The Rise of the Business Artist

courtesy of Dafne Cholet (Creative Commons)
courtesy of Dafne Cholet (Creative Commons)

I’m listening to how shifts in the economy are changing our attitudes toward making a living and toward making art. Whether you learn toward making art or making money, some reframes might challenge your biases and assumptions.

William Deresiewicz of The Atlantic confirms what we’ve been tuned into for a while – that the creative entrepreneur is rising and giving new meaning to what it means to be “an artist.”

“Artist,” he notes, with its connotations of the solitary genius ensconced in a lair of High Art beyond us plebians is 70 or more years outdated economically. “Artist,” he argues, was replaced by the “professional artist” supported largely by universities, grants, and other organizations. Before then, artists relied largely upon benefactors and galleries.

Replacing “artist” is the “entrepreneurial self,” the person capable of making and producing art in ways that breaks through the institutional intermediaries to make a living. 

Cut to the business end, and Whole Foods co-CEO William Mackey calls entrepreneurs doing business with a higher purpose today’s heroes who are making real change for the better in the world.

What does this movement mean for you as a business owner, creative professional, or artist? 

Let’s have a conversation.

I mention below which communities I will be visiting soon, but let’s talk in the comments section below about the trends and necessary skills I am laying out. We learn from each other.

Are you a business artist?

We have been polling our community their needs.

Most of them say this is what they want: You want to craft your days, problem-solve with finesse, create incomparable & elevating experiences. and earn an abundant emotional and financial return.

Their biggest frustrations are in feeling as if they spend their days hustling and “to-doing” instead of creating, captivating, and elevating. They also feel as if they compromise what and who they care about to make a profit.

If that’s what you want, but you’re not there yet, chances are you aspire to be a business artist.

Business artists are independent professionals and thought leaders. Even if they haven’t stepped into full self-employment, they yearn to bring integrity and creativity to all the work they do.

Many business artists are members of the creative class – writers, designers, artists, and musicians. Others are business owners, entrepreneurs, and service providers. They are not bonded by industry or trade. Instead, this group shares a desire to master a creative life and find meaning in their professional ventures. 

These innovators are mostly in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, but the 20-something generation is stepping into business artistry as a natural extension of their desire to improve their world. 

From average to excellence

Between the wide-eyed hopeful amateur and the flourishing artist who shapes conditions to get in flow and have a signature life is the apprentice attitude. Between accepting average and rising to excellence is the apprentice attitude.

Assuming an apprentice attitude can humble us. It makes us feel out of control. Like a student who must submit to an authority. 

But try this: Imagine you’re in a wizard’s lab or a scientist’s lab – and a whole new way of viewing and shaping your world could open up to you. It’s possible.

First, take stock of the areas in your work-&-create life in which you have a signature style of accomplishment (where you are an “artist” at what you do). Then, pull back, be honest with yourself, and list the necessary areas in which you lack even basic knowledge or competency (where you are an “amateur”).

What artists can learn

If you lean toward “artist,” you might be developing your signature way of making terrarium-like sculptures or casting epic-sized canvases on red-brick canvases. But you might be an amateur when it comes to communicating who you distinctly are, what you make and for whom, and why it matters – and to learn how to engage your audiences consistently with integrity.

Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe, Picasso – they each shaped and protected their personas as part of “the whole package” that they “sold,” so to speak. I do not mean they were phony. On the contrary, from my studies of their biographies, I learned that they knew who they were, what they stood for, what parts of their personalities enchanted people – and they knew how to present themselves accordingly and authentically. Maybe you need a set of skills to help you understand your persona, how to shape it, and how to keep presenting it so that people associate what you want them to with your art.

Does that skill set sound “vulgar” to you? Then, you might not know many artists who are thriving at what they do.  Your own biases toward being a “business artist” might thwart your ability to get your art into the hearts of people who need it and allow you to do what you know you want – to earn a return on your art. 

Reframes for business artists who lean on the “artist”: 

Making a healthy living making creative work is not selfish, evil, or greedy. Learning how to “sell” your work does not have to be gross or make you a “sell-out.” Think of the skill-set as a complementary set of tools you need to advance your mission for art. 

What business owners and entrepreneurs can learn

If you lean toward “business,” you might have a signature set of services or products, a distinct brick-and-mortar store, or a distinguished online business – or it is possible you have not yet reached that level of distinction.

First, you might require the emotional intelligence and creative intelligence to connect with what really matters to you and what you stand for. Like artists, you also might require the public side of self-knowledge so you know why people are uniquely captivated by you and your brand. It’s possible you think you know who your customers are, but truthfully you might lack the skills to fully empathize with and, thus, communicate with them from their point of view.

That’s a painful but common admission for many business owners and leaders.

Another skill set you might feel like a complete amateur in is in creating signature experiences with your customers – from the moment they contact you via your website to the moment they call your business to the after glow of making a purchase with you.

Within the next few years, I predict that genuine and signature customer engagement will be the singular most powerful way to advance your message or mission as an independent professional, business owner, or leader.

Reframes for business artists who lean on the “business”:

Bringing forward your creativity does not equate with being selfish, neurotic, or self-absorbed. You can give your signature flourish to how you build your business and thought leadership as well as to how you make signature products and artful experiences.

Learning how to make meaningful things and a meaningful life does not have to lead to poverty. In fact, I have seen the contrary happen with our clients. Clients convert safe businesses into signature businesses, and their return financially doubles, and their return emotionally quadruples.

Easy? Not at all. Satisfying? Guaranteed.

I’m humbled and pleased that people in our Quest Community include executives and poets, entrepreneurs and artists – all business artists learning from and supporting one another during this transitional period in our culture and economy.

Create with Integrity, not in Battle

One reminder from our Compass of Wonder to help you keep on-track this year is

CREATE WITH INTEGRITY, NOT IN BATTLE. The “rest of” your life outside of creative work is part of your creative quest, too.


The artist doesn’t have to die to birth the business artist. 

Neither does the business person have to die to birth the business artist.

Let’s talk live and in your community about rising to excellence this year.

Let’s engage local and live about what it means to be a business artist and do business as unusual.  Are you curious about what it looks like to rise above average and into your zone of excellence?

Check out our Tracking Wonder Tour this year. I will be in Boone, NC at The Blue Electric Community Room on June 25th and Gastonia, NC at The Hive on June 27th. Read more about the Tracking Wonder Tour and other tour stops here.

Also, if you give me four minutes of your perspective in our survey, I will invite you to an exclusive webinar this summer.

What’s resonating here? What do you have contest with or questions about?

Thanks for running with me,



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One Comment

  1. Thanks so much for this, Jeffrey. Your reframe really does help with some issues I’ve been struggling with. I think my biggest stumbling block as an artist is that in the interest of earning income, I’ve been trying to drive my art from the business side instead of starting with creativity, imagination, and wonder and then applying business ideas to sharing and selling a finished product. Which means I’ve either found the resulting creative work stripped of its power or become blocked from creating at all. After sitting with this for a while now, I realize, I do need both, I just need to find a way to keep each in its right place in the process.

    Thank you for everything you do to help people like me find our way through this jungle.