The Art of Contracts

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Can commercial contracts be beautiful? Can they be works of art in their own right? Does it matter if contracts, commercial or otherwise, are ugly and lumpy – i.e. not in keeping with the typical definition of “beautiful” and “artistic”?

Generally, people tend not to speak about “art” and “contracts” in the same sentence. Someone could say: “I like art, but I don’t like contracts” but it would sound a bit odd, because the connection between art and contracts is obscure.

The written version of a contract is the hard evidence of its existence. Thus, the “contract” is not the paper it’s written on, it is something that lives in the understanding reached between its parties.

The Belgian Rene Magritte produced “Ceci n'est pas une pipe”. That phrase is written under a picture of a smoker’s pipe and makes a very clear point: this is not a pipe; it’s a picture of a pipe.

Similarly, the written version of a contract is not a contract - “Ceci n'est pas une contract”. If we stare at a document nothing happens. If that document is a contract for the construction of a plane or a chocolate biscuits machine, no amount of looking at it will make the plane or produce the machine. To achieve the objectives of the contract people must do things.

Using those ideas, we can come back to the core question: do art and contracts go together? I vote “YES”. If we do not use artistry when drafting contracts, then we make it more likely (very likely?) that the contract will not work, either at all or, at least, properly. We might produce something that can be called a contract; but if it does not work as intended – worse still if it does not work at all – then we have failed in our task. In the worst cases, it might have been better if we’d done nothing.

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