By Sophie He
China Daily, Beijing / Asia News Network.
Sarah Lewis, faculty member at the Yale University School of Art and noted art historian and curator, was among the speakers on the opening day of the World Business Forum, where she stressed the importance of creativity and innovation for contemporary society and business alike.
In speaking about what she called the “gift of failure” and the creative thrust behind it, Lewis set out the difference between success and mastery. She said success means to hit the target once, but mastery is about being deliberately amateur, about the pursuit of excellence, about knowing that it means nothing if you cannot do it time and time again.
In an exclusive interview with the China Daily on the sidelines of the event, Lewis reiterated that innovation and creativity are very important not just for the human spirit, but for financial achievement and modernization as well. “As people we are creative and we always have new ideas, we always have things we feel we would like to express,” Lewis told the China Daily, adding that creativity is important for a meaningful life, even if one is not going to be an artist.
For businesses, creativity is a means to find financial success — through the market. People have an appetite for experiencing the world in new ways, so creativity — whether through products or experience — is crucial, she said.
She also urged governments worldwide to step up backing for creative and innovative activities. “If we were to wipe out all of our cities and our civilizations, what would we know ourselves through? It wouldn’t be through our financial accumulation, it would be through how we’ve found new ways to create on this earth,” Lewis noted.
“So I would encourage governments to look back historically to consider why we are here as certain cultures or certain civilizations. And what data we use to determine why the civilizations are so great.”
The innovations of our ancestors and the foundations they laid for future generations may be tracked through the arts, architecture, city planning, painting and sculpture that they left behind, Lewis said. “That’s culture. Without culture, you have nothing.”
Lewis also had a few tips for Hong Kong women struggling to pursue their life goals. She said women need to “lean in”, borrowing the phrase made famous by Facebook chief operating officer and best-selling author Sheryl Sandberg. They need to own a career and need to speak up, Lewis said.
But as a society, as we try to determine how much we are willing to let women occupy positions of power, so women’s goals also partly depend on society’s willingness to make room for 50 percent of the population, Lewis observed.
“So as women run up against expectations, they need to be very courageous, to step into models people weren’t prepared for,” she noted.
Self-belief is more important than ever for women to achieve their targets, Lewis said.
As for young and ambitious artists in Hong Kong, she said they need to determine how they plan to meet their objectives.
Artists more than anyone else need to have a fierce level of self-belief, and also need to make sure that their work ethic is as strong as any other discipline, emphasized Lewis, who has held positions at the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and served on US President Barack Obama’s Arts Policy Committee.
Her first book, The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery, was well-received and she is already putting the finishing touches on a second.
“In the art world we need to do networking to attend gallery openings to meet other people, but if you are not spending 70 percent of your time in the studio then there will be nothing to talk about in the remaining 30 percent of your time,” she noted.