5 Things Entrepreneurs Can Learn From Artists

Art inspires in ways sometimes difficult to articulate. Ideas, metaphors, and themes are the product that artists traffic in, and their ability to  galvanize their audiences in a powerful, indirect way can stir us in profound ways.

Yet, while we celebrate, even lionize the greatest of our artists we simultaneously relegate the vast majority to poverty and struggle. Our culture at once values art, while devaluing the artists among us. Like artists, entrepreneurs rise and fall not only on their creativity and the quality of their ideas, but on their ability to execute, and on their productivity. But, just as with most artists, creativity, hard work, and the ability to execute are not, in themselves, enough to guarantee success. Sometimes the best of entrepreneurial ideas fail to rise to the top, just as many wonderful and talented painters will never succeed on their chosen path.

I look at a lot of visual art and draw deep inspiration from the artists whose work I view. While I derive so much from the art I view on exhibition, I empathize most especially with the artists whose work I never get to see – those who produce, who generate ideas, who focus on their work in the absence of audience, with little solid measure of success – in so many ways, these are the true artists, just as the hidden entrepreneurs struggling to generate ideas and launch their own works represent the truest part of ourselves.

1. Focus. Artists learn early to focus on the work at hand. And when I refer to “work” I am referring to it ion both senses of the word – work as “product” as well as “process.” Entrepreneurs, too, need to stay focused on both the “product” that they are building – its functionality, its ability to solve a problem, or its potential to relieve the users pain. They also need to keep focus on the process; it is of critical importance that anyone starting a business prioritize their own workflow and maintain personal productivity and efficiency.

2.Imagination. Artists reside on a foundation built of great imagination and Entrepreneurs can also learn to use imagination as a strong tool. The ability to develop a vision of what your product or service can do, where no one else can is a powerful competitive barrier and should be leveraged whenever possible. We talk a lot about creativity and entrepreneurism, but creativity starts with the ability to imagine something and to then bring it to life.

3. Produce. Successful artists are prolific – they work hard to create a body of work or to produce work for a specific showing. The urge to create is a primal force and is common to entrepreneurs as it is to artists, but beyond this urge a good entrepreneur also needs to ability to flip the switch and to produce. The reason we see so many so-called “serial” entrepreneurs, is that, like many artists, the urge to create something new is so fundamental to some people’s makeup, it is as though they don’t have a choice in the matter.

4. Assess. Self criticism is an essential aspect of most artist’s personalities – they have the ability to view their own work with a judgmental eye towards quality that is quite unique and very rare in the business world. Entrepreneurs must learn to look upon their own ideas and their own work product with a clear and unbiased gaze: be honest with yourself and with those around you and if the work is bad, or the idea sub-par, tear it up and start over until the work product rises to the highest standard.

5. Build audience. Artists thrive on audiences and without one they fail. Artworks are made to be viewed and an artist’s ability to draw a crowd is the make or break aspect that determines success. By its nature, art is a product that is in low supply – when everything an artist creates is unique, or produced in small batches, the demand should aways exceed the supply. An artist who has the ability to create more and more demand is an artist who can hold out for a higher price for their work. Entrepreneurs should live and breathe by this idea – the ability to build an audience and to drive demand translates directly to increased sales and higher margins.

Illustration, Wikimedia: one of the most important self portraits in history is Diego Valsquez’s masterpiece, Las Meninas, 1656

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