What business can learn from Art History

Environmental Strategy

Firstly, Art History isn’t all about looking at, and admiring, pretty pictures.  It is about understanding the context of the artwork.  Why it came about, why it looks the way it does, basically what influenced it into being the way it is.

So what can business learn from art history?  Let’s look at a few Australian paintings (after all I am English/Australian) to see how the same things that influenced Australian art through the ages, also influence us in business today.

Environment influences artists in what they paint and how they paint it – just like the environment influences how we conduct our business.  If we don’t respond appropriately to the environment around us, whether we are an artist or a business we will be worthless and unproductive.  The trick is, knowing how to use those environmental influences to build a better business that responds rather than resists what is going on around us.

Colonial Sydney by unknown artist

Picture 1 – early 19th century – unknown artist

Economy – demonstrates a healthy economy.

Politics – documents progress while justifying additional money from England.

Technology – reflects healthy shipping and trade

Social/cultural – reinforcing progress and harmony to locals, showing an idealised and romanticised place of beauty, which locals and English back home could compare with the dirty and overcrowded England.

The Bomb by James Cant, 1945

Picture 2 – James Cant The Bomb 1945

Economy – demonstrates poor and desperate economy with empty streets

Politics – reference to fascism, socialism and communism in Australia

Technology – the danger of technology and bombs – this was painted at the time of Hiroshima.

Social/cultural – this artist grew up in the depression and epitomises nothing to celebrate, isolation and displacement of cities and loss and suffering

Robert Brownhall, (A section from) Night City from the North Quay Brisbane, 2002

Picture 3 – Robert Brownhall Night City from North Quay Brisbane 2002

Economy – a healthy and prosperous economy

Politics – a stable environment

Technology – suggested through fast pace and almost photographic quality

Social/cultural – the river as the lifeblood of the city – a contemporary Utopia

What we can learn from this is that art, as well as business, is influenced by what is going on around it!  So let’s consider what is going on around us today – so you can consider how you can make use of that information in your business.


  • Global (northern hemisphere) banking crisis
  • Europe in a bad state and a shift to Far East
  • Rising fuel costs
  • Business Grants have gone or are going
  • We need to be more business conscious
  • We need greater flexibility to respond to changes
  • Smaller businesses are springing up
  • Lots of opportunities for collaboration between businesses
  • There is a greater dependency on key individuals – Steve Job on sick leave and Apple shares price goes down!


  • Less stability with a coalition govt
  • Increasing legislative requirements


  • Fast pace – hard to keep up


  • Growth and influence of virtual communities

It is a changing and volatile world that we live in.  So consider what is happening around you.  You can keep on doing more of the same, but if you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always get what you’ve always got.  Or you can ask yourself “What are you going to do about it?”

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