics of what can categorize something as an art. However, we have to take into account the fact that experiencing an art differs between individuals. I remember going to an exhibition at National Gallery of Indonesia and stared at a light installation for 15 minutes straight. I was hypnotized as blue, yellow, and green light danced above my head. I don’t remember the title, nor how the details of the installation, but I remember the awestruck moment and trance I was in.
While my friends who went with me there? They passed through the art work without sparing a second glance.
Now that we have — more or less — grasped the idea of art, it should be easier for us to determine whether something is an art, or not an art. Is a smartphone an art? What about a cup of coffee? A t-shirt? Take a look at products you’ve purchased in the last month. At brands and companies you see in shopping mall, YouTube ads, or television commercial. Do you think they are, in a way, works of arts?
If you’re still unsure of the answer, let’s take a look on how I can come up with an answer that yes, they are.
Brand is The Art Work of Business
In the business world, the importance of brand has been a routine discussion. Every business player knows what a strong brand is capable of. Valuation in business no longer measures profit, but how much a brand is worth (which are still led by the Techies, by the way: Apple, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon.) That is also exactly what brings these giants to the top of the mountain. Their powerful branding.
However, there’s so much in the process of branding than just creating a company identity to generate worth.
A branding process involves a lot of aspects. Corporate values. Customer’s values. Beliefs. Vision. Creativity. Imagination. Emotion. Experience. Meaning. Creating a brand, is creating an art.
Mark Zuckerberg first started Facebook because of a wonder of “why the hell can’t I stalk and learn about other people on the internet?” (Not quite literally, but you get the idea.) His initial concept was very small, but it got re-imagined until the Facebook we saw today. Back then, internet wasn’t as grand, but it was already seen as something resembling magic. You had Google to look for any kind of information and you had Wikipedia to answer your homework. But Zuckerberg was not content with just that. He imagined an internet where people could connect and learn about each other through a single click. Starting with 10 different projects about this when he was in university, he eventually created the first version of Facebook.
Now, tell me that wasn’t creative.
On top of that, not so surprisingly, creativity has been very high on demand in business nowadays. In fact, it’s projected as the #1 skill to possess in 2020. When we talk about creativity, we no longer only talk about artists, musicians, or content creators. There are entrepreneurs, managers, and even employees.
Being creative, however, is not enough. We live in a world of creation where everything is innovated and created every day. Not all of these creations, however, work.
This is because as customers, we see beyond just creativity. Sure, a product is cool. Sure, it’s new and never seen before. But, do I actually like it?
In brand perception, the matter of like and dislike consist of a wider range of emotions. Do I feel happy about it? Sad? Touched? Satisfied? Does it make me laugh? Does it make me cry? Does it anger me?
When marketers want their brands to be perceived in certain ways, they will try to make their customers feel in some certain ways as well. This is how branding holds emotional power.
The example of this, which is also one of my personal favorites, is the advertising done by Tokopedia, a top Indonesian e-commerce company. The cinematic ads tells a story of a kid, raised by a single mother who struggled daily for her and her child to survive. The kid wanted to eat some prawns — which were relatively expensive — but couldn’t, due to their economic condition. Later when he grew up, he managed to open his own prawn restaurant and brought his mother there.
If you’re familiar with this ads, you’ll understand the emotional roller-coaster I experience whenever I watch it. If you aren’t, I’m sure you can picture it.
The ads relies on the audiences’ emotions, by showing a sad scene of how the mother ate the prawns skin as she let her son ate all the flesh, or by showing the last touching skin where the son had been successful and fed the prawn to his mother. But being emotional is not what Tokopedia aims their customers to see from the company. Tokopedia wants to build a brand of providing to what is necessary for people to make their dreams come true, and they transfer this emotion to a video advertising for their customers to feel.
And Tokopedia is definitely not the only brand aiming for emotional response. A lot of advertisements and campaigns are aimed to pique the audiences’ emotions as well. This is because emotional response is most likely to lead to emotional attachment. And dare say, when you are attached, it is hard to let go (it means you’ll be brand-loyal and they’ll profit from it.)
Another great example of how a brand holds emotional power is in Airbnb’s simple yet powerful advertising. I’ll attach the pictures below, and I believe you can see my point.
So, a branding process requires creative skills, and it encourages emotional response. What’s left now is, is it meaningful? Does brand possess any meaning other than just a business tool to scrape away money from our pockets?
The answer is, absolutely yes.
And meaningful brands are all around you. Without you realizing it, the reason why you pick a brand over another of the same product is most likely because of the value and meaning it offers to you.
Let’s go back to our winning brand that has the net worth of $182.8 billion (yes, that’s a lot of money for a half-bitten apple). Until today, no one is sure why Steve Jobs specifically asked Rob Janoff, the logo designer, for a drawing of an apple (although he confirms that the reason why the apple is bitten is where it’s drawn to a small scale, it will still look like an apple and not a cherry. Ha.). However, speculations arose. Some people tie it with Alan Turing, the father of modern-day computer. After suffering from unrecognition for his brilliance and work, and forced into injections to “cure” his homosexuality, Turing died by biting on an apple with a cyanide in it.
Some others mentioned that it must’ve been a representation of knowledge, since it was an apple that fell down from a tree that made Isaac Newton thought about gravity.
The true meaning behind the drawing of an apple remained as a mystery, buried together with the man behind Apple’s success, but Apple enthusiasts have their own stories, values, and meanings over the logo.
Tell me, how is that not an art?