What is innovation? The Base of the World or Artist’s Shit?


Back in 1796, the president of the Royal Academy of Arts was a chap called Benjamin West. He fell foul of one of the most successful hoaxes of all time that became known as the Venetian Secret and which played on the importance of the golden ratio, still recognised in art and photography today.

Basically, he was sold a pup by a father and daughter team who claimed to have discovered the secret formula behind ideal Renaissance paintings. He fell for it and was ultimately exposed, hideously.

Marcel Duchamp shattered the art world in a very different way. He postulated that art is whatever you want it to be rather than what the establishment decides (see Marcel Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’ 1917). Eventually his dissent was rewarded and he is revered as one of art’s most influential characters.

So, what is art?

Back to Duchamp, art is what you decide it is. Andy Warhol’s Brillo boxes? A Roger Dean cover? Martin Elliot’s Tennis Girl?

Piero Manzoni’s Base of the World is a block of metal in a field but otherwise regarded (upside down) it’s the plinth that the world sits on. Abstract? Of course. But so is innovation. What is innovative in one context may be utterly useless elsewhere or passé in another.

When it boils right down to it we value innovations according to the return on investment and connoted worthiness.

In the art world categories are applied to confer perceived value to products: graffiti, commercial art, original art, abstract art, pop art, fine art.

Maybe we should distinguish innovation similarly: product development, innovation, open innovation, fine innovation…

Perhaps product development is only the things we can do that don’t challenge the system too much. Innovation could be those concepts that meet a need in a future market and are of no use at all now but which accelerate the need: SpaceX?

This is all academic… unless the point is that innovation has become a noun used to describe many strata of product and service design. It has become a bastardised, devalued word.

Whatever the eventual outcome of the innovation lifecycle, the fact is that technology is changing our world faster than humans can all keep up. Whatever we call that equation, as Sir Alan Bennet said, “you don’t have to like it all”.

Future thinking; it’s what we do at room44.

Drop us a line at helpme@room44.co.uk and let’s see how we can help each other.

www.room44.co.uk Innovation justified.

Further reading:

Playing to the gallery – Grayson Perry

Marcel Duchamp ‘Fountain’

Piero Manzoni ‘Base of the world’

Benjamin West ‘Venetian Secret’