Artisans, Artists, and Buskers

We’re at an interesting time. For a long time, most of my my lifetime, we’ve been able to get away with getting by at the expense of others. I think it’s ending.

There are three types of person I notice. Artists, Artisans and Buskers..

Artists are the ones with a real sense of who they are, or perhaps more accurately who they are not. They have a view, and often it was clear before they ever left school. They had things they wanted to create. They were part of Steve Jobs’ “crazies”

In the late 60’s and early 70’s they were the ones who pushed the boundaries of acceptability in music, art , and society. The Establishment sidelined them. It gave us those we still see as iconic. They created chasms from where we were to where we might go. They stretched things to breaking point at the time, from the Rolling Stones to Andy Warhol to Ghandi. You were either with them or against them. Little middle ground. In the words of Nicholas Klein (but often attributed to Ghandi) “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you”

Then there were the Buskers. Those who could wear the clothes of the Artists, affect their language, look cool and still get by in the mainstream. They made careers of it, but didn’t make the difference they might have done as artists. Radicals outside of work, conservatives within it. Those who as chief executives in the early times of this century commuted happily between Burning Man and Davos and fitting in comfortably at both. Our education and governance systems have evolved to support and reward them, making busking both acceptable and profitable. Itinerant managers with few roots in the businesses they ran. Highly capable people but with no real “skin in the game”.

Then we had the Artisans. The ones who made continual small difference by focusing on the practical delivery of everday art. Putting art to work. Those creating things of marginal beauty. Robert Thompson, whose “Mouseman” furniture became iconic. Moorcroft Pottery, still fiercely independent whose process of creating their products was, and still is hugely inefficient compared to mass production and whose determination to stick by their art makes their products still highly desirable. Neither of them known for their ability to make shareholders rich, but whose work is treasured by those who bought them because of the relationship it represented. I should know. We don’t buy them as investments, be buy them because they are beautiful.

The coronavirus interlude has brought into sharp relief is how we work. Those of us who are artists, or buskers, or artisans. Our education and reward systems, focused on output and compliance, has exposed the fact that most of us are buskers. We get by, saying we are one thing, and doing another. Wearing the clothes, but not creating the songs.

We are not made to be buskers. We perform at our best when we belong to something we identify with and where we can see tangible results, at many levels from economic to social, as a result of our efforts. As coronavirus has disrupted the infrastructure of busking, from the office to commuting, those businesses who rely on buskers have struggled and I think we have begun to sense a different way.

Artists and artisans are complementary. Artists create challenge and beauty with their ideas, and artisans deliver it . From the Arts and Crafts movement, to the Bauhaus, to the Theatre, artisans engage with the ideas of artists and make things that resonate.

As we move out of the disruption caused by Coronavirus, and into the more normal disruption that is Brexit we will not move back to where we were. New challenges and new opportunities are opening up and we can decide how we want to engage in this emerging world.

We can continue to busk, being one thing at work and another at home or we can embrace a more intergated way of being, centred on what gives us meaning and a sense of contribution. There is no law that says work and business cannot be things of beauty.

It’s a big jump, but as I write this one of the biggest buskers of recent times, Arcadia Group is falling into inevitable administration. They have exhausted their “patch” – their extractive business model and created the space for others, with more developed sense of meaning to take their place. Other changes will follow.

As we move into 2021 we have a great opportunity to bring out our inner artist and artisan, and move on from being buskers. It’s a choice we can make.

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