Really interesting research piece on Plos One asking if the arts are the “secret sauce” that helps drive innovation or if it is the nice to have “cherry on top.” They focused on data dealing with the arts in rural settings because it removed a host of elements present in urban environments that one might attribute as having an impact on innovation instead of the arts.
The more I read the piece, the more I thought they were going to come down on the side of the arts as “cherry on top.” They noted relationships between things like artistic activity and opportunities for leisure or being near natural attractions that might draw and activate a certain demographic that is already interested in the arts.
However, they concluded,
From this perspective, the “cherry-on-top” explanation for the observed arts-innovation nexus is not supported by the data used in this analysis. However, the data are consistent either with the explanation of the arts as an attractive amenity, or as an enabler of innovative thinking. The economic geography literature has primarily considered the former explanation, although recent experimental research and emerging ways of thinking about innovation lend credence to the latter.
The likelihood that the “arts as enabler of innovative thinking” explanation will ever get a toehold in the economics-of-innovation literature is slim, given its theoretical foundation in non-rational thought, which is anathema to conventional economics.
The one advantage that the “arts-as-enabler-of-innovative-thinking” explanation has over the “arts-as-attractive-creative-class-amenity” explanation is the availability of experimental data supporting the former premise.
This pretty much encapsulates the environment we operate in. Even though there are some interesting indicators that arts can be an enabler of innovative thinking, because that data is based in some slightly squishy thought, it won’t be given credit for contributing to the economic value of innovation. (Perhaps more reason not to use the economic value of the arts argument.) Still, it is good to know people are studying questions about the link between creativity and innovation.
There was a previous section in the article that was more interesting to me than the conclusion. Earlier in the article they talk about design being the bridge between art and innovation.
I hadn’t really thought about that before. I have pretty much considered design and innovation as a creative artistic endeavor. The article places innovation pretty squarely in an empirical, scientific realm. The first sentence in the following quote essentially says our biases shape our conception of how new ideas are generated.
…differences between the arts and innovation are stark with respect to where we think the new ideas come from, what purposes the new ideas serve, and which practices or innovation activities (techniques) allow those ideas to be realized.
Design provides a plausible bridge between the two parallel tracks of art and innovation. A useful concise definition of design is a mediation between people and technology that emphasizes aesthetics . The mediation is both an applied art and a development activity critical to innovation.
The article notes that when an object is patented, the patent describes how the object works but what it describes is rarely what is released to the market. Something that looks great but doesn’t work is just as undesirable as something that works, but doesn’t have aesthetic appeal. Design bridges that gap.
If you have ever listened to the 99% Invisible podcast, you will have a sense of what I mean. The podcast focuses pretty heavily on the value of design as both a utilitarian, (often safety), and experiential element.