An introduction to meaning oriented strategic planning course for artists

Article UAL Journal, 20 October 2017

 

Abstract:

Art making is on one side a production and business activity, which requires planning and implementation, but on the other side an emotional-mental- spiritual activity, which requires creativity and inspiration. Conventional planning and management methodologies are developed for businesses and therefore not fully relevant for artists. In this article, the author gives a short introduction of the concept of a course that he has developed by combining the methodology of strategic planning with existential coaching approach. The course is designed with three dimensional perspective to human and to its activities. It deals not only with artist's activities in the physical world but also with their relations to the psychological and mental worlds. It intends to give art students basic tools for successful planning and self-reflection.

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Meaning Oriented Strategic Planning for Artists

Being a tool of self-expression and self-reflection on one side and the experience itself on the other, artmaking actually is a micro-cosmos of the life itself. This makes art education special and unique, nevertheless also difficult, sometimes pushing students to their physical, emotional and mental-spiritual limits. By making the choice of arts as a profession, one accepts as well to have a lifestyle in which the borders between the private and professional life is a blur. Choice of artmaking being a very natural intuitive choice in childhood years, art students start facing the results of their choices when they step into professional life.

 

Nowadays art schools are becoming more and more aware of the need of art students to learn how to plan their career and to improve their managerial and entrepreneurial skills so that they are equipped to make a living. Teaching conventional planning and management methodologies that are used in art management can partly be useful to meet this need; nevertheless, they are not fully relevant for artists.

 

Art making is on one side a production and business activity, which requires planning and implementation, but on the other side an emotional-mental- spiritual activity, which requires creativity and inspiration. Conventional planning and management methodologies are developed for businesses. They focus just on reaching aims, goals and actions for the success of the business and reduce a person to a "human resource" as an instrument to reach those goals. Artists naturally have difficulties to adopt this approach, which contradicts with their values and does not conform their way of being. The professional life of an artist is inseparable from their private life. This fact requires a new integrated approach, which positions the artist's professional activities within their life span.

 

In this article I would like to give a short introduction of the concept of a course that I have developed throughout the years of my teaching experience to art management students at Yeditepe University and art students in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University and of my professional managerial and coaching experiences leading a creative social enterprise and two NGOs. The concept that I am introducing has evolved to its present form in time based on the needs of my students from different art and design disciplines. In the beginning, I was teaching how to develop projects, serving to the long-term strategies of an arts organization, which they imagined to establish themselves. Here, I used the methodology of strategic planning, which is actually an organizational tool. But art students, who rather preferred to develop their individual projects, used strategic planning as a tool to build their personal career path and reflect on their lives. In order to respond to the need for an integrated approach mentioned above, I underpinned my knowledge of existential coaching to the methodology of strategic planning and project management.

 

Why strategic planning and existential coaching need to be combined?

 

Most of the artists commence creative activities in their childhood years. Making art is such a natural urge for many of them that it is not a rational decision with full awareness of its consequences as the adoption of the profession in their later years. The end of the studies and beginning of the professional life is usually the time when they start facing the reality. At this point, strategic planning is a helping tool not just to plan their career path for success but also to foresee (as much as possible) which challenges they may face in the future.

Also related with above, I observed over the years of my experience that most of the art students are very good at focusing on their activity in the present, being full "here and now" as a natural result of their art practice. However, long term thinking is not necessarily a practice that they are used to. Strategic planning, which starts with building a future vision, gives art students a long term perspective in which they can position their present work with respect to their vision.

 

Strategic planning is defined as a systematic process of envisioning a desired future and translating this vision into broadly defined goals or objectives and a sequence of steps to achieve them. Strategic planning begins with the desired- end and works backwards to the current status. (http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/strategic-planning.html)

 

Learning about strategic planning helps arts student to foresee the potentials on one side but also future challenges on the other side in order to take a position, and to define their goals and actions in the physical outer world. But to deal with emotional challenges caused by uncertainty, tensions and limitations that impact their stated goals and aspirations are the subjects of existential coaching.

 

Existential coaching is a uniquely philosophical and relational way of examining the paradoxes and challenges of human existence so as to empower coachees to move forward in an authentic and reflective way. Existential philosophies are concerned with reflecting on life and the human condition, helping us to think critically and creatively about the challenges of our lives and how best to meet them. Existential coaches encourage clients to look at issues such as meaning, authenticity, freedom, choice and responsibility, and how these come into play in their lives. (Emmy van Deurzen)

 

Logotherapy and Existential Analyses of Viktor E. Frankl assumes the human to be made of physical, psychological (has emotions and thoughts) and noetic (has the ability of reflection, self-reflection, self-transcendence, creativity and conscience) dimensions which are an integral part of their existence as a whole. In this course, in order to adopt strategic planning more relevant for art students, it is revised with this tri-dimensional perspective to human and its activities. Thus, a new approach of strategic planning, (I call it "meaning oriented strategic planning") which is a tool for human (its users) to live a more efficient and authentic life, replaces the conventional strategic planning which is a tool for businesses to function better, by means of using human resources in a more efficient way.

 

Below, I will touch upon how meaning oriented strategic planning will address some of the key challenges for art students.

 

Dealing with uncertainties

There are uncertainties in artists' life more than in any other profession. This starts already in their studies. Most of the art schools try to encourage students to find their own artistic style by giving them the freedom to choose among many different options of courses and move between different disciplines. According to existential thinking, freedom and anxiety are two sides of the same coin. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (May 5, 1813–November 11, 1855) explains anxiety as the dizzying effect of freedom, of paralyzing possibility, of the boundlessness of one’s own existence — a kind of existential paradox of choice. This anxiety leads some students to try one option after the other and get lost in the sea of possibilities. They sometimes can't recognize their limits, get exhausted and give up at the end. Some others get paralyzed, not being able to decide what to start with. In both cases, students may feel frustrated and lose their motivation and sense of meaning.

Existential Coaching recognizes anxiety not necessarily as "a bad thing" or a problematic presence that must be reduced or removed. The feeling of anxiety can be stimulating, can put us in touch with our sense of being alive, and is the source to all creative and original insight and decision-making (unclear to me). On reflection, a life that was anxiety-free would be empty of meaning, enthusiasm, curiosity and the urge to advance itself. However, when the anxiety regarding the experience of life's uncertainties becomes confounding, unmanageable or intolerable, we attempt to initiate ways designed to reduce or remove that anxiety. (Ernesto Spinelli, http://www.plexworld.com)

To deal with this paradox of life, strategic planning helps art students to find out why and what they want in life in order to set short-term goals and actions. Existential coaching helps them at the same time to revise their expectations from the outside world as well as from themselves and select the most viable options.

 

Dealing with the paradox of success and failure

Being based on subjective opinions, criteria for assessing the success of artmaking are obviously vague more than in any other profession. What is a success? When do you (would you) feel successful? When do you think your professors find you successful? When does society consider an artist as a successful one? When I raise these questions to my art students one after the other, they are mostly confused as they recognize the paradoxes they are faced with. Which criteria should they consider, their own or of others? But it is now their professors, who are assessing their success and it will be the arts sector, curators, juries, clients, audiences, art critics, galleries, journalists who are going to assess their success later in their professional life.

The unclear definition of success, the vagueness of diversity of success criteria causes major dilemmas in the lives of many art students. To be able to cope with paradoxes and dilemmas they fall into, students need to clarify, reconsider and eventually reshape their very own understanding of success and their own success criteria. Strategic planning defines success as reaching the goals that you have set for yourself. Working on their career plans, students are asked to set their own goals, to think about different options, to make preferences, to make conscious decisions that can mean to make a choice sometimes between wishes that are contradicting with each other.

Talented and gifted artists who have been praised all their lives since their childhood may naturally have difficulties to accept failure. Some prefer to stay at the safe side and just do what they are very good at in order to avoid risks of failing. They hide behind being perfectionists. Results can nevertheless only be achieved by taking all necessary actions required. Ignoring some of the actions can cause failure. That is how one can get trapped in a vicious circle. One has to take the risk to fail in order to succeed.

Some others try but they are not resilient to failure. They easily lose their motivation and give up. Giving up is to choose the easier way. Giving up can easily become a habit.

 

The course gives the students on one side the possibility to reflect on their own worldviews, their beliefs, values and patterns of behaviours in order to become aware of them, it proposes on the other side a new perspective and new strategies to cope with the hindering elements in their worldview.

Existential approach is about accepting that life and work involves pleasure and pain, sadness and joy, success and failure, good and bad. We all live in the tension of these paradoxes every day but our response is often like a magnetic pull towards one end of those polarities and where we seek to eradicate or deny any value or influence of the other. Recognizing that both ends of these life magnets have something to offer us in our challenges of life is the goal of this approach, to find a way through our dilemmas by accepting both our limitations and our possibilities (http://www.paulswiftcoaching.com/24.html). As Nietzsche states, ‘Happiness and unhappiness are twins that grow up together’, so it is with success and failure.

 

According to existentialism success and failure are two sides of a coin. Failure is the reality of existence as much as success is. Failure hurts, yet the paradox is that failure can also lead the way to eventual success. We can learn from our failures, failure gives us sometimes a new direction, sometimes the chance to step back, think and refocus. It causes growth and builds resilience.

In contrast with the worlds of management and personal development, which are dominated by a manic chase after end goals, Viktor Frankl, the founder of Logotherapy and Existential Analyses states that “The more you aim at success and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the

an unintended side effect of one's personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one's surrender to a person other than oneself."

 

For Victor Frankl, a human being's most basic motivation is to find meaning in her life. That is a purpose, an ideal or a higher aim that orients our goals and actions. Frankl believes, that meaning can only be co-created by a person by responding to the responsibilities, what he calls "meaning possibilities" that life offers. His motivation concept is based on the assumption that every human is free. Therefore everyone has the freedom to recognize the meaning possibilities of every specific moment and take his personal responsibilities. He writes: “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life, he can only respond by being responsible.”

 

Underpinning the methodology of strategic planning by Frankl's meaning concept causes a total change in students' human and life perspectives. It is not the life that is obliged to give us what we expect from it, but it is we, who should take our personal responsibility to make a change in the world, create a better life for ourselves and for others. Strategic planning thus becomes more than a methodology of planning goals and actions in order to reach our bigger aims. It turns into a methodology of searching one's own responsibilities in order to co-create a meaningful life.

Meaning-oriented approach to strategic planning described above, encourages the art students who are too much involved with themselves, to look out to the world and look for their responsibilities and discover their own position within the context of a larger picture. Discover the meaning of their lives.

 

Mahir NAMUR, Dipl. Ing
Grundsteingasse 41/1/14, 1160 Wien Austria mahir.namur@gmail.com

Mahir Namur, Dipl. Ing. *1967 in Ankara, Turkey. BA Civil Engineering from Istanbul Technical University, MA in Construction Management from Vienna Technical University. Lives in Vienna and Istanbul. After some experience in engineering and construction management, since 1997 engaged in cultural management, since 2008 also in coaching and since 2014 in Logotherapy and Existential Analyses. Management of several arts, culture and communication projects in Chameleon Events & PR. Founder member, former president and now secretary general of European Cultural Association www.europist.net. Teaches project management in culture and coaching at Yeditepe University and Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Istanbul. Member of the Strategy Group of „A Soul for Europe“ Initiative and European House for Culture.