The Art of Finance
Steven S. Taylor
The art of accounting and finance is the art of using lim-
ited data to come as close as possible to an accurate de-
scription of how well a company is performing.
—Berman, Knight, and Case 2008
Although financial data are presented as objective numbers, accounting and finance professionals know that finance is more art than science, in the sense that considerable, context-specific judgment is required to make a variety of choices that can result in very different numbers. The professional standards of accounting suggest that accountants try to represent the “truth” as best they can, much in the same way that a physician tries to do no harm. But you don’t have to be a critical theorist to recognize that there are powerful forces pushing those same accountants to paint a particular portrait of the organization’s performance and that there are many truths that can be told. However, it is not my intent to dive into the philosophic questions of truth and power but rather to take seriously the idea that finance is an art.
Following the work of Barry and Meisiek (2010), I suggest that the art of accounting and finance is more usefully thought of as the craft of accounting and finance. The distinction they make is that craft is about destinations and art is about departures. Craft applies a systematic set of skills in an established process to achieve a desired end result. For example, a wood worker carefully planes her pieces of wood, cuts out the dovetails for the joints, assembles, and then sands and finishes a chair. It is pretty much the chair the woodworker had in mind when she started making it. In contrast, art is about reaching the audience’s imagination by engaging their senses and taking them someplace they haven’t been before—a departure. For example, when I see a good play, I am transported into the world of that play, and I imagine all sorts