Artistic and Entrepreneurial Ecosystems
| Peter Klein |
We’ve featured several posts on the relationship between artistic and entrepreneurial creativity, arguing that great art, like great entrepreneurship, is rarely the product of isolated individuals, toiling away privately and swimming against the tide, misunderstood or ignored by the establishment. Rather, both art and entrepreneurship are usually highly social and commercial activities, with subtle and nuanced relationships among creators, patrons, rivals, and customers.
I’ve been reading two interesting books on modern art that emphasize the idea of an artistic “ecosystem,” a complex set of interactions among artists, curators, critics, buyers, and others with commercial interests, Daniel Seidell’s Who’s Afraid of Modern Art and Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World. I see many parallels with the contemporary entrepreneurship literature and its focus on ecosystems of entrepreneurs, funders, suppliers, customers, makers of complementary products, regulators, and so on. Phone and tablet makers depend on app programmers and vice versa; engineers need venture capitalists and vice versa; founders and funders are embedded within clubs, networks, and associations; etc. As Seidell notes:
Serious art in the Western tradition — that is, art that is not content to “imagine” what we think we already know about the world of appearances and experiences, but probes more deeply into the nature of such reality through aesthetic form — has always been inextricably bound up with business. It is inseparable from patrons and collectors, with markets and dealers, with personalities and egos. . . .
Great art emerges out of the warp and woof — some would say the muck and mire — of commerce, of production and distribution that is at the very heart of [the art world].
Seidell is trying to help us understand the modern and contemporary art that frustrates and confuses most of us — abstract expressionism, pop art, Damien Hirst’s formaldehyde shark — by explaining that the value of these works comes not solely from the work itself, or even from the relationship between the work and the viewer, but from the way the work is perceived by critics, curators, collectors, and other artists. Much “high art” is actually produced for them, not for us. Of course, with entrepreneurship, the commercial value of any venture is ultimately determined by us, the consumers who willingly part with our hard-earned money for the services of the company or product. But, like art, entrepreneurship is a social activity, and great entrepreneurs know how to situate themselves within, or create from scratch, the ecosystem that makes their work great.