Ingenuity Expressed in Art(isan) Entrepreneurship

John Bogle, founder of Vanguard mutual funds, attended Princeton University and was fascinated with entrepreneurship. In his senior thesis in 2006, he cites Joseph Schumpeter as the first economist to recognize how start-ups are so vital to the national economy. Schumpeter was understood to advocate for the fact that entrepreneurs are motivated by the following two characteristics (more so than materialism):

  1. “The joy of creating, of getting things done, of simply exercising one’s energy and ingenuity,”  and
  2. “The will to conquer: the impulse to fight,…to succeed for the sake, not of the fruits of success, but of success itself.”

Certainly, these characteristics are resonators for many entrepreneurs; perhaps most especially so for art(isan) ones. What? Art(isan) entrepreneurs? What is meant by this juxtaposition of terms? Heretofore, many have considered the creative types to be an island unto themselves, rather that a subset of he entrepreneurial movement that is sweeping our land. Yet, if we were to characterize creative types as right brain entrepreneurs and those who pursue STEM education, career opportunities, and new enterprises as left brain, we can create a new construct that is helpful to understand how to encourage the greater number of people to flourish in what is generally regarded as the Creative Age, successor to the Information Age.

Creative thought processes may be said to represent divergent thinking at its essence–the ability to hold an idea without passing judgment of any type. Systematic and analytical processes, therefore, tend towards convergent thinking-a deliberate effort to arrive at a conclusion based on facts and data. In the Research Triangle Park area of North Carolina, we are seeing nothing short of an epic surge of entrepreneurial fervor, much of it trumpeted as helping our economy–both local and beyond–to improve through enhanced job creation, capital flow, and value creation. Yet, virtually all of the media attention is on savvy technology start-ups that seem to rely almost exclusively on the left brain mindset.

Thankfully, there are overlaps such as the digital art required for serious gaming that brings the two sides of the brain together. Outside of such obvious blends of thinking modes, most who inhabit the incubators, accelerators, and entrepreneurial playgrounds of our region are tuned out as to how art(isan) talent can establish entrepreneurial enterprises. 

The art(isan) population has been challenged to find itself, both locally and nationally, as economic recession has caused many galleries, academies, and the like to cut back on programs, space, and staff. Those who have graduated with degrees in various creative fields from design to fashion, studio arts to music, have found employment hard to come by. In times past, many graduates became instructors in the arts or pursued employment in businesses that served entertainment venues. In order for the creative class to find optimal professional engagement, however, new ways will need to be discovered to help art(isan) entrepreneurs convert their passions into their professions. Like a hero on a journey (think of epics like The Odyssey), artists and artisans must set out to manifest her ideals in her creation. 

Creative types do not need skills training from career development types in order to become successful (and more readily accepted) entrepreneurs. What they need is to find people who appreciate their contributions. Just as indie music has shown huge demand for music that is not recorded in an album format, carried on mainstream radio, and performed in huge concert venues, there exist niches for virtually every type of created expression if the artist/artisan will labor to identify the target market. 

The opportunity to showcase one’s talent in a coffee shop, a multi-artisan boutique, or a street show are all vital to artisan entrepreneurship. By inviting others to experience one’s proof of concept, feedback can be gleaned that shapes the creative offerings going forward. Once enough traction is gained within a target market, the artisan can make decisions about what part of the production and delivery of talent she wants to play without fear of being unable to earn a living just as powerfully as any other entrepreneur.

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