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Disruptive innovation by Robert Genn

Disruptive innovation
by Robert Genn

It's been fifteen years since Harvard professor Clayton M. Christensen's much quoted The Innovator's Dilemma was first published. Countless corporations, governments and technological organizations have applied his ideas in attempts to improve bottom lines and minimize failures. Disruptive innovation describes how steamships disrupted sailing ships, autos disrupted railways, mini-computers disrupted mainframes, Wikipedia disrupted paper encyclopedias, digital photography disrupted film photography, etc. To put it in the Christensen vernacular, "Start-ups often provide disruptive innovation and readily eat into the market share of older value networks."

Disruption, it would appear, is one of the natural keys to invention and success. I've been curious how Christensen's principles might apply to art.

Impressionism disrupted academicism, abstraction disrupted realism, etc. While there are many artists who work diligently to create the next "ism," some among us think that realism is currently re-disrupting abstraction.

But let's face it, many of us are happy to produce what we think are safe, middle of the road, non-disruptive art that thrives on the comforting repetition of traditional forms and sentiments. I'm not making a value judgment here, I'm just reporting. But I do invite artists to look at their work and try to measure just how disruptive it might be or become.

Works of art that vary from standard conservative norms tend to attract attention. Damien Hirst's formaldehyde shark, sliced cow and diamond-studded skull come in high on the Richter Scale of "shock and awe." At the same time, subtle variations and stylistic nuances also draw quiet attention. Evidence of newness and novelty intrigues, puzzles, amuses and motivates viewers. In a competitive world (of which the business of art is one) the conscious or unconscious attention to this phenomenon may be vital to both survival and thrival.

Here are a few questions worth asking: Are all disruptive art forms art? To be disruptive in your art, is it necessary to disrupt someone else's? Why do humans crave novelty? Is "shock and awe" necessary? Why does Damien Hirst make so many folks upset and annoyed?

Best regards,


PS: "Breaking an old model is always going to require leaders to follow their instincts. There will always be persuasive reasons not to take a risk. But if you only do what worked in the past, you will wake up one day and find that you've been passed by." (Clayton Christensen)

Esoterica: Cruise your work-in-progress and ask yourself a few further questions: How could this work be more imaginative? How could this work have a beguiling subplot? Where in this work have I sunk into normalcy and complacency? Is this work dull, boring, yawn-inducing? In what way is this work different from what I've previously seen or done? If I were a "start-up," what would I do? Courageous, outrageous, audacious, bodacious--where art thou? Incidentally, if you're interested in pursuing this subject, you might take a look at "Innovation" in our own Resource of Art Quotations.


Robert Genn has given ARTAZINE permission to post from his twice-weekly newsletter. For more of his artistic insights, visit his blog at www.painterspost.com.

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