I was motivated to pursue the work behind “Artist Communication: An Interdisciplinary Business and Professional Communication Course” because I had an opportunity to design an interdisciplinary course. My professional background in arts and my current research and teaching interests in communication made a course on the professional communication of artists an easy fit. Many universities are moving toward interdisciplinary initiatives, so I thought that writing an article about the experience of developing and running this interdisciplinary course could be a strong contribution to the literature on interdisciplinary pedagogy.
The most challenging aspects of running this course and writing this article were in the interdisciplinary nature of it. I had to decide how to foreground the concepts of business communication while maintaining a focus on the artist’s work. This was not an art appreciation course, nor was it a strict business communication course. Instead, it was a course that blended the arts, business, and communication. This meant that some things I would definitely include in a more discipline-oriented course didn’t appear, such as reports. Things that I generally wouldn’t have included in a business communication course, such as press photos, became whole assignments of their own.
One good example of this interdisciplinary blend was an in-class assignment about playlists that I wasn’t able to mention in the larger article. I wanted students to understand streaming services as part of an artist’s career. To do this, I had my students create playlists on a streaming service that told a story. Students had a great deal of fun playing around with playlists and sharing them with each other. This interaction allowed students to see streaming services as a unique way to communicate (via playlists) and as a tool that musicians needed to use to distribute their music effectively. Drawing on that second point, I was then able to have a discussion about the career economics of music and the communication genres that artists engage in as part of their career-development process.
I hope this article begins to fill a gap in literature on the communication work that artists do. Not much work has been done in research or pedagogy on artist communication, and much of the research that has been done is housed in the field of Arts Entrepreneurship. Business communication does not have much in the way of literature on artist communication, despite the large amount of business and professional communication that artists must do. As a result, this article sits in a specific interdisciplinary space of artist communication. I hope that others will take up the interdisciplinary interest in the professional communication of artists.
Today’s intensely international, multimedia marketplace for communication places a premium on design thinking and collaboration. Such thinking has been fostered for years in art and architecture programs, which feature a studio approach to solving problems and making art. As I’ve pursued my current research on how—or whether–21st century workspaces can be designed to foster innovation, I’ve collaborated with colleagues in architecture and design and become more aware of how they teach. Visits to professional design studies and other workspaces have also made me aware of how creating communication products is an experimental, interactive, iterative, dynamic, flexible process, much like play. Visual thinking is key, especially embracing the role of text in a visual environment of messages. My observations are confirmed by professional writer, who tell us that they depend increasingly on visual thinking and design skills to compose successful messages. University courses in professional communication, however, rarely cultivate a studio atmosphere or approach visual skills at any more than a superficial level. In this article, I describe a short course in visual communication for American undergraduate art students, taught in London by a colleague and in which I participated for three years. It provides an attractive model for bridging the gap between pedagogy and practice in professional communication, opening students’ eyes while at the same time inviting them to enjoy the game.
Business and professional communicators increasingly rely on visual thinking and design strategies to create effective messages. The workplace need for such thinking, however, is not readily accommodated in current pedagogy. A long-running study abroad short course for American students taught in London provides a model for meeting this need. Addressed to students in art and design and framed through principles of discovery learning, the course approach and assignments can be productively adapted to enhance the visual competence of students of professional communication.
Deborah C. Andrews is a professor emerita of English at the University of Delaware. She has published textbooks and articles about professional communication, especially internationally. Her current research is on how—or whether—the physical environment of a workspace can be designed to foster entrepreneurial or scientific innovation through effective communication.