Are Good Researchers Contemporary Artists in Disguise?


Market research and contemporary art don’t seem to have much in common.

Damien Hurst and a qual moderator? Tracey Emin and a statistician? Not a natural pairing.
Maybe they have more in common than you might think: Both encourage people to see the world in a different light, are at best inspirational, provoke positively, intrigue – maybe even make you smile.

Take for example the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm – famous for his ‚one minute sculptures‘ in which the visitor interacts with the exhibited material and becomes part of the ‚work of art‘ himself. As the gallery put it:  ” … objects that accompany people from day to day (…).The artist reproduces or distorts…”.

Put more simply, he uses e.g. a chair (intended for sitting) but asks visitors to place it on their heads or he encourages visitors to ‘keep their cool’ by placing their heads in a fridge. The outcome is hilarious – but beyond being amusing, it makes you question common assumptions, it breaks routines, it finds new occasions for objects etc.

That’s part of the job of a good qual researcher, a workshop facilitator, a leader of an innovation process! We provoke, we turn things on their head to question behaviours, we apply methods within ideation or innovation processes that consciously combine aspects that don’t initially belong together, we use projective techniques to turn brands or design routes into persons, room, animals (personification) etc.

Consumers incidentally are similar, not far from Mr. Wurm’s one-minute sculptures – they ‘misuse’ products – they often use products in a different way than initially intended. They use water spraying cans not for ironing, but to cool down in summer, they buy cough drops for pleasure rather than for a sore throat…. Or look at marshmallows – people barbecue them – and it’s now possible to buy specifically barbecue marshmallows.
So-called “mis-usage” can become a market opportunity.

Good research can get to the bottom of these “re-purposing acts” – which maybe makes us a bit like contemporary artists?

Keen observers that we are, maybe in future we need to embrace the act of re-conceptualising – looking for the unusual, the strange, seeing things at the margins, and the new opportunity that arise there. Tomorrow’s mainstream is today’s contemporary art…..What do you think?

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