Art and us

Life without the collective resources of our libraries, museums, theatres and galleries, or without the personal expression of literature, music and art, would be static and sterile—no creative arguments about the past, no diverse and stimulating present and no dreams of the future… (Arts Council England, Evidence Review, 2014)

Spaces & places
Screen capture from a film by Perttu Salovaara, made in collaboration with Arja Ropo who dealt with the use of film in management research in her presentation

The third and final internal seminar in Athens was arguably the most inspiring, devoted to discussing the function and value of Art and culture for our lives as researchers, involving different examples and offering various insights for further lines of development. The theme is admittedly complex and can be easily watered down if we think, say, that art and science are, as it were, automatically in a dialogue. We can make much better sense of the intersections of the two if we look at specific examples of how art and science might go together.

Professor of French language and literature, Jukka Havu got us started in thinking about the topic through his adorable introduction into the differences in the consumption of culture in Finland and France. While the Finns often embrace the stereotype of the French as culturally active and of themselves as less active, empirical evidence shows to the contrary. Judging on the basis of criteria, indeed, such as book borrowings from libraries, attendance of orchestral concerts, modern dance and theatre performances, the Finns fare much better than the French in terms of respective frequencies of consuming culture. In the borrowing of books from libraries, for instance, the borrowings per year in Finland (13.77 per capita) number about five times as much as in France (2.57 per capita).

Secondly, one of the chairs of the session, Hannele Mäkelä, discussed the usage of poetry in her own field of research, which is accounting. Surprising as it may sound, an international journal in her field has welcomed the publication of poetry related to themes such as accounting and accountability—and these pieces of poetr are published alongside academic articles on accounting. As an example, Hannele recited some verses by her colleague Pala Molisa, to have been published in the journal. As Pala puts it, “poetry offers a way of getting into problems in ways that prose (especially academic prose) often doesn’t allow for—it’s more expressive and condensed, and allows for an emotive charge that’s often needed to ‘feel’ a problem and not just to intellectually understand it.”

This is a valuable point insofar as it brings to the fore the insight that through the help of art we can approach different issues on the platform of our emotions, which enables us, for example, to form a more holistic stance on an issue than might be possible through more traditional academic prose. In one of the presentations in the seminar, I made a similar point in discussing the function of so-called future stories in research processes, such as in The Finnish Future Barometer on Education in 2030, where I was one of the authors producing prose and poetry on the basis of empirical research on the future of education. The specialists in education and future studies may collect big chunks of data respecting the future of education, but their predictions will customarily be ethically neutral and somewhat general. With the help of literature, in turn, one can bring in the individual, experiential perspective of a character undergoing the changes imagined, and thus we can introduce not only an emotive but also an ethical element into the picture.

Any case studies of successfully breeding art and science, however, raise criticisms that call for further treatments of the theme. If one defends the value and force of, say, narrative literature or poetry for understanding different phenomena in a specific field of research, we ought to remind ourselves that academic prose can be a genre of literature as well (also borrowing—as we best see fit—from rhetorical strategies conventionally employed in narrative literature). Also, we must keep in mind that the interchanges between art and science run in both directions: not only can we the scientists learn something from the arts, but the artists should keep their eyes open to what goes on in science, too.