September 18, 2019


The Decline of Art Brings Forth the Decline of Knowledge

Idaman Andarmosoko

by: Raka Ibrahim

“There is one spectrum that is contradictory yet not dichotomic in nature,” Idaman Andarmosoko began.

“It is the rational, and beyond rational; the limited is measurable and the unlimited is immeasurable – this is where art stands. Then there is the problem of the struggle between the two spectrums,” he added.

As a man who have globtrotted the world for decades as a freelance management consultant for numerous organisations, companies and communities, this member of the Indonesian Arts Council and Wikimedia Indonesia has seen his share of the joys and woes of arts communities and related NGOs in terms of organisational management. He knows that management determinies the life and death of arts communities in Indonesia.

“The most basic problem is the struggle between management logic and artistic logic. Management logic is rational; program plans, performance measurements and timelines. Explanations, descriptions, and systematic analysis are not generally part of an artists’ itinerary. To do and experiment is the dominant tradition in the arts. Artists decide on the next step based on the outcome,” Indaman said.

Whereas art is outside the rational domain, and rejects any sort of clear definition or categorisation; management needs that sort of definition and categorising. The art and management domains are based on different views and logics. Therefore, it is hardly surprising that encounters between the two worlds are not always amicable.

To deal with this, the community can resort to the solution of separating art and management.

“For instance, one community wishes to be supported by a donor agency. The agency would want a reliable relationship,” Idaman said, “They would want good reports, accountability, routine and organised things, therefore art needs to find a manager who can take care of these sort of things. If you were an artist, I don’t think you would be thrilled at the idea of managing finances. You would rather get a treasurer. That’s for sure. The separation usually begins with bookkeeping and finances. Then things can start rolling. That sort of separation of functions usually work in many places. However this division into two separate functions is not the entire answer. Another process needs to be carried out to form a good relationship between strategy and management.”

The problem arises when a power struggle between the artistic division and management occurs. Idaman likens representatives of the artistic division to a dance group receiving an invitation to perform from a friend, but then getting into an argument with the management division, who has scheduled another appearance for them. According to Idaman, such incidents often occur in the arts communities. However, conflicts will not occur if the divisions maintain good personal relationships among themselves.

“Management may fail due to personal relationships failing as well,” Idaman said. “The relationship between the artistic division and the management division can run well when there is openness and good personal relations. Personal relations play a huge part in ensuring that the team work runs smoothly. You can have an arts organization managed by Bill Gates or Google’s director and still have poor teamwork, because they don’t know [the others] personally. When they do, then they can communicate.”

The two working logics between managerial and aesthetic tasks within an organization should not always be viewed as being very separate from each other.

“The division should be seen as a continuum, not a dichotomy,” Idaman said. When we keep imposing a dichotomy between the logic of arts and the rational logic, then we would produce problems. “There is a concrete example on this matter,” Idaman said.

He told a rather long story about his interpretation on the usage of car lights. Around 15-20 years ago, he often travelled on intercity night buses in Java. He observed how bus drivers communicated with each other. When two buses come across each other at night, both would dim their lights to avoid blinding each other.

Cars have high beams and low beams, and drivers make use of them. According to Idaman, the drivers’ method of communication is knowledge passed on from one driver to another.

However, Idaman does not see this happening in Jakarta and the area in which he lives. Young people usually do not use low beam lights when they are driving around the housing complex where he lives. They prefer to use high beams, annoying those affected by those lights.

“What does that mean?” Idaman said, “Many people have cars these days, but they are unaware of the fact that cars have high and low beams. They do not know how to use the lights. They have less know-how compared to night bus drivers. How is that possible? Did they go to bad schools? No, people these days have high-level degrees. Is it worse technology? No, technology is getting better. So how come? It is because they are lacking in imagination,” Iman said with a wide smile.

According to him, this is where art plays its role. Art stimulates one’s imagination, enabling one to develop sympathy and empathy for others. A driver with an imagination can imagine what would happen to other people when he uses the high beam. Armed with imagination, he can put himself in other people’s shoes.

“This example shows how art can be related to knowledge production, how art and knowledge should walk hand in hand. The decline of knowledge is due to the decline of art,” Idaman said.

In a wider context, the relationship between the two is reflected in the relationship between a people and their nation. “Imagine a country so familiar with corrupt practices. Everyone commits corruption – from the bottom to the top ranks. It becomes an everyday reality. The people grow up within that reality and condition. When art and imagination are absent, the people cannot imagine living without corruption. Imagination enables people to imagine a society free of corruption. An honest society. What is at first imagined becomes something to aspire to. Imagine the absence of imagination.

When you have no imagination, nothing can be processed into dreams. Thus, we will always be doing corrupt practices, despite the lack of need for it. Art is something that can build imagination. That is one of art’s duties: To encourage people to imagine things.

So does that function of art apply only to vast, abstract matters?

“Oh, no. When you can imagine, even in art productions, you can even write a tetralogy in Buru island, where facilities are nil,” he said with a thundering laugh. “This is the power of imagination.”

About The Author

Related posts