The Vague Value of Creative Work
Recognizing the value of arts and creative work in monetary terms is hard, which all too often leads to the undervaluation of art in society. It’s not easy for the artists themselves, either. Despite being a world-class art school, Aalto ARTS does not offer enough tools for their students to turn their creative expertise into a living. Kylteri had a chat with the founder of Artery, a program on a mission to help art students recognize the value of their work, and the dean of Aalto ARTS, on the need for business knowledge in the creative sector.
In Business School, making money is at the center of everything we do, but in the creative field, aiming to make a profit is usually seen as devaluing the art. Nevertheless, about 20 % of Aalto ARTS graduates become entrepreneurs, as opposed to only 5 % of business and tech graduates1. Even though our ARTS students and graduates are world-class experts in what they do, many of them struggle to make a living with their creative work.
Aalto ARTS’ curriculum lacks courses in business knowledge, but students need to understand things like pricing, client management and creating contracts, says Lilya Lagerbohm, a design BA student at Aalto. She has recently founded a new Aaltoes project called Artery. The project aims to fill the gap in ARTS’ teaching by offering art students resources and a place to turn to with their questions on doing creative work for a living.
“What happens after graduating is not generally talked about at school, so what’s challenging is that many ARTS students don’t realize that they’ll be entrepreneurs at some point,” Lagerbohm states. She says tools for smart entrepreneurship are needed. “It’s important to learn how to do entrepreneurship sensibly, so that you’re left with as much mental capacity as possible to do creative work, because that’s, after all, what you want to do.”
The Dean of Aalto ARTS, Tuomas Auvinen, agrees that traditionally, the ethos in the art sector has centered around art and design, the essential core of creative work. He says that to a large extent, incoming art and design students want to focus on developing their artistic personality, diving deep into their field of art. But Auvinen recognizes the importance of business knowledge for art and design students and assures me they’re starting to introduce it to the school. “The ethos of fast growth and quick exits, which the startup world is often about, has not resonated with our students and their companies. We’ve had to rethink what entrepreneurship and livelihood mean in our field.”
That’s why, Auvinen says, they’re now bringing business knowledge to ARTS through a concept called Artpreneurship. It centers around the freedom to do creative work, while combining that with an understanding of how to package a product, who the customer is, what creatives can do themselves and what they can find support for.
The trickiness of valuing art is not only a problem for art students, but can also be seen elsewhere in society. Even though art has an important societal role through its ability to drive change in how we see and experience the world, people are generally not too willing to pay for it and some political parties have even claimed that the cultural sector is currently receiving too much public funding. In recent discussions, populist parties have framed arts and culture as an “elite luxury”, but in reality they are central elements in building one’s identity and tying together different parts of society2.
Some economists also recognize the importance of supporting art and artists through public funding, for their ability to increase wellness, make cities more attractive, and produce GDP3. Finland currently lags behind the EU average in the proportion of GDP produced by the art sector, but this can be amended with a better-functioning creative sector. As an example of innovative governmental support, Ireland is piloting a basic income for artists4, and other countries would do well to learn from its outcome.
Art has the power to unite, provoke, give perspective, promote empathy and offer a shared experience. All of this is desperately needed in today’s society, which is characterized by increasing political and cultural division. Even though the value of art and creative work is difficult to measure in money, the significance of it should not be neglected, but rather embraced.
Artery is a student-run support program helping art students recognize and make the most out of their creative potential through entrepreneurship. The first program is starting this fall, with a series of three events. Artery is currently run by a dedicated team of three: two ARTS students and one BIZ student. You can find them on Instagram: @arterybyaaltoes.
1a. Aalto University, 27.9.2019, Taiteiden ja suunnittelun korkeakoulusta valmistuneet työelämässä. https://www.aalto.fi/fi/taiteiden-ja-suunnittelun-korkeakoulu/taiteiden-ja-suunnittelun-korkeakoulusta-valmistuneet-tyoelamassa
1b. Aalto University, 28.9.2022, Aalto-yliopistosta valmistuneet maisterit ja tohtorit ovat työllistyneet hyvin. https://www.aalto.fi/fi/uutiset/aalto-yliopistosta-valmistuneet-maisterit-ja-tohtorit-ovat-tyollistyneet-hyvin
2. Helsingin Sanomat, 22.3.2023, Riikka Purra ilmoitti kulttuurin olevan ”luksuspalvelua” – kulttuurin tekijät tuohtuivat. https://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/art-2000009470096.html
3. Helsingin Sanomat, 17.9.2023, Sivistyksen hinta. https://www.hs.fi/kulttuuri/art-2000009846331.html
4a. Citizens information, 11.1.2023, Basic Income for the Arts (BIA). https://www.citizensinformation.ie/en/employment/unemployment-and-redundancy/employment-support-schemes/basic-income-arts/
4b. The New York Times, 23.3.2023, Ireland Asks: What if Artists Could Ditch Their Day Jobs?. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/03/23/arts/ireland-basic-income-artists.html