We have been struggling to make sense of the changes in our natural and digital environments. Many people claim that descriptions of the world can be expressed with data, and the future of work is thus algorithmic and data-driven. The belief is that our view of the world can be revised and improved through more data, and more knowledgeable observations of data. According to this view, data enables us to make progress towards an objective view of what the truth is, also regarding the existential level problems we face.
This orientation makes sense to many because we are accustomed to distinguishing between “the world” on one side, and us, “the observers”, on the other. The process of sense making is then effectively one of mirroring the world, about reflecting a given state of affairs.
The mirror metaphor has also been an invitation to grave disagreements with what is seen. Different people see very different things in the mirror, and different observations lead to different practices, which are then legitimized in their own terms, in their own social reality of sense making.
What if we left behind the mirror metaphor in trying to make sense of the world? What if we closed our eyes for a moment and began to imagine what does not yet exist? What kind of a world would we really want to create?
We would look at life from a different point of view. We would take a future forming perspective, the perspective of a creator, not a god, but the perspective of an artist.
It would mean an approach to sense making in which the major attempt is not to examine the world as it is, but to actively shape it through personal engagement and action. The aim, then, is not to focus on existing problems, or the reasons behind them, but to focus on creative practices that can achieve more viable outcomes.
The concept of future forming opens a new solution space, a space defined by art, ethics and aesthetics. It would be optimism beyond techno-optimism.
Education and learning in this space would not be in the service of adaptation to changes in market needs, but in the service of creativity, creative forming of the future. Artistic practices can, and should, also include answering complex ethical issues. Who benefits from this? Who is included? Who is excluded? What are the unintended consequences of our actions?
To quote Hannah Arendt: a contemplative life, vita contemplative, gives room for active engagement, vita activa. Human freedom is most fully realized in active engagement. Artistic practices, as a method to creating value, could help more people to be more engaged in projects of creative change.
It does not mean that all of us, or even more of us, should start to paint or write poems and musical scores. Neither does it mean that we won’t need data and algorithms in the future. Nor does it mean that there should be more professional artists involved in the fields of social and political decision making.
What is needed is to see the broken mirrors, the failed sense-making systems we have, and to create an alternative approach, building on the significance of creative small moves in everyday life. It would mean appreciating the enormous potential of moments in which people are more deeply engaged and more present in their unique life. Life is the most profound work of art!
The artistic way of being is a dual approach of creativity and responsibility, applying freedom of choice and ethics to imagining alternative ways of being and becoming.
Aesthetic experience is then a core value of everyday actions and interaction; changing the focus from what the world is to what the world I am now creating is, and even more to what kind of a world I could create, focusing on what I am living for.
Esko Kilpi and Mika Hannula
Credits Ken Gergen, Hannah Arendt, Zygmunt Bauman