Co-creating consumer relations in the arts – a result of integrating different vocabularies

Changes in the relationship between the producer and the consumer occur at the same rate as the development of society and the economy. A shift has occurred in the relationship, where clear opposition between the concepts is no longer dominant. The view of the consumer as a passive object has been reevaluated alongside changes in consumer behavior and lifestyle, where the customer or user has taken on an increasingly active role.

As individuals, we are assumed to participate in society as "customers." Today, students, patients, residents, and many more, are discussed from a customer perspective, which creates new opportunities for influence, as well as new challenges in the relationship between the individual and society, particularly in cases where economic tightening and streamlining guide relationships.

In interviews that Novia University of Applied Sciences carried out through the project TaideART, attitudes toward the concept of the customer have been examined, with the intention of making attitudes and changes in the relations between the producer and the consumer clear. Questions concerning the customer in both an economic and artistic/cultural context have been discussed, resulting in both the similarities and differences in vocabulary being illustrated in the collected interview material. Among the interviewees, Ralf Blomqvist, an expert on customer driven strategies, has left an impression on the educational material that the project has developed. Other interviewees mentioned in this text are Nora Sternfeld, professor in curating and mediating art; Kira Sjöberg, consultant in cultural leadership and development; and Cesare Pietroiusti, artist.


The customer from a global perspective

Macro factors such as globalization and technological development have had, and still have, a significant influence on changes in user and customer relations. Among other things, these factors contribute to an abundance of both information and choices for the customer. A subjectivation of the customer has taken shape due to the media society. Today, the customer actively participates in the creation of customer experiences. Ralf Blomqvist emphasizes the customer as a co-creator in processes where the producer and consumer together create the value of a product or service. He also refers to sociologist Anthony Elliot in the use of the expression "new individualism" when describing the consumer, as well as the individual, in today's society and his or her constant strive for, and need of, renewal. Today's identity and lifestyle consumption is constructed around a shortsighted attitude toward, and hasty decisions concerning, change. Through choice of consumption, as well as the choice of no consumption, the individual shapes his or her identity and conveys changes socially via different networks. According to Blomqvist, we will see the development of an increasingly aware consumer. With time being a scarce resource, and with an abundance of choices, the consumer instead starts choosing not to consume or participate in activities.


The customer in an artistic and cultural context

Primarily, art is produced in and for an artistic and cultural context. The direct target group for art production is "friends of art," people that the artist most often knows personally. The secondary target group is a larger audience that is often tied to social networks, that does not participate in cultural experiences physically, but takes part via the information about cultural events that is spread through social media. Both target groups, as consumers of artistic and cultural experiences, participate and invest in cultural contexts by dedicating time. Within the art market, both private and more or less public interests invest in art. These are often defined as customers or buyers of art, and can, for instance, be private collectors, companies, and institutions within or adjacent to art and culture. Transactions on the art market often take place in connection to gallery services and the trade in artistic products at art fairs. In addition, there are so-called "orderers of art," where the artist creates unique products, often connected to architectural solutions and infrastructure, at the behest of a customer or commissioner. In these commissions the relationship between financier, orderer, customer, user, consumer, and others can vary. The financier does not necessarily need to be the orderer, and neither does the customer need to be the user. Finally, a second-hand market can be noted, where the customer bargains for artistic products as a bidder.


Within art, among artists and academically active people, the concepts of customer and consumer are rarely used, which shows in the interviews undertaken during the project. Both the concept of customer and consumer are considered to have a strong connection to an economic discourse, where generation of economic capital characterizes production. The relationship between consumer and producer is, in this respect, based on the relationship between buyer and seller, or sender and receiver of an essentially finished product. Instead, collaboration is emphasized as a relevant concept in the discussion, where the viewer or audience serve as co-creators in a process. Nora Sternfeld defines collaboration as co-operation between people which contributes to new knowledge, in contrast to an exchange based on already existing knowledge. She makes a difference between economized relations and relationships based on solidarity, equality, and freedom, which she emphasizes as important aspects in a collaborative relationship. Cesare Pietroiusti stresses collaboration as being one of the artist's most important tools. According to him, the artist promotes and initiates collaborations. He or she takes the liberty of bringing together professionals from different fields, and challenges collaborators to work together using methods they normally do not practice.


The co-creative art consumer

Blomqvist holds up art and culture as paragons in the use of collaboration and co-creative methods regarding audiences and chosen target groups. Art as a generator of meetings, between individuals, situations and art productions, creates more or less temporary relationships to places, times, contexts, and people. From the (art) museum having been a place for the production of exhibits where the audience and viewer serve as the receivers of information, the museum as an institution has increasingly developed into a place for physical and virtual meetings, where the consumer or visitor serves as a co-creator in processes. The co-creating art consumer does not merely participate in the production and communication of cultural experiences, but also in the creation of artistic products and projects. Today, there are similarities in vocabulary and attitudes toward the individual as a co-creator in an artistic context and the customer in a business context. However, the values tied to the different discourses differ. The former relationship builds on collaboration in the knowledge process, and the latter on a knowledge process with an economized relationship to the development of services and products. In both processes, values are defined and developed through dialogue with the co-creating art consumer or customer, a concept we select in situations where we emphasize an economic relationship with the individual. In cases where no space is given for a dialogue between producer and consumer, wherein the artist or the company view themselves as creating a certain value, a forced value that the co-creating consumer or customer does not share nor has had the chance to define collaboratively, confidence in the artist, product, service, or company is often lost.


Artistic freedom

In the discussion about the value of products and services, economic advantages are often emphasized ahead of others. At the moment when the value of an artistic product is measured, the product is ascribed an economic value, and, according to Sternfeld, becomes a commodity. In a market where products are produced and valued based on the economic capital they generate, the artist is, according to tradition among the artistic multitude, considered to be renouncing his or her artistic freedom by producing products that satisfy the market and customer. Freedom, according to the European philosophical tradition, positions the artist in a context independent from the rest of society, where he or she from this position can obtain a level of self-assuredness and maintain distance between the self and the world. Artistic freedom is also viewed as the ability and right to question, examine, and express ideas and thoughts publicly. Sternfeld questions a clear division between a so called autonomous and heteronomous position within the arts. Sometimes the artist must renounce his or her freedom and place his or her artistic work in the service of something else. Both the fine arts and the applied arts can be commercialized, one within the art market and the other in service to society. Kira Sjöberg points out that the right to "freedom" often emphasized in the arts derives from the early 1900's, an era with different circumstances, which are no longer applicable to today's Western democracy. The artist often approaches the concept of freedom from an exposed position, as something the artist can be deprived of. In contrast, Pietroiusti illustrated artistic freedom as a privilege, the privilege to examine the concept of freedom through artistic production.


Values and language use

As an individual, consumer, and customer in today's society, we identify with different values. Values, attitudes to, and language use concering urgent questions differs, and differentiates us. A reluctance to participating in an economic discourse exists in the arts and culture. The cultural worker rarely identifies with language use that he or she considers to be connected to rational, economic thinking. Thus, this text as a part of the TaideART project deals with a "sensitive" subject, an area where different values and language uses meet. The project chooses to, along with Blomqvist, participate in language conflicts, in the hope of being influenced by, and influencing, the view of the customer. The individual in today's society does not relate differently to experiences from various fields. Instead, experiences are compared across and between fields and lines of business. When I, as a consumer of culture at an exhibit at Kiasma, on the same day purchase a new version of the iPhone, buy organic, locally produced food from one of the large grocery stores in Finland, and order my Nike exercise clothing online, I do not separate the different customer experiences, but rather compare them to each other. As a by-product of the fusion of experiences, we today see the integration of different vocabularies and language uses. More or less unconsciously, we take the liberty of "borrowing" expressions and bringing them into new contexts. The TaideART project approaches the customer concept from different perspectives, and contributes to an understanding of the concept from different vocabularies and discourses. At the same time, the project contributes to a "mix" of language uses in the educational material that is developed within the project.