Art as a Form of Knowledge: The Implications for Critical Management

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

Theodor Adorno (1970/1997) declared that art was a form of knowledge. In a somewhat related vein, his critical theorist colleague Herbert Marcuse (1956/1998) characterized art as a mode of cognition that is an alternative to positivism. The work of these two scholars is linked with the school of thought called "The Frankfurt School". Famous for its notion and development of "critical theory", the Frankfurt School's work was carried out initially at the Institut fur Sozialforschung (the Institute for Social Research). This Institute was established in, but financially independent of, Frankfurt University. Founded in February 1923, a number of the scholars associated with the Institute found themselves drawn to art and the aesthetics as arenas in which alternative ways of thinking and 'seeing' were possible. For this group of scholars, in many ways, authentic art represented a "Great Refusal" (Marcuse, 1956/1998, p. 149) against totalizing forms of logic.

Drawing upon the work. of the Frankfurt School, and specifically that of Adorno, Marcuse, and Walter Benjamin, this paper initially explores the mimetic and enigmatic qualities of art. Benjamin (1933/1999c) insisted that we all have a "mimetic faculty" (mimicry) responsible for producing and perceiving resemblance. For Benjamin, imitation is one of our most irresistible impulses. Benjamin, and Adorno, came to think of mimesis as an assimilation of self to other - a type of enactment behaviour.

Adorno suggests that all autonomously generated artworks are enigmas in as much as they have a capacity to sustain a discrepancy between projected images and their actuality. They carry similarity while at the same time carrying difference. As will be noted later, Adorno (1970/1997) argued that "the survival of mimesis, the nonconceptual affinity of the subjectively produced with its unposited other, defines art as a form of knowledge and to that extent as 'rational" (p. 54). It is in this dynamic that art carries its critical element. It was the decline of autonomously generated art which Adomo came to view as being as a direct consequence of the rise of the culture industry.

Both Adorno and Benjamin came to think of art as a form of language, or having a language-like character, which incites philosophical reflection. This type of thinking was a forerunner to the post-structuralist JeanFrancois Lyotard's (1971) more recent 'discovery' of the potential liberating tension between discursive (the verbal) and the figural (the visual). Lyotard viewed the unconscious as being associated with the figural and the pre-conscious with language. Art in this context is part of the transgressive and disruptive element in this tension. I will discuss this presently, but in a context of the work of Marcuse and Benjamin who suggest that forms of art, such as surrealism, liberate that critical dimension of art in producing a discomfort or estrangement. These forms of art represent art's own "attempt to rescue the rationality of the negative" (Marcuse, 1964, p. 67).

The discussion of art as a form of knowledge, and having a language-like character, will culminate in considering the forms of rescuing its own critical dimension, and whether similar forms could be used for critical management. In using the term "critical management", I wish to denote forms of thinking that help us see anew that which we have taken-for-granted and may have blinded us to alternative constructions of problems and solutions. Some of the parallels between movements in art and 'schools' of thought in organisation studies have featured in this author's previous work (Carr, 1999, 2000a, 2001a; Carr & Zanetti, 2000). On this occasion a more targeted critique is intended and, in particular, a consideration of the field of management itself as merely being part of a culture industry that is intent upon producing, what Adomo (1975) called, "patterned and predigested" products with no critical element. …