Four ways modern art will help you keep your day job
Monica Karpinski

Four ways modern art will help you keep your day job

How understanding modern art can help you at work

First published date August 05 2014 Amended date August 15 2014

Modern art can feel a bit of a tough pill to swallow. What do all those lines mean, and why are those random blobs on that canvas selling for more than my house? But beneath those seemingly simplistic veneers lies legions of complex meaning and ideas just waiting for you to uncover them.

‘That’s all well and good,’ I hear you say, ’But why should I bother?’

British interest in art is on the rise. Against booming creative industries currently growing at twice the predicted rate of the rest of the economy, there’s never been a better chance for budding creatives to sharpen up their skills and get their portfolio out there. And with the rise of the creative ’slashie‘, a professional somehow able to manage creative side projects as well as their day job, there’s never been more valuable, practical outlets for creative knowledge.

Whether you’re a banker or bee-keeper, getting a handle on modern art will teach you some invaluable lessons to help you get ahead.


1. Less is more

One of the most difficult artistic movements to grasp, minimalism can be particularly tricky. Based on simplicity, symmetry and block use of colours, materials and forms, at first we feel what we’re looking at is so basic that it has no deeper, ‘real’ meaning at all (i.e.:’um... it’s a cube‘). But what we’re meant to feel, very broadly speaking, is an awareness of the artwork in itself as a whole, and how it exists in the space around it. And without visual cues to help us figure out what we’re feeling, our mind opens to new and virtually endless possibilities. So, from less, we’re shown that there’s more.

You can approach plenty of problems and tasks from the very same mind frame.  Look at what’s in front of you from a different perspective, and how it can exist in different, lateral contexts. Pitching an idea out to a client? How can your solution help them in a wider sense, as well as meeting the needs outlined in their brief? How, in other words, will your solution look in relation to the wider space around it?


2. Let your work speak for itself

Another key modern art minefield is the lack of representation: that is, the lack of recognisable pictures of things we know exist in real life, like a vase or a person. Instead, we see blobs of paint against inexplicable stretches of colour, and can’t help but go cross-eyed as we try to figure out what exactly we’re meant to be looking for. The secret? Stop looking for what you know, and start looking at what’s in front of you.

Take those mazes of paint dribbles and inexplicable stretches of colour exactly for what they are. Enjoy the deep reds and the crazy slashes of white, and don’t question why. It’s that automatic, immediate sensation you’re meant to focus on. That’s what that painting is meant to ‘mean’: whatever it means to you.  

Sometimes things are exactly as they seem, and should be considered (and enjoyed!) as such. Don’t over think it.


3. Always ask questions

Any kind of cultural movement was born from a challenge to its predecessor. In the same way Elvis Presley’s hips pushed rock ‘n’ roll into a direction, modern art asked questions its impressionist elders couldn’t answer. Without questioning the status quo, we can’t progress.

Whilst this principle is gigantic in scope, it can be applied to nearly anything, on any level we need it to. And, even better, it’s always good advice.

To question why something is, we need to understand enough to be curious in the first place. It’s how language, societies, workplaces, recipes and ideas are made. Learning to ask questions, especially the right questions, is an invaluable skill that will not only set you apart from the competition when starting out (as well as making you look keen to learn!), but will help you move with the times as things change.


4. Nothing exists in isolation

As already put plainly by our minimalist friends, we can better understanding something via how it appears in context. In the same way, nothing at all that you’ll encounter on your professional journey exists in isolation.

A steel cube sitting in the middle of the room both exists as a cube, and in relation to the floor, space and walls around it, as well as in relation to your presence in the room. The way you see one red dash of paint is in relation to the other dashes of paint that surround it. Your deadline, and any professional decisions you’ll need to make exist in relation to your ability, your colleagues, your employer and your clients.

Conceptualising problems as chains of consequence will help you get a better handle on what you’re doing, and help you craft a wider, better plan in getting things done. It might be more intimidating and time consuming then just getting on with it from word ‘go’, but, if we’re to again lean towards cliché: a well aimed shot will always beat ten stabs in the dark.

Above all, coming to appreciate modern art will help you feel creative. And whatever it is that you love doing, a creative approach is one that will always glean new and exciting results. Whether you’re looking to join the creative ’slashie’ community or learn how to hack into your field for the first time, take a look at some art and design courses and get your plans on the road! 

Monica Karpinski

Monica Karpinski received her BA (Media and Communications) and Diploma in Modern Languages (French) from the University of Melbourne, Australia. An art and culture aficionado, in her spare time Monica enjoys film, reading and writing about art.