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Art-based business learning in arts management education

Posted on May 1, 2015 by in issue #04 |


By Tanja Johansson, Aino-Maija Lahtinenn & Hannu Ojala

Tanja Johansson, PhD, Sibelius Academy, University of the Arts Helsinki;  
Aino-Maija Lahtinen, PhD, University of Helsinki;  
Hannu Ojala, PhD (Economics), M.A. (Education) University of Tampere and Aalto University School of Business


/Teaching experiences

Art-based business learning in arts management education.



We examine teaching and learning challenges that arise within arts management pedagogy from the contradictory ideological values such as artistic excellence and economic utilization that the two disciplines and logics are based on. We report findings of our teaching experiments in which we aimed at integrating different knowledge domains of art and business by using a pedagogical artifact constructed from the Finnish national epic Kalevala. The artifact serves as a bridge between the different academic disciplines, thus facilitating boundary crossing and transformative learning in higher arts management education. The pedagogical artifact has been experimented among the arts management students of the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki. In the end we will also discuss the students’ feedback on the artifact.


1. Introduction

Artists and artistic projects face nowadays an increasing competition and decreasing subsidies, which means that learning business competencies in more depth have become crucial to arts and arts management students and professionals. Traditionally, this type of knowledge has been seen as highly distant from the core artistic work creating resistance towards the topic and thus hindering the learning process of artists. To overcome these learning challenges, our research project focuses on the innovative and interdisciplinary approaches to teaching business administration and entrepreneurship related topics to arts and arts management students on the university level. Encouraged by the strong emphasis for high quality teaching and learning in three Finnish universities – University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Sibelius Academy, we have examined the ways how arts and arts management students approach business knowledge and use their prior knowledge in striving for understanding the concepts and processes of business administration, accounting in particular. In the research project we aim at combining relevant theoretical literatures of arts management, business economics and higher education to a more coherent and holistic view of how the learning takes place in arts management when the boundaries of business economics and arts are crossed at the thresholds of the different disciplines. For this purposes we have developed a teaching case that can be used both in arts management and business economics teaching. We hope that this report of two teaching experiments will facilitate both practical and theoretical discussion in arts management pedagogy and encourage scholars to engage in interdisciplinary research groups.


2. Crossing the boundaries of artistic and economic logics

Arts management builds on two disciplines and logics that are based on contradictory ideological values such as artistic excellence and economic utilization. The economic logic of practice can be characterized by market orientation, which sets external constraints and demands (e.g., economic and political) on various forms of cultural production. In contrast, the artistic logic of practice is characterized by the desire to produce art for art’s sake involving both the specific interests of the actors (e.g., stylistic) and more socially oriented aims to produce cultural products. Bourdieu highlights that ‘art for art’s sake’ is not only ‘for art’, but at the same time it works against the adoption of economic thinking. (Bourdieu, 1993, 1992) In Figure 1 the inherent tensions of logics are summed up.

Figure 1. Art and Management – The Inherent Tension of Logics

Figure 1. Art and Management – The Inherent Tension of Logics

Although arts and business are at the glance distant knowledge domains, a number of studies have been conducted to explore the possible connections and valuable insights between arts and business. For instance, studies on the aesthetics of organizations have explored the possibilities for collaboration between the contradictory worlds (e.g., Strati 1999). Art has also provided several metaphors for examining work life such as theatre (e.g., Meisiek 2004; Clark and Mangham, 2004), dance (Atkinson, 2008), and jazz (e.g., Humphreys, Brown, & Hatch 2003), and it has been considered as a catalyst for organizational change and strategic transformation (Darso, 2004). Thus, arts facilitate learning in organizations and this type of arts-based learning can be defined as:

    “A wide range of approaches by which management educators and leadership/organization development practitioners are instrumentally using the arts as a pedagogical means to contribute to the learning and development of individual organization’s managers and leaders, as well as contributing to organizational learning and development.” (Nissley 2010: 13)

However, few empirical studies have been conducted to explore art-based learning in accounting and how to utilize this type of approach within arts and arts management students. Hence, we aim at examining another angle on arts-based business learning: how to teach business related aspects to arts and arts management students by introducing the new domain in relation to their prior knowledge on arts and to the divergent thinking that is typical to art students (Gibson et al. 2009).

According to the widely accepted view, new knowledge and understanding is constructed on the basis of learner’s prior knowledge (Glaser, 1984; Tynjälä, 1999). Concerning arts students’ process of learning, arts related topics and the ‘artistic’ way of thinking dominate their prior knowledge. It is common that the arts students have weak prior knowledge on accounting, which adds to the complexity of students’ learning process regarding accounting concepts and procedures. Another layer of complexity relates to the arts management students’ motivation to learn business economics using traditional teaching methods such as lecturing. Namely, not only prior knowledge is domain-specific but also the interests, values and emotions of students originate from their own domain. While in business schools an instructor may simply refer to commonly used assumptions underlying business economics such as the self-interest of business managers and the profit maximization of business entities, this type of argumentation may turn arts students away from the substance of the teaching content. Since arts students are self-selected to the ‘artistic world’, which prioritizes different values than the non-artistic business world, new teaching methods should support learning and transformation in between the two knowledge domains – art and business.

In recent pedagogical research, the integration and transformation of different knowledge domains has been approached as boundary crossing (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). Boundary crossing refers to a person’s transition and interaction across different, often unfamiliar sites (Suchman, 1994). This boundary crossing is done with the help of a boundary object that is a bridging artifact doing the crossing (Star, 1989). Boundary crossing goes beyond a one-way knowledge transfer from one context to another, highlighting continuous and reciprocal interaction between the knowledge domains. This leads to new and deeper understanding, which may also transform the identity of students. This is illustrated in the following figure (see also Johansson et al. 2015).

Figure 2. Reciprocal Boundary Crossing (Johansson et al. 2015)

Figure 2. Reciprocal Boundary Crossing (Johansson et al. 2015)

In search of the pedagogy of connection and boundary crossing (Dillon, 2008) instructors should provide bridging artifacts that support boundary crossing. For an artifact to serve a bridging function, it has to be multifaceted, bring in new perspectives and meanings, and at the same time be easy to capture and understand in different contexts (Akkerman & Bakker, 2011). Also, scenarios and narrative analogies may help to find connections and links between the different knowledge domains and thus facilitate learning (Meyer & Land, 2005). Next, we will describe the development of a bridging artifact to be used in teaching accounting for arts management students, illustrate the teaching experiment in which the artifact was used, and finally, report the feedback given by the students.


3. Developing art-based teaching in accounting

3.1 Searching for analogies through learning diaries

To develop new learning materials to arts management students and to provide empirical evidence regarding art-based business learning in higher education, we performed two teaching experiments. The first took place in 2012 and the second in 2014, both in the financial accounting module of the Arts Management Master’s degree program at the Sibelius Academy. Our aim was to gain an understanding of the students’ initial conceptions of possible tensions between art and business in order to support the students’ constructive process of learning (Tynjälä 1999) and to deepen our understanding of arts management students’ process of learning of business issues.

We designed the course on accounting in an innovative manner. The syllabus of the course was modified to the background of the arts management students who represented different areas of arts such as music, theatre, dance, literature, film and visual arts. We supported the students learning by encouraging them to create understanding of accounting by using art metaphors and searching for analogies from the arts (Halperin, Hansen, & Riefer 1990; Kurtz, Miao, & Gentner 2001). The students described artistic metaphors in the learning diaries which were used both as a tool for facilitating learning (Nelson, 2001; Tynjälä, 2001) and for making their new knowledge visible. Based on the analysis of the learning diary data we found that the metaphorical transformations of business concepts increased the students’ understanding on the topic.

The empirical findings regarding the learning diary experiment consisted of twelve art-based analogies that varied from comparing the dual entry principle of accounting to piano playing with two hands: one hand playing the melody and the other playing harmony. Another analogy described the interrelation of risk, return and diversification using the composition of a choir, which has a sufficient amount of singers to attenuate potential discords. However, not all the students were able to find the analogies. One of the students even declined to try because: “business should serve art and never the other way around”.


3.2. The use of national epic as an artifact

To follow up the learning diary experiment and to build a more powerful learning tool to art management students, we developed a new approach in 2013 which we implemented in 2014 again in the financial accounting module of Arts Management Master’s degree program at the Sibelius Academy. The learnings from the first teaching experiment made us to seek a learning artifact that would take more into consideration the arts management students’ prior knowledge (which is generally weak in accounting), motivation, values, emotions and enable discussion of culturally specific characteristics of Finland. Ideally we were also seeking to develop a learning artifact that was easy to understand and enabled multifaceted interpretations. We describe the development of an emotional artifact below in Figure 3.

Figure 3. Learning process through art-based teaching.

Figure 3. Learning process through art-based teaching.

After a large number of ideas considered by the research team we ended up to build the artifact around the national epic of Finland, the Kalevala, to illustrate the underpinnings of art, arts management, rewards to artist and resources that are needed to maintain an activity system. Kalevala is a Finnish national epic written by Elias Lönnrot in 1835. The national epic consisting of 50 poems provided us a boundary object through which the key concepts in accounting could be illustrated and taught. In the teaching case the students were required to identify who is the ‘arts manager’ in the Kalevala, what are the rewards (to different persons in Kalevala), resources used, and how the whole activity system was funded. In Kalevala, for instance one of the main characters, Louhi, had a double-faceted role: she possess evil characteristics, but on the other hand, she continuously makes others to exceed their prior skill and competence levels.


4. Discussion and concluding remarks

Regarding the second teaching experiment in which we used the Kalevala artifact, we were positively surprised how rich interpretations the students were able to make even if they were not familiar with the Finish national epic. This was the case in particular with the international students. In general, the students thought that the national epic represented a value neutral object but at the same time an emotionally touching narrative that helped to understand and reflect on different business related concepts without any resistance towards them. For instance, the artifact inspired the students to discuss broadly about risk, competition, profit and self-interest. Hence, the developed artifact seemed like successful as it helped the students to move across the different knowledge domains. This type of reciprocal boundary crossing is crucial in arts management pedagogy that the students would learn to apply flexibly general business knowledge to the specific field of arts and cultural management.

The next step in our research project is to implement a broader teaching experiment in which the boundary object – an artifact – has much more central role in the selected course module. An artifact could also link different courses in the arts management programme, which would provide an important tool to tackle more complex and broader practical issues in arts management.

In our research project we aimed at developing new arts-based teaching methods for arts management education as well as enhancing theory building in arts management pedagogy. We believe that this type of practical and theoretical development in the pedagogy of connection and boundary crossing between different disciplines has importance also in other types of interdisciplinary education.

Questions for further discussion

1. What kind of experiences do you have in teaching accounting to arts management students?
2. What other types of artifacts could be used to facilitate arts management learning?
3. Would teachers be better than students in coming up with powerful learning artifacts?



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About authors

Tanja Johansson (née Vilén) is Head of the Arts Management Department at the Sibelius Academy of the University of the Arts Helsinki, Finland. Her research interests centre on arts management pedagogy, organizational identity, networks, and organizational ethnography. Her research has been published, e.g., in Creativity and Innovation Management, Event Management, and International Journal of Arts Management.

Aino-Maija Lahtinen, is senior lecturer at the Behavioral Faculty of the University of Helsinki. Her research has been published e.g. in Revue Européenne d’Anthropologie Littéraire, Journal of Further and Higher Education, Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, Medical Humanities, Da Investigac̦ão às práticas : Estudos de natureza educacional and Didacta Varia.

Hannu Ojala is senior lecturer in the University of Tampere and researcher in Aalto University. His research interests centre on financial accounting, auditing and university pedagogics. His research has been published, e.g., in Accounting and Business Research, Managerial Auditing Journal, Journal of Accounting Education, Business Administration Review and Finnish Journal of Music Education.