Peas in a Pod us Artists and Entrepreneurs


In my last few posts I’ve been obviously obsessed with combining the ideas of art and business.

Do art and business always go hand in hand? Of course not!  But there are times when they do.  Everyone should have the ability and a safe space to self-express and business has little to do with that.  (Self-expression is not exactly the same as being an artist or creating art – if you want to argue with this please feel free). Business is really an exchange of goods or services – forget the dollar sign if it makes you uncomfortable.  Think of business as a way to fulfill a need that you have (instead of a want which is what we do in consumerist culture). Cool?  Cool.

Artists and entrepreneurs share similar characteristics and our work has similar properties:

  • We both have great passion
  • We move from initial concept through stages of development to a final product or work
  • We are constantly looking to explore and learn
  • We have to deal with a lot of constructive (and not so constructive) criticism
  • Financing or Funding our dreams is a hefty aspect of our work
  • We find what we do very satisfying
  • We are willing to invest emotionally, physically and financially into our projects
  • If we fail (or deem something a failure) we will eventually get back up and try again or try something new
  • We are risk takers (even if the risks seem small)

If you are a CEO or a COO or a HR Manager or a Team Lead (essentially someone who is allowed to make final decisions) you should consider hiring more artistically inclined people to your teams.   Artists aren’t sensitive – we are critical and analytical. We synthesize great amounts of information and see patterns and themes in disparate ideas.  Business leaders always tell their teams to think outside of the box and then put them in a closed bare walled boardroom to brainstorm.    I have no idea why so many brainstorming sessions (even in creative industries) take place inside of board rooms – this is brainstorming not contract negotiation.  You would actually have to be a very skilled artist to make use of a blank space like a boardroom to create  brilliant ideas without external inspiration- and let’s be honest the vast majority of your staff are not creatively inclined.  Alternatively you could provide time or encouragement for your team members to express their creative sides or propose ideas which are tangent to your business.

Artists – we need to be more business saavy – the world of the record label, large gallery, movie studio or television network, essentially the idea of big media business currently is in pieces and in future will be replaced by the Apples’, Googles’ and Yahoos’ of the world. These companies are not made for artists – they are entrepreneurs – they use art, music, literature to further their businesses – but they are not in the business of art. Google is not really interested in meaning – they are interested in information – these are very very different ideas. And in practice Apple is not interested in creativity – they are interested in facilitating creativity.  Now of course, inherent in the Apple process are aspects of art and design – but they use these as tools for their software business (as discussed by Colin Gibbs in the post “As Always Mobile Music faces Uncertain Future” Jul 17 2010 on

The profitable and meaningful media future will require a hybrid  in the media industry.   A hybrid company that has the brains of a technology based corporation and the heart and soul of a community based artistic organization.    Any thoughts on building the foundations or staples of the a sustainable new media ecosystem or the real ticket – the business model to support that ecosystem?  If you have the monetization aspect down – I’d love to treat you out to coffee ;).

7 responses »

  1. I agree with your postulation that there are many similarities between artists and entreprenuers. In fact, I believe entreprenuers are artists that use influence and relationship as their mediums instead paints, pastels, etc. What a entreprenuer creates is a series of relationships (with customers, suppliers, investors, etc.) to bring about a new organization. It’s the organization that is the creation of the entrepreneur, not the product. It is this organization that provides goods and services.

  2. This is great! I totally agree with you. This is what “makes or breaks” most artists. I have seen it many times. Super talented people that lack that business sense to really succeed in this cut throat world.

  3. @micpen2 – Influence and relationships as a medium – I like that. The birth of new organizations (that are sustainable) is an artform – I’m not going to lie. I am so impressed with entrepreneurs and their ability to keep at an idea and progress with the idea until it comes to fruition.

    @Jordon Dolman – isn’t it sad, business sense over talent? Check out this article at 99% about the ‘meritocraty’.

    However if you wish to sell your works in a market place where they pay you in dollars and not alcohol, you actually have to be pretty aware of business practices! Also – in the past artists have relied on external organizations to take care of the business aspect. Those organizations don’t really exist anymore (and even when they did they had kinda become super gluttonous). Well the new media empire will probably care even less than the old media empire did! However – what is lovely is that the nature of business is changing slowly so that more people can participate – the big companies will be even bigger than before, but supporting this huge new media/knowledge economy will be the small mom and pop home entrepreneurs who will really be driving new ideas forward. Right now that’s where I feel we are, in a land of small players with two or three large media/technology companies and look at the pace of progress!

  4. Great post B – one of the challenges I think we face as artists, entrepeneurs or hybrid artrepeneurs is a traditional mindset (I speak for myself here). I am plenty business minded – but not when it comes to my own work.

    I can sell the heck out of a product – as a kid I charmed old ladies out of money at a plant nursery and worked in my parents’ clothing store. As a teenager I upselled lobsters and expensive wine to tourists at a seafood restaurant…and one year in university over the holidays I hawked overpriced candles and Christmas decorations at Pottery Barn.

    Alas, when it comes to my own work, I struggle to come to terms with the monetary side of things. A friend commissioned a bracelet from me once, and I felt like I had robbed her blind when she forced $60 on me.

    And I have only done limited paid work for my photography – and only as a second shooter for another photog – paid a set wage for my time. When I work for myself – I do it as favours to friends.

    Placing a monetary value on my work is tough it seems. I also think the solitary nature of my potential arttrepeneurial business is daunting…me, on my own! The thought of slaving for myself is both the biggest driver of my ambition – and the biggest obstacle.


    • Not being an artist I don’t know if this approach would work but try it out and see if it helps change your perspective.

      Try breaking down your art into the roles/jobs that you would have to pay someone else to perform them.

      Your work requires a designer, a fabricator, a sales/marketing person. Estimate how much time it would take an employee in each one of these roles to perform the work. Then look up the hourly rate of the various roles on That tells you what the labor market might pay for your work. And don’t forget to add the 10-15% for your cost of capital. You are investing your own capital to fund the business.

      Total those numbers up and see what the wholesale value might be. You might be suprised at how much value add you are not giving yourself enough credit.

      Now that being said, I think your self confidence is the issue. The problem doesn’t sound like one of pricing for the market. My gosh, you had someone willing to pay you $60 for a piece. Someone else might have been able to buy something comparable at the mall for 10% of that. The market, as indicated by the sale of the piece, seems to value your work more than you do. Go with that. Price your work based on comparisions other artists might be getting. Again, I think you find the market will value your work more than you value it yourself. The creative process may be easy for and thus you discount the results. For other non-creative types the process is mystifying and thus rare and valuable. Take their viewpoint, what you do is rare and valuable and they are willing to buy that from you. The fact that what you do is not rare or difficult shouldn’t enter into the picture.

  5. Pingback: The Business of Art « Strategy Rules

  6. The world is changing rapidly. Old models of the starving artist should be dead by now, but they remain in the minds of many artists. First of all, consider what it is that you want from a career. Are you a vertical artist (hierarchy of the gallery system) or are you a horizontal artist (one who blurs those boundaries and distinctions). For more on this, see my article on the Getting Your Sh*t Together website at

    If artists were more mindful of what they wanted, and learned the tools they need to get there, we would not be talking about the division of art making and art entrepreneurship, or business.

    As someone who has taught professional practices to artists for a very long time, I think the tools you learn to create your work and get it out there should be your decision. Instead of looking at whether you should learn the “business of art”, why not just look at a particular skill you need to have the career you want? There are over 500 pages of information for artists on our website, and in our publications and software for artists, and this is only a start. If you are interested in the gallery system, great, see what you need to know to approach that system. If you could care less about galleries and are interested in creating work in another system (or developing your own system), then take what you need from that and move forward.

    Artists are needed in every aspect of our society. We are in such a mess that perhaps creativity will help us get out of it. The idea that you are a “failed” artist because you don’t fit the traditional system should be passe by now.

    Our site and information was created for the gallery based artist or the DIY artist or those that use both systems (actually there are more than these two) to create a career. Are you as an artist defining a career on your own terms, or are you buying into the idea of what a “traditional” artist “should be”? Once you make that decision, choose what you need to get there. I find that artists are fairly creative in the aspects of their work, but often are very closed minded about their own careers and how they define them.

    Consider a hybrid career. One that is not limited to a linear trajectory of what an artist “should be”. Then get the skills you need to make it happen.

    We did a survey in person with gallery dealers not too long ago, and asked them what they thought artists should know about professional practices and 95 % of them said, “We don’t want artists to know anything. They are only good for making artwork. We are here to manage their career.” I beg to differ, as I believe there are all kinds of artists, doing all kinds of work, and each of them should either define their own niche, or join one that is already in place.

    But meanwhile, don’t be naive about the arena in which you join. Find out how things work. Then decide if you want what it offers. Or start your own thing. Whatever you do, be smart. Enough whining already.

    For those of you who want a variety of professional info, check out our website, our professional practices blog, and GYST Radio. Send us your questions and we will make sure to steer you in the right direction, or to find someone who knows the answer.

    Thanks, just a few thoughts. Now go out and GYST.

    I welcome responses of course.

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