Category Archives: #ContemporaryArt

On the Varieties of Otherness


In the blog this week: The Institute publishes a series of articles on contemporary art and philosophy in conjunction with the Talk Art/Talk Society events. The second blog post is written by Valter Holmström and deals with a reoccurring concept in contemporary art and philosophy, the concept of the Other.


First, three entangled quotes. During an event at the Finnish Institute in London, artist Tellervo Kalleinen defined the red line running through her artworks as “making the Other seem like any one of us”.  In a recent interview the British MP Chuka Umunna accused the Tories and UKIP of pursuing a “politics of othering”,[1]and approximately 145 years ago the French symbolist poet Arthur Rimbaud coined the cryptic phrase “Je est un Autre” in a letter to his teacher – I am an Other.

What does this eclectic collection of quotes mean? The concept of the Other – note the capital O – has gained increased popularity during the last decades, a concept that is steadily creeping into art-talk, cultural critic’s columns and the vocabularies of various public intellectuals. Inevitably, a concept with such a wide use becomes slightly sticky – it attracts a multitude of meanings and as such could do with some unpacking. A return to the philosophical roots of the concept might be in order, to map its conceptual mechanisms.

In its original abstract philosophical sense the concept of the Other is simply a negation, a sort of negative definition: all that which is not “the Same”. And, perhaps more fittingly, that which is not the Self: anything outside self-consciousness. In this sense the Other is often seen as constitutive of the Self, of self-awareness, as the self can only be grasped when an outside to the self is posited – the Other draws a line where the self can emerge as an object of reflection.[2]

Kasimir Malevich’s black square painting series from 1915 primarily display contrast (and were in themselves an 
attempt to inject a radical Otherness into the established art scene)

In a slightly different but related sense the Other is specifically used to designate other people. And a similar dynamic of definition through opposition is visible here – we become aware of ourselves and define ourselves through contrasting ourselves to other people. This is especially visible in the construction of cultural identities, which work like collective selves.  We create cultural identities like “Finnishness” through contrasting it to other nationalities and identities. So the construction of this collective Self, this Sameness, is always dependent on a certain construction of Otherness.

A popular conception, for instance in postcolonial theory, is that some groups of people become defined as specifically Other, to work as a form of inverted mirror for a dominant culture. This is why we often construct a common image of the Other that is unflattering to embellish the image of ourselves. The cultural theorist Edward Said, for instance, examined how the dominant view of the far East – as the mysterious Orient – had been systematically constructed throughout the 19th century in Europe. A contrast to the identity “civilized westerner” was created, in culture, anthropology and art. Something decadent, promiscuously barbaric and backwards to bolster the sense of purity and historical progress that the western civilization was thought to embody – the west desperately needed an Other.

Jean-Léon Gérôme’s orientalist painting Le charmeur de serpents, 1879.

Indeed many groups or communities run the risk of uncritically projecting Otherness in the attempts to create a common identity. When today, after recent elections in Finland and the UK, we see a kind of cultural protectionism emerging in politics, we can also note an increase of generalized Others in the public imagination. Whether it is the image of the immigrant, the EU-bureaucracy, the Greek or the naive internationalists, a convenient set of counterpoints is created to cement national identity. For an identity often gives a sense of stability and security in a world that is often in flux – it works kind of like a coping mechanism.

Otherness will always be present in our experience of the world to some extent, it is part of our very structure of thought and experience. On a cultural level, however, we can see that Otherness is often very unequally or irrationally distributed, and that these constructions often serve ideological purposes – be it national, class-biased or gendered. Often they work to externalize our anxieties into scapegoats, and in the process create glossy illusions of our own communities and identities.

This insight might be why the concept of the Other has crept into artists’ work and the general cultural discourse. Ideally, its use could be turned into a tactic of using art to redistribute Otherness more equally, deconstruct the myths of Sameness that create sharp distinctions between an “us” and a “them”. To repeat Kalleinen’s words, to make the Other seem like any of us, or – as in Umunna’s case – criticize the Othering trends in politics. And lastly, to paraphrase Rimbaud, to see the otherness inherent in ourselves.

[2] Paradoxically, this also means that the Self is always partly mediated through its own opposition.

Events as the next step of experiencing and selling art

Maria Pirkkalainen from the Finnish Institute blogs about national and international art events and how them gaining new, larger audiences affects the visibility of contemporary art. The text is a part of the Institute’s new project: Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.

One of the leading Finnish national art events, Mänttä Art Festival, closed its latest edition this August with a record-breaking number of over 20,000 visitors. On an international scale the numbers are on the rise as well for events such as the Venice Biennale, which passed 400,000 visitors during its 2013 edition. Frieze Art Fair in London sells out its coveted tickets year after year.

How – and why – are these events gathering larger crowds than ever before? This blog points out some of the possible means that the international and national art events use to grow their audience base – and how by doing so, they are gaining more and more importance in the changing world of contemporary art.

Cross-cultural events on the rise
An art event differs from a traditional gallery exhibition due to being a larger special occasion, usually in the form of a festival, fair or something in between. An art event can span multiple days or, in the case of Mänttä Art Festival in Finland, two and a half months. The programme at these events can consist of multiple curated exhibitions as well as other special projects. With art galleries being in turmoil due to the rise of e-commerce and losing their traffic to competitors from all fields of culture, the importance of these events to both presenting and selling art could quite possibly be at its largest.
Events such as Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale aim each year to showcase what’s currently interesting in the field of contemporary art. By doing this they have traditionally gathered together art students, professionals and of course the members of the general public interested in what’s current in the art world. The number of international visitors, both tourists and professionals, these events bring together is something that shouldn’t be overlooked either.
What has clearly taken place within art events is focusing on the programme’s diversity, meaning that besides showcasing traditional contemporary art, the events could include theatre plays, film screenings and other special programming. Diversity can be indeed listed as a forte for attracting the crowds.

Mänttä Art Festival, for example, is curated by a different person each year: in 2014, the curator Minna Joenniemi planned more events than ever for the festival and they didn’t only include visual arts. There were smaller poetry and theatre events as well, thus helping the festival to grow its audience base once and again.
It’s also interesting to notice how the idea of diversity has found its way to event planning in general. Film festivals hold art exhibitions and co-operate with galleries, and Flow Festival in Helsinki has initiated collaboration with contemporary arts by presenting a new prize for the artist of the year. This year the prize was awarded to Adel Abidin in August 2014. The effect these cross-cultural events have had on the visibility of contemporary art in our society is a question that’s also worthy of more research.
But what good does diversity bring to contemporary art events? A wide spectrum of programme seems to help the media to notice art events even more than before, which is of use when they fight for the same small space on the culture pages alongside dozens of other events. This is clearly helpful in terms of gaining more visibility for contemporary art in the press.

The same applies with the audience – now these events can gather together crowds from the fans of poetry, theatre and film, and introduce them to contemporary art in general. This benefits both the artists and the contemporary art scene itself.

Art fairs as eventful playgrounds
However, not all art events aim to simply showcase the best in the field. While Mänttä Art Festival and Venice Biennale are more focused on exhibiting what’s currently significant in art, for example London’s Frieze Art Fair does this, but with the focus on selling products.
Initially a place for art dealers to showcase their protégés and biggest sellers, Frieze Art Fair has grown into a trend-maker of its own and is populated by visitors from young to old, from art students to buyers and just passer-bys – of course if they all were lucky enough to snatch a ticket, before they all sold out again.
The rise of art fairs has been a large part of speeding up the art economy. In a panel discussion held by artnet News in June 2014, columnist and author Anthony Haden-Guest speculates how trade fairs evolved into art fairs during 1994 as a part of the rise of mega galleries and franchises. John Keane goes even further and describes in an 2012 piece in a-n News how nothing has exemplified the polarisation of wealth distribution in the art world more graphically than the Frieze Art Fair.
The business side was clearly present in this October’s Frieze London as well, despite a large number of the visitors not exactly belonging to the group of art buyers. But art fairs still do, in all fairness, provide galleries with an excellent way to connect with new audiences and to lure in buyers.
A good example of the way Frieze London attracts new crowds is the sculpture park it produces outside its main tent in Regent’s Park. It allows the crowds to roam one integral part of the event for free and enjoy public contemporary art. Of course, works were still sold from here, amongst other to a young art collector from Abu Dhabi.
This year the event had also tried a new architectural structure. An article in artnet News also stated how the new layout could have spurred dealers to be more imaginative with their presentations. This was easily seen in for example the layout for Saatchi gallery’s own playground Kindergarten. Is Frieze trying to break out from the art fair mold to a more adventurous set-up – and by doing this attract new visitors?

Does the future of showcasing art rely on art events?
It’s easy to say that the future of the art world and its business is in an interesting state, as Allan Majotra, the Managing Director of Picasso Mio galleries, describes in an article. He continues by explaining how this century will certainly bring more changes to the arts and culture industry than we have seen in the last one thousand years. The article also states how art fairs will decline in popularity, since new technologies and larger galleries will lead to the diminishing importance of art trade fairs. However, within the world of events, this could just mean making traditional fairs resemble festivals, where doing business and selling isn’t at the core of their existence – or at least that’s what it seems like.

Since many art events are gathering a larger set of visitors every year, it seems as if they are attracting new audiences to contemporary art. Introducing contemporary art to a larger group of people benefits its visibility in society. One of the main means of bringing new crowds to these events is to diversify their programme – in 2014, an art event seems to be hardly used anymore just for showcasing or selling contemporary art.
The importance of events is easy to see in other fields of culture as well: film and music festivals break audience records year after year. Television programming aims to attract 21st century viewers by organizing its own special occasions and television events that span multiple days. In an era where the fight over the audience’s precious time is fierce, even contemporary art needs to participate in it with full force – and think as widely and cross-culturally as possible. Events might just be our era’s answer to all of these questions.


Adel Abidin, Flow Festival’s Artist of the Year

Haden-Guest, A. 2014. New York Dealers Discuss the Future of Galleries, Part One, accessed on 5 November 2014.

Haden-Guest, A. 2014. The Future of Commercial Art Galleries, Part Two, accessed on 5 November 2014.

Keane, J. 2012. a-n News. Is it time to challenge the art elite? , accessed on 5 November 2014.

Majotra, A. Fine Art: What is the Future of the Art World?, accessed on 5 November 2014.

Mäntän kuvataideviikoilla ennätyksellinen kävijämäärä. Press release 1.9.2014, accessed on 5 November 2014.

Sutton, B. 2013. Blouin Art Info. 2013 Venice Biennale Passes 400,000 Visitors, Sets New Single-Day Attendance Record, accessed on 5 November 2014.

The Price of Awards

Kim Varstala from the Finnish Institute blogs about the effects awards have on the visibility of contemporary art and the future of art galleries. The text is a part of the institute’s new project: Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society.
Throughout the 20th century, British artists kept gaining international recognition. By 2008, twelve of the top 50 living artists under the age of 50 were British. How was this rapid market success of British art possible? The answer is recognition through awards.
Britain has no shortage of prestigious artistic awards and funding for both individuals and institutions. There is a whole range of national, regional and local awards issued, for example, by the Arts Foundation, the Contemporary Art Society and Arts Council England, and for the struggling artist they are all equally important: In her address at the Paul Hamlyn Awards in 2010 Charlotte Higgins quoted artist Bedwyr Williams as saying that “winning awards was like ‘being refueled in mid air just as I was about to attempt an emergency landing’. To tonight’s winners: we heartily congratulate you. And we cannot wait to see you fly”.
Leading the pack of prestigious art awards is the Turner Prize, a contemporary art award presented by Tate and held at Tate Britain. Since the Patrons of New Art established the Turner Prize in 1984 it has become the most prestigious art award in the world. The setting up of the prize itself was a stroke of genius by Tate in a time of financial difficulty, as it allowed for mounting of contemporary art without having to collect it.
Awarded to a British-based artist, who has arranged an “outstanding exhibition” in the last twelve months, the Turner Prize signals what is worth keeping and provides crucial information to collectors, dealers and lay audiences about the value of an artist. The age limit of 50 also meant that the Turner Prize was able to introduce young and promising British artist described as “late emergent” or “early mid-career”. This particular focus group from the Turner Prize’s early days later became known as the Young British Artists.
Everyone made a point of following the Turner Prize and seeing the nominated artists’ exhibition. By the early 90s the increased media interest had turned the award into a national obsession which meant that the Turner Prize definitely became the direct and complex valuation device we know today. According to a study by Pierre Pénet and Kangsan Lee, the profound effect the award has on the contemporary artist can be explained using three different variables: brockerage, deliberation and institutional labeling.
Brockerage means that the Turner Prize causes a significant departure from institutionalized valuation routines by bringing together a great diversity of profiles in its jury. The nominees are automatically put “in the front of the pack” which therefore increases the likelihood of dramatic success.
Deliberation means that buyers may find owning a work of art that has drawn large public attention appealing. In a market environment that lacks value standards, attendance and media figures serves as an experiment of how much an artist is worth.
Finally, institutional labeling has proved to be an important variable. Even just by being nominated an artist is thereafter known as a “Turner Prize artist”, which sends reassuring signals to buyers and increases the price that an artist commands. Looking at all the participants and winners of the Turner Prize, it’s the taking part that matters for their future career, more so than actually winning.
The proliferation of new arts prizes centered on the same criteria as the Turner Prize (age, nationality and a one year time span) is likely to make hastened success a broader phenomenon in the contemporary art world. New York has the Hugo Boss Prize, Paris the Marcel Duchamps Prize, Berlin the National Gallery Prize for Young Art and Tampere the Young Artist of the Year award.
Does the recognition that artists receive through these awards also mean that the role of galleries, dealers and critics is starting to evaporate? An interesting example is Damien Hirst’s (Turner Prize winner 1995) highly successful move to consign his art directly to an auction house on 15 September 2008, selling an unprecedented $270 million worth of art.
The increasing self-sustainability of artists due to recognition through awards means that the art world is at a turning point. Allan Majotra, founder of the online gallery PicassoMio, has been looking more closely at the future of the art galleries and museums and these are two of his conclusions: firstly, in order to survive, galleries will have to become sophisticated retailers and will have to begin employing strategies that are currently used by luxury and other retail companies. Artists will benefit from his trend and will force galleries to stop using techniques as exclusivity clauses in their contracts.
Secondly, Majotra predicts that Art fairs will decline in popularity. New technologies and larger galleries will lead to the declining importance of art trade fairs. There will be a significant consolidation in the arts market and, similar to the world of galleries, the art fairs will decline in numbers.
So does this mean, paradoxically, that the awards presented by museums and other institutions in order to promote contemporary art are actually more beneficiary for the individual artist? If so, one could argue that this indirectly leads to the alienation of the public towards the contemporary art field in general which, in turn, hits back at the museums issuing the awards in the first place.
The museums seem to be aware of this trend and are developing solutions to cope with future cuts to both financial grants and attendance figures. In a Guardian blog post Jonathan Jones discusses the possibility of future “artless museums” as a concept yet to emerge. He writes that a bookless library is already open in San Antonio, Texas, dedicated to e-reading and poses the question whether there one day will be artless museums too?
“We’re already on the way there. It’s not just that all major museums now make much if not all of their collections visible on websites and apps …you could see the entire collection digitally and then examine some choice painting for real, in the ‘analogue’ room”, writes Jones.
Tate Britain has established that a gallery has no responsibility to show all of its collection and can keep much of it in store while showing some of it in its networks of galleries, making more available online. Are artless galleries the inevitable future caused by praise of the individual? Will the recognition artists gain through awards continue to trump the general public’s interest in contemporary art?
Jones, J. 2014. The Guardian. “Welcome to the art galleries of the future”, accessed on 15 September 2014.
Majotra, A. Fine Art: What is the Future of the Art World? , accessed on 15 September 2014.
Penet, P & Lee, K. 2014. Poetics vol. 43 pp. 149-171. “Prize & Price: The Turner Prize as a valuation device in the contemporary art market”, Elsevier Science B.V., Amsterdam.

Art and the Public

Dr Johanna Vakkari, the Finnish Institute’s Head of Arts & Culture, blogs about the institute’s new project: Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society
“Try to imagine society without the humanising influence of the arts, and you will have to strip out most of what is pleasurable in life, as well as much that is educationally critical and socially essential.”
Sir Peter Bazalgette, Chair of Arts Council England (The Value of Arts 2014)
Art in the city
Besides museums and galleries, an effective way to bring art closer to the public is to show it in a public space – in places frequented by people.  These projects are however not always greeted in kind. I recently listened to BBC radio 3 repeat of the series Free Thinking chaired by Matthew Sweet from 2013. The experts were talking with the public about the theme: Are Audiences Killing Culture? The question was that if art is brought to ordinary places near the public, does this mean that it loses some of its values and begins to operate from the bases of more populist or entertaining ideas.
There are, though, numerous examples around the world showing that this is not the case when considering the quality and innovativeness of works of contemporary art in public places. An interesting case is the Fourth Plinth -programme, which invites well renowned artists to plan new works to Trafalgar Square. The programme has been going on since 1999, having generated big public debates on contemporary art and its audiences because of the controversial and polemic character of many of the works exposed thus far. At the moment on the fourth plinth there is Hahn/Cock by German sculptor Katharina Fritsch from 2013 and the next two commissions for 2015 and 2016 will be by Hans Haacke and David Shrigley. (See:
Another brilliant example is the Art on the Underground –programme, which already for several years has provided in the Tube environment of London a world-class programme of contemporary art. Among this year’s events are e. g. the Re-Dress by Jaqueline Ponclet at the entrance of Edgware Road tube station, which opened in July, Trevor Paglen’s panoramic photograph, An English Landscape, installed at Gloucester Road tube station in June and the new tube map with a cover by Rachel Whiteread. In 2013 Mark Walliger started a project during which he will make individual artworks showing a labyrinth in each tube station of London (270 in all). This programme also includes many other events and activities, such as the schools poster competition realised in 2013. (See:

Jacqueline Poncelet’s work Re-Dress is a companion piece to the artwork Wrapper, also by Poncelet, for a new building alongside Edgware Road Tube station.

In a questionnaire made in August 2014 on Finnish people’s attitudes to public art, 70 % of the 1004 interviewees say that they would like to have works of art in their ordinary surroundings as in their home quarter, in their working places and in schools.  They think that, apart from the aesthetic effects art would increase safety and comfort and also the real estate and residential area value. (Kyselytutkimus 2014). The questionnaire was ordered by the per cent for art -programme, which refers to a principle that a certain per cent (0.5 – 2 %) of the costs of a new building or residential area should be invested to works of art commissioned in the building area and in buildings. This international idea was conceived in the 1920’s and, despite being only a recommendation in Finland, several towns and municipalities have followed it. (Taidetta arkeen 2013).
The Finnish people’s attitudes resemble the results published in the report People and places: Public attitudes to beauty  (IPSOS MORI 2011). Almost half of the respondents experience beauty through art and one of the focus areas in the research was to find out what beauty means for places and communities, e.g. in the built environments.  Beauty is naturally a complicated concept because it means different things to each individual, and the beauty in art people are referring to in this research, does not necessary mean the beauty in contemporary art.

Art as a tool
When speaking of art as a tool for something else, there are two concepts that first come to one’s mind: welfare and creative industries.
Artists have always interacted with industry, the most famous example in modern times being Arts & Crafts – movement and the Bauhaus. The creative industries or culture industries are, however, post-industrial and late concepts launched when decision-makers started to search alternatives for the breaking heavy industry.
As Ingrid Elam, Swedish literary critic and Associate Professor of Comparative Literature, mentions (2012), Tony Blair introduced the slogan ´Cool Britannia´ in 1997 meaning new creative industries that were to replace old industrial society with its factories and big business and at the same time in German they used the slogan: ”from industrial culture to culture industry”. Hundreds of small companies have been established in the place of big industrial corporations.
Although some artists have been able to create factories in a Warhollian way or to generate employment opportunities for other people, when talking about the concepts of cultural and creative industries we often don’t mean works of art in se but such activities like e. g. design, IT, computer games and advertising. In this field the contemporary art, design and fashion are nowadays more and more intermingled.
Yudhishthir Raj Isar, independent cultural analyst and professor of Cultural Policy Studies at The American University of Paris, has asked (2012) how an artist might benefit from having his or her work framed in ’creative industries’ terms? There are, of course, famous designers, whose enterprises’ products we always link to their names and persons (perhaps also erroneously), but in most cases it is the brand which counts and the names of artists/designers are not generally known to the public. This is probably especially the case with immaterial work and innovations – artists are invited to work in companies also because of their abilities to think outside the box and to find solution where we usually would not even search for it. According to Elam (2012) the place and role of the artists in cultural industries is fairly unknown and there is a lack of research about this sector of the arts. Also the meaning of terms like innovative or creative has become insignificant as they are being used in any context. The shifting of vocabulary, earlier used in the context of art, to common practices might reduce the understanding of the special character of the arts. Raj Isar opposes the idea that economy would be the only field in which artists can deliver value for money: “Aren’t there other issues that are just as central to the condition and contribution of the artists? Their place and role in a healthy democratic polity, for example.” (Raj Isar 2012). The question is, does artists’ engagement with cultural or creative industries improve the visibility and impact of contemporary art and artists in society?
It must be remembered, though, that in a broad sense the concepts culture industry or creative industry are used to indicate the whole field of culture. We may speak of the music industry or book publishing as a cultural industry and in the field of visual arts galleries and art fairs and museums can be defined as sections of cultural or creative industry.  
Another growing field is the use of art in welfare services. Here we are talking about community work, art projects aimed for children, elderly people, unemployed, prisoners, patients in hospitals and so on.  The idea is that with art it is possible to open and even resolve different problems in society. The English Art Council’s report refers to the studies, which shows that art and cultural activities can have positive symptoms of conditions, physical stability, or self-esteem, and the ability of people to manage them. (The Value of Arts and Culture, 2014). There are several studies going on in various counties on the effects of engaging art activities to people whereas the impact of arts in public spaces on individuals, community and wellbeing has been investigated only a little.
While talking with Finnish artists, both middle aged and those having just finished their studies, I had a strong impression that many of them are socially and ethically highly conscious. They produce art or join art projects, which apart of artistic aims also have political or social goals. Also art universities, museums and other cultural organisations are funding communal projects – projects that bring art to the groups of people that are not among ordinary museum and gallery visitors. Community art projects have become one of the strong trends in contemporary art. There are opinions according to which art should not become a social work. I believe that the concern is not altogether justified because social work and community art are two different things. Community projects can also be an effective method where art can influence people’s everyday life.
The recent study by the Arts Council England, The Value of Arts and Culture to people and Society (2014), brings new information of the importance of arts and culture in the UK.  It is dealing with the whole field of arts and culture industries.
The key themes studied are Economy, Health and Wellbeing, Society and Education. To get as plausible information as possible, the study group sourced over 500 research reports at the beginning and then analysed 90 of them more closely. It is not easy to find good evidence of all the impacts of art and culture and in the report the researchers have clearly brought up the gasps and difficulties they experienced. There are also the questions of equality and diversity to consider because the people most actively involved with the arts and culture are from the most privileged parts of society. According to the report, the activity depends on the level of education, socio-economic background and on the place of residence.
In 2011 the turnover of arts and culture industries in the UK was £ 12,4 billion with 110,600 full-time employees, which means 0,45 per cent of total employment. According to the report: “Overall in terms of culture, the UK is perceived to be the fourth best nation out of 50. This is a result of Britain being seen as the fourth best nation in terms of having an exciting contemporary culture (eg music, films, art and literature).” Apart from national economy, arts and culture also have a positive effect on tourism and local economies. It is noted, however, that despite the strong contribution of arts and culture to national and local economies, the incomes of individual artists can be fairly low.
It seems that to promote the central position of arts and culture, especially during these economically uncertain times, we need more indicators and new ways to measure its impact to contemporary society. The brand new publication of the British Council, Culture Matters, Why culture should be at the heart of future public policy, discusses these matters, cultural diversity and the importance of the cities as cultural core areas. It also proposes the reassessment of the role of cultural ministries.
According to the Art on the underground organization, one of their missions is to engage audiences, encourage their participation in and increase their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of contemporary art. These are the same tasks that most museums and galleries are working with – and in this blog we would like to open the discussion of how to achieve these goals: what, where, why, how?

Assessment of Economic Impact of the Arts in Ireland. Arts and Culture Scoping Research Project. Submitted to The Arts Council By Indecon International Economic Consultants, 2009.
Culture Matters, Why culture should be at the heart of future public policy. The British Council 2014/E176.
Elam, Ingrid 2012. An industry like no other. In Konstnären och kulturnäringarna / Artists and the Art Industries. Ed. By Ingrid Elam, Photographs by Lars Tunbjörk. Stockholm: Konstnärsnämnden, 20-25.
Heinsius, Joost & Lehikoinen, Kai (Ed.) 2013. Training Artists for Innovation. Competencies for New Contexts. Helsinki: Taideyliopiston Teatterikorkeakoulu – Kokos Publications.
Ipsos MORI, People and Places: Public attitudes to beauty, Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, 2011.
Kyselytutkimus: Suomalaisten silmissä taide nostaa asuinalueiden arvoa. 2014.
Raj Isar, Yudhishthir 2012. Artists and the Creative Industries: Problems with the Paradigm. In Konstnären och kulturnäringarna / Artists and the Art Industries. Ed. By Ingrid Elam, Photographs by Lars Tunbjörk. Stockholm: Konstnärsnämnden, 28-39.
Taidetta arkeen. Ehdotus valtion keinoiksi edistää prosenttiperiaatetta osana julkista rakentamista. Opetus- ja kulttuuriministeriön julkaisuja 2013:5. Helsinki: Operusministeriö.
The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society. An evidence review. Manchester: Arts Council in England. 2014.

Visibility and Impact of Contemporary Art in Contemporary Society

Dr Johanna Vakkari, the Finnish Institute’s Head of Arts & Culture Programme, blogs about Institute’s new project.
The Institute launches a new project
Helsingin Sanomat, the leading newspaper in Finland, published an article 26 June 2014  about  the Finnish small and medium large companies’ sponsorship. (Heiskanen 2014). Only 2% of the interviewed directors or proprietors of these companies would support art and culture, while 42% would support sport, 18% health and 15% children’s activities. Does this tell something about the lack of visibility of contemporary art, or art in general, in Finland? Or is it that companies don’t believe that sponsoring art would improve their own visibility while sport is always seen as a solid investment?  Is contemporary art seen as something difficult to approach or something only catering to a specific group? We do have museum collections, galleries, works of art exposed permanently or temporarily in public spaces, environmental art and different kinds of art events, but perhaps all this should be opened even more to the public and to decision-makers.
With this blog series we aim to start a discussion about the reasons and institutional structures that help or prevent the visibility and impact of contemporary art in Finland, Great Britain and Ireland.  We will explore the similarities and differences between these countries and cultures and analyse the art field and different organisations in it.
In which ways should artists themselves and art organisations such as museums and galleries act to improve the visibility of contemporary art?  What is the status of contemporary art in the media? Do the funders in public and private sector highlight enough those artists, artistic projects and events they are supporting? If yes, what kind of effect does it have to the visibility and impact of art and what does it mean to the social status of the supporting institute?
During 2014–2016 The Finnish Institute in London will organise discussions and events focusing on these topics. We will also invite visiting writers like artists, art critics as well as representatives of museums, galleries and funders to present their views. In addition, there will be a series of short video interviews published in this blog.
Background and Research
The visibility of art is closely related to the social status of artists. How does the public view them and how do they themselves understand their role in society? There has been a great body of research published in the fields of cultural policy and sociology on artists’ working conditions and incomes and the support policy of art in Finland since the 1970s. Only a few scholars have dealt with the visibility and impact of art in society.
One of the important new study reports is The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society published by the Arts Council in England (2014). It contains important statistics and confronts the situation in various countries. The impact of arts and culture is considered in four fields: economy, health and wellbeing, society and education.
Traditionally artists have been seen in an idealistic light as bohemian, charismatic personalities, geniuses, rather living outside of society than taking part in it. From this point of view artistic ability is seen as an innate talent where education only has a minor importance. Another way is to consider art as a profession, which needs an education just like any other occupation. This doesn’t exclude importance of talent  – not anyone can become an artist as much as anyone can become e.g. a master chef, mathematician or surgeon.
In a way this old romantic vision is still working because it helps artists to make an impression. However young generations of artists see art mostly as a profession. To become an artist requires education, advancement of one’s own identity and a lot of knowledge of the national and international art field and capacity to join different networks. Finnish artists, in general, are highly educated, most of them have university degrees, many have completed artists’ pedagogical studies and many have done a part of their studies abroad. (Karttunen 2009; Houni & Ansio 2013; Rensujeff 2014). In a contradictory way it seems that the education has a relatively remote effect to the artist’s social state, or to their standing as experts and in consequence to their visibility. 
In the survey on the opinions of Finnish people on culture, ordered by the Finnish Cultural Foundation in 2013, more than 8000 people of different age groups living in different parts of Finland were interviewed.  (Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013). Since the survey was not limited to contemporary art but included literature, music and visual arts both older and contemporary, as well as popular culture, it is not comprehensive from our point of view, but it still gives some hints about the attitudes of Finns in this field too. It was clear that both contemporary art and contemporary music were the fields most unfamiliar for the interviewees.
According to the results the most important purposes of art were:
1. Improving people’s lives by offering aesthetic and emotional experiences, consolation, sharing, contributing to health and emotional wellbeing.
2. Changing the world, highlighting social issues, breaking down barriers, promoting social values and depicting the world as it is.
3. Some of the interviewees however thought art had an independent purpose in itself, which doesn’t need to have any other specific goals or justifications – art for art’s sake.
In short, on one hand art is considered as a tool for realising something else, on the other, it is seen as an autonomous field with its own values.
The second point is interesting when confronting it to the survey made by the British Museums Association in 2013 on Public perceptions of – and attitudes to – the purposes of museums in society. Museums, of course, are a different issue compared to art and artists, but the British public did not buy easily the politically or socially active role of museums. If the public opinion is that museums are not appropriate environments in which to hold controversial debates, neutral places without any political standpoint, how could such contemporary art, which challenges social or political opinions be exposed in museums?
Also the first task mentioned in the Finnish report fights against opinions on the purposes of museums. Fostering a sense of community and helping those in need were seen as low priority purposes among the Brits. People were afraid that they would divert museums away from essential purposes. The fact is, though, that nowadays many museums collaborate with artists in community work and together with artists create projects aimed for various specific groups.
In Ireland the Arts Council made a similar survey in 2006 as the Finnish Cultural Foundation’s report, interviewing 1210 people living around the Republic of Ireland. (The Public and the Arts). The questionnaire was different from the Finnish one, covering more fields of art but also in this case the survey did not deal specifically with contemporary art and culture and doesn’t give a clear panorama about people’s attitudes on it.  However, from the charts published in the report, one can see that people had frequented more those events that could be defined as entertainment than those, which could be defined as experimental or “high culture”, the latter being though an old fashioned and normative concept which I find out dated and rather not use.
Irish attitudes towards the arts were very positive. Arts were seen important in education, three quarters of interviewees thought that art amenities should be given as much support as sports amenities, almost all believed that arts play an important and valuable role in modern society, and seven out of ten believed that spending on arts should be safeguarded in times of economic recession.  It would be interesting to see how opinions have changed after the economic crisis in Ireland, as so often art and culture are the first areas to suffer cuts during economic decline.
About the contemporary art scene
The Finnish visual artists Minna L. Henriksson has studied art scene of several cities, as for example of Istanbul, Ljubljana, Belgrade and Helsinki, creating sort of maps on the communication between different members in it. (  In this project we are doing a slightly similar research by mapping the individuals and organisations, which in contemporary art scene influence to the visibility of art and its impact in society. The diagram below is one example for visualizing this.
Please send to our blog your own maps or diagrams.
The next blog post will look more closely the use of contemporary art in welfare services and creative industries and also the methods for bringing it closer to the public. Soon we will also publish a post about the impact of prizes to the visibility of contemporary art. 
Heiskanen, Reetta 2014. Vanhukset ja taide eivät avaa kukkaroita. Helsingin Sanomat26.6.2014.
Houni, Pia & Ansio, Heli 2013. Taiteilijan työ. Taiteilijan hyvinvointi taidetyön muutoksessa. Helsinki: Työterveyslaitos.
Karttunen, Sari 2009. Kun lumipallo lähtee pyörimään. Nuorten kuvataiteilijoiden kansainvälistyminen 2000-luvun alussa. Helsinki: Taiteen Keskustoimikunta.
The Public and the Arts 2006. Dublin: The Arts Council / An Chomhairle Ealaion, 2006.
Public perceptions of – and attitudes to – the purposes of museums in society. A report prepared by BritainThinks for Museums Association March 2013.
Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013. Helsinki: SKR, 2013.
Suomalaisten näkemykset kulttuurista 2013: Vaikuttuneisuus taiteilijoista ja tyylisuunnista. Helsinki: SKR, 2013.
Rensujeff, Kaija 2014. Taiteilijan asema 2010. Taiteilijakunnan rakenne, työ ja tulonmuodostus. Helsinki: Taiteen edistämiskeskus.
The Value of Arts and Culture to People and Society. An evidence review. Manchester: Arts Council in England. 2014.
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