8 Essential Tools Artists Bring to the New Economy

As our workforce becomes increasingly automated, artists stand to contribute a unique skill set that will set them apart.

Contributed by Ben Sloat, Lesley MFA in Visual Arts director

The coming years will bring vast developments and changes to our social, cultural, and technological landscapes. Well-known entrepreneurs like Mark Cuban have declared liberal arts thinking to be more valuable than computer science in the long run. Similarly, a recent internal Google employee assessment called Project Aristotle determined that employees who possess creativity and complex social skills offer the “most important and productive new ideas.”

While some predict that automation and AI will eliminate many jobs in the future, artists possess irreplaceable skills that simply can’t be coded or duplicated. Thinking along these lines, here are the eight crucial tools that artists will bring to the new economy:

Marcel Taylor
Marcel Taylor ’17


A lot has been said regarding creativity and “out of the box” thinking, but artists actually embody functional and applied creativity in their work. This means seeing things in an imaginative way, beyond conventional boundaries, in an effort to gain new perspectives. This creativity is then put into action, as artists find the means to translate this new perspective into the physical or experiential. Innovation and creativity mean not just coming up with an idea, but putting it into form or action. As said by Neil deGrasse Tyson: “Creativity that satisfies & affirms your world view is Entertainment. Creativity that challenges & disrupts your world view is Art.”

Critical Problem Solving

Directly related to creativity is using innovative thinking to critically solve problems. This can mean moving between the micro and macro view of a problem, but it also means recognizing wider contexts that may be present. A major component of contemporary art thinking is deconstruction, where artists analyze larger historical and cultural parameters and challenge overall assumptions. This approach can be used effectively in many fields and industries outside of art, including consulting, marketing, and various tech fields.

Dopamine Collective
Dopamine Collective (Sean Stewart ’16)


As stated by Picasso, “Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. All of them are researches. I search constantly and there is a logical sequence in all this research.”

Though it may not be immediately obvious, artists do a tremendous amount of research in their work. Because artists often need to understand certain subjects from a deep critical perspective, using research methods becomes an essential part of many art practices. This research can come in many forms, including the personal, historical, political, and the visual. This results in artists gaining a command on a wide range of topics as well as a skill set that allows them to approach research in versatile ways.


As artists research the contexts of their subject matter, there is an increasing interest for artists to not define their work in a single medium. In this contemporary era, it’s far more common than not for an artist to have an interdisciplinary practice. Learning a diverse skill set allows an artist to work successfully with different materials and visual solutions in their art making.

Furthermore, to be a professional artist, one must learn the disciplines of writing, public speaking, design, financial management, marketing, promotion, website presentation, and a range of computer-based programs. In a sense, artists are truly creative entrepreneurs.

Becci Davis
Becci Davis ’17


As artists engage with interdisciplinarity and new creative solutions, they find themselves with the ability to adapt to various conditions and situations in each artwork or larger project. To be truly creative, artists need to challenge themselves through adaptation. This allows an artist to constantly innovate and stay contemporary in their approach, while tolerating change and transformation. With shifting cultural and economic terrains ahead, many believe grit to be an essential aspect for long term success.


Visual literacy, the ability to analyze and respond to visual imagery, is one of many crucial languages that artists possess. There is also the contemporary expectation that artists are web savvy, can speak effectively about their work, serve as good teachers and mentors, and understand written language well enough to write proposals and personal statements. This collection of communication skills is a key asset in tomorrow’s workforce.

Danielle Klebes
Danielle Klebes ’17


Artists do not make work in isolation anymore. They use their communication skills to engage with a vast range of people to help make or share their work. This can include those in the art world, like curators and collectors, as well as students and members of the general public. Artists have to collaborate and negotiate constantly in order to realize their creative visions. This ongoing collaboration helps develop a strong sense of social intelligence


An important companion to social intelligence is empathy and EQ. Artists are making work that is important to them, and are often adopting open and vulnerable emotional states in order to create meaningful work. This supports their sense of empathy toward the larger social fabric, while sharing their personal creativity to enrich and express. Often, this allows artists to build the self-awareness and social awareness that translates into becoming a highly competent member of any workforce.

Ben Sloat, MFA in Visual Arts program director

About the Author

Ben Sloat is the director of Lesley’s low-residency MFA in Visual Arts in Cambridge, MA. Having a multicultural background, his work engages with the hybridity of materials and cultural iconographies. He has had solo exhibitions at galleries in Boston, Berlin, Munich, Taipei, Montreal, New York, Oakland, Nashville, Galway, and Copenhagen. Group museum shows include those at the MFA Boston, Queens Museum, Peabody-Essex Museum, Kunsthal Charlottenborg, and the Dublin City Gallery/The Hugh Lane.

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