Old Words #4, ‘The Art of Uncertainty’ (2010)

This month’s Old Words are unusual, since they don’t get around to the arts until the last quester of the essay, and even then the focus is theoretical rather than practical. The essay, written principally in 2010, was a reaction to the financial crisis of 2007-08 which I saw then, and still see, as a decisive turning point in modern history. Much of the chaos that has followed, from austerity to Brexit, from the Trump presidency to war in Ukraine, I believe to be directly attributable to how global leaders in politics and other fields misinterpreted that event and their actions in consequence. Thinking about that led me to read in fields with which I’m unfamiliar, including economics and management theory, and I learnt a lot, some of which went into this essay.

If you work in the arts, you might think this essay won’t have much to offer you, and who am I to say you’re wrong. I will say, though, that if you work in the arts the distinction between puzzles and problems, Ralph Stacey’s Edge of Chaos theory and Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle’s ideas about how artists act as leaders, might all get you thinking about what you do, why and how. You’ll find them in this essay, among other things.