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Insane Artistic Greatness

Although I don’t have an iPhone or Mac, my wife and children all do, which has helped me to understand the outpouring of consumer grief at the recent death of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. I’ve been struck in reading the tributes to someone so many consider “Insanely Great,” at the accolades for his leadership attributes as both a brilliant and compulsive perfectionist, who was also unwavering in his focus on providing customers with beautifully elegant, yet useful products and services.

Jobs’ reputation for being, paradoxically, customer-service oriented and a domineering control freak has prompted me to wonder how he would have dealt with the chronic pressure within arts groups to balance artistic and marketing objectives. I suspect that Jobs would have rejected the premise that there is a necessary choice between programs and exhibitions of high artistic quality (but no interest to visitors and audiences) and those that are tremendously popular (but fail to meet objective standards of artistic excellence). There is also an often-ignored third option, which is to take into account the aesthetic sensibilities and cultural engagement preferences of your audiences in the creation of artistically vibrant programs.

Steve Jobs seems to have mastered the ability to give customers not just want they wanted, but what they needed, before they even knew they needed it . He was a genius at knowing how to create demand for something of impeccable quality that customers will covet, without pandering to the latest trends. While translating those concepts to an arts group’s programming is easier said than done, setting it as an institutional objective is a good place to start. It might also be useful to follow the advice Steve Jobs gave during a Stanford commencement speech: “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

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3 Responses to Insane Artistic Greatness

  1. Toni Garrison says:

    Great analogy, Joe. I especially like the last quote! However, there always needs to be a viable business plan!

  2. Bravo!

    The balance between artistic and marketing objectives, loyal and long-term audience building –
    is a fine line to walk. The fact that Jobs succeeded in “delivering to his audience what they needed before they even knew they needed it” catapulted him to genius marketeer status. Opera, symphony, ballet and Fine Art organizations would do well to study his every case analysis and best practice strategy they can find.

    Thanks for such a thoughtful and timely piece.

    Mary Serantoni
    SERANTONI Designs

  3. You’re absolutely right, Joe. I think it happens much more in the for-profit sector and we shouldn’t be afraid to take that approach in the arts.

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