The Aesthetics of Business:
By Eli Siegel
According to Aesthetic Realism, reality itself is a oneness of opposites. And reality includes business—this would be agreed to near any Curtain, in any continent, in any office, on any journal.
Some of the major opposites in reality are difference and sameness, manyness and oneness, motion and rest, junction and separation, old and new, permanent and immediate.
Business is like reality and aesthetics, for it has the opposites just mentioned, going towards oneness.
Business has difference and sameness because many people have to do with one product. There is a difference of people and one purpose. An office at 3 P.M. is a study in different motions having the same objective. Different people are tabulated in files; reached, commented on with a generality of purpose or a sameness of purpose. Business is organization, and where there is organization, there are sameness and difference. A large business is like Michelangelo's paintings in the Sistine Chapel—different manifestations, sameness of objective.
The difference and sameness in reality and business give rise to a more observable duo of opposites: manyness and oneness. American business, like American government, is a study of, a living expansion of the old, old phrase: E Pluribus Unum from many one. However, where oneness arises—from many, we have already an aesthetic situation. Organization is always the finding of a lasting, effective oneness in moving, changing manyness. Business is like a drama: it goes for a persisting oneness of theme in a fluctuating, surprising plurality.
The world is motion and rest; art is motion and rest. And business is motion and rest. An auto company is motion and rest. A cereal concern is motion and rest. An office of an auto company or cereal concern is motion and rest. Where that office is efficient, the motion and rest go for one thing. There has never been an efficient thing without some aesthetics in it. A smooth, busy office is an agreeable study, that much, in aesthetics.
Obviously, in business, things are together and separate. That means there are junction and separation in an office, as there are in reality and art. If things are not separate in a company, there is huddle, welter; if they are not together, they cannot assist each other. And so, as in a ship, in a garden, in a painting by Breughel, in a city, separation and junction work at once, exist at once in a company producing paper or hairnets or material for telephones.
Old and new simply have to be one in business, or a business. If they are not, the business could not go on. The moment anywhere is an aesthetic oneness of old and new. Files are had in business, records are kept for the purpose of making old and new one. Trade journals are read, new devices tested, new ideas considered, daring plans are made—for the making one of new and old. Old and new are simultaneous in business as they are in reality and in, say, the novel.
Business is immediate—but in its immediacy it goes for permanence. What firm would not like to be a hundred years old—as some are. Business men as individuals—being selves—would like to be immediate and permanent. Reality already is. So is art. A lyric deeply and keenly is immediate and permanent. Business wants to be like a lyric.
There is, then, it seems, the aesthetics of business. Something knew what it was doing.
Copyright © by Definition Press 1960, 1962, 1974
NOTE: "The Aesthetics of Business: Some Points" appeared in the journals Definition, issue 18, in 1964, and The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known, number 529, May 23, 1983.