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Artist as navigator: understanding how the social qualities of art influence organizational change; a methodology for art as a social practice.

Smith, Helen


Helen Smith


Anne Douglas

Alistair R. Anderson

Mark Hope


What insights can art reveal in the context of organizational change? How do artistic practices influence the way communities address change? In what ways can an individual artistic practice, concerned with the role of art in society, add new insights to theories and practices of contemporary art? These questions are approached through three interrelated methods. In the first, over a three year period, the artist-as-researcher consciously addresses organizational change through her artistic practice within the different communities of Woodend Barn, a volunteer-led arts centre in the North East of Scotland. The second method is a literature review, which focuses on the selected artistic practices of Allan Kaprow, Suzanne Lacy and the Artist Placement Group. Each practice is discussed in relation to the underpinning philosophical principals of Pragmatism, particularly John Dewey's ideas on the generative qualities of aesthetic experience. These insights inform the research as it unfolds within the organizational context of Woodend Barn, itself at a point of significant change. The third method draws on anthropologist Michel de Certeaus' theory of the act of speaking, to define the details of social interaction. This leads to a conversational method of analysis, which draws out the synergies and differences of the chairperson of Woodend Barn and the artist. The analysis aims to understand the qualities and conditions for social interaction in arts practice, and how they affect change in organizational contexts. It has become apparent that a key condition of the artwork is an artist who is committed to a refined and informed understanding of the social dynamics of art, as evidenced in the two principal projects - Fold (2012) and Lavender (2012-2014). It is important to recognize that not all artists have these skills and that not all artists are interested in adopting a social focus in their practice. This thesis sets out to address and influence new generations of artists, and - more broadly - to rethink the value of social interaction in artists' practices, in relation to economic values. Understanding how social interactions become generative, sense-making experiences is an important quality of the practice and research findings. This resonates with Dewey's theory that it is through the unconstrained characteristics of art that aesthetic experience can shift deeply-rooted ways of thinking. The research concludes with a social manifesto for art, which outlines conditions for individuals from different communities, encouraging them to act in ways that are self-directed and that lead to community resilience.


SMITH, H. 2015. Artist as navigator: understanding how the social qualities of art influence organizational change; a methodology for art as a social practice. Robert Gordon University, PhD thesis.

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Dec 22, 2015
Publicly Available Date Dec 22, 2015
Keywords Visual artist; Change; Organisation; Social qualities; Pragmatism; De Certeau; Kaprow; Lacy; Artist placement group; Connecting communities
Public URL
Award Date Jul 31, 2015


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