The art of uncertainty

The effects of the 2008 banking crash continue to spiral, despite the initial confidence of politicians and business people that they’d soon get things back on track. Yesterday France and Austria lost their AAA rating from the same agencies that were convinced, a few years ago, of the soundness of ‘sub-prime’ mortgages. Trying to restart a system that has failed is, at best, naïve. We need at least to see clearly what has happened if we’re going to avoid it happening again.

The problem is not that imperfect people implemented economic and management theories imperfectly, though they did. It’s not even that the theories being implemented were themselves flawed, though they were. The real issue is about how those theories were imagined in the first place: as rational responses to a knowable and predictable reality.

From ‘The Art of Uncertainty’

The arts in Britain have been told for years to be more business-like. They’ve been required to adopt ill-conceived performance measures and the management practices that have led us, in their simple faith in rationality, to the present crisis. Science is a very powerful conceptual tool. It has produced knowledge that’s transformed the conditions of life on this planet. But there are huge parts of human experience where that tool has nothing to say, from the taste of chocolate to the experience of love.

Art is one of the areas where science stumbles, partly because art’s job is to create the knowledge that science cannot. So maybe people in business, public administration, finance – even science – could learn something from art’s ways of doing things, its processes and ways of knowing. This paper argues that, at a time of complex problems, mechanistic responses will not help. It would be like trying to improve an ecosystem with a screwdriver: wrong tool.

‘In responding to the problems faced by arts organisations, and the communities in which they work, more creative ideas and more open processes would seem more useful. But the arts need confidence in their own methods and processes and their own epistemology.’

From ‘The Art of Uncertainty’

DownloadThe Art of Uncertainty 2012 (133kb)