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Adopt an artistic perspective to transform accounting

By Nicholas McGuigan, CA, CPA, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Accounting, Monash Business School, Australia

Art is often seen as the antithesis of accounting. But what happens when you bring these two disparate worlds together? Are you curious about playing at the intersection where accounting and art meet? Investigating this transdisciplinary space and how it could transform our profession is at the heart of my work in the Monash Business School.

Art inspires new possibilities with accounting

Technology transforms the way we work, live and function across global societies. New technologies — such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, automation, virtual and augmented reality, social media and networked systems — drive us forward in what we think are more effective and efficient ways. Technology and innovation drive all scenario planning.

A crisis such as the coronavirus is asking us to pause, take stock and start questioning the fundamental principles of how we organise ourselves. Human strength comes from diversity — ideas, systems, economies and people. If we continue to treat accounting as a technical application enhanced by digital technology alone, we could lose sight of more humanistic accounting and accountability models that are critical to the sustainability of our profession.

Art and artistic methodologies are used to provide insight and perspective, shifting us towards new possibilities with accounting. Art can be used to humanise a significant period of disruptive and transformative technological change, whilst accounting can benefit from incorporating artistic elements into its practice.

Art plays an integral role in our lives and shapes who we are. Art is fundamentally human, being borne from human skill and labour, to express human feeling, beauty and emotion. It is a glimpse into our humanity. We can use art to open and inspire different ways of thinking in accounting.

Colleagues around the world have applied accounting logic to the art world, creating ways to measure value and engage in the art market. What happens when you begin to view accounting through an artistic lens?

The accounting world and the art world are both human constructs. They are two opposites that may just work to complement each other.

Accounting Artist-in-Residence Program

Performance-led artistic interventions and radical provocations explore the messiness of accounting and business, creating deeper, more integrated conversations that invoke new ways of seeing the profession.

In the world’s first Artist-in-Residence program, we offer an artist the opportunity to reside in a business environment for two–three weeks in Melbourne.

The program aims to foster new collaborative connections between art and business. Preeminent interdisciplinary artists working at the edges of business and the corporate world cohabitate with us to provide cross-disciplinary professional development.

At the Monash Business School, we are keen to shift mindsets around accounting research methodologies and teaching practices. By bringing multiple artists into one of the most conservative professions on earth, we are inviting a cultural change. The program also allows the staff an opportunity to explore and experiment with art methodologies and their practice, inviting them to rethink and reshape the way they research their disciplines.

Creativity + accounting

Yes, creativity and accounting coexist! Local and international artistic talent converge at events such as MoneyLab and the Economia Festival. At events like these, I connect to artists who work in accounting and business and encourage them to join our creative developments.

Recent projects include producing a playful film ‘Dating an Accountant’ about the complexity and contradictions of both accounting and emotions, and turning the Monash Business School into the ‘Accounting Comedy Club’ for humorous interpretations of an accountant’s daily routines.

View the world through the arts

Conceptual artists can help you look at things from different perspectives, and that’s what accounting needs. Let’s open people’s minds to find new and different ways of creating value for organisations and society.

For the artist, we provide a non-traditional residency space. Our program offers artists a unique live-in experience where they have exposure to and time with our faculty. Opportunities are created for faculty that enable a deeper reflection of their work and its resulting impact, encouraging new ways of communication that enhance existing capabilities, and encourage new insights into their research methods. Cohabitating with leading interdisciplinary conceptual artists offers a unique opportunity to rethink the way we conduct research. This creates an openness to collecting data — rethinking the types of questions asked in interviews, using visual imagery, and eliciting data as a way of storytelling.

Art is the most powerful thing that we can do with business because it will ensure we don’t get so carried away with robots and digital technologies that we lose sight of the fact that we are human. Accounting is fundamentally a humanistic process to maintain and extend accountability.

As Reporting and Analysis Manager, Rachel Meisner, shares: ‘I have always believed that we create most of our value as accountants by being creative; and seeing this presentation has already opened up conversations and ideas that I will take back to the office and share with my team’.

Enjoy World Art Day and please reach out to learn more about the Artist-in-Residence program. I look forward to speaking with you about its benefits, and how the program is adapting in light of the coronavirus.