Why Entrepreneurs Are Today’s Artists (and Why It Matters)


Artists change how we see and think about the world. Visiting Paris’s Musee D’Orsay for the first time in twenty years made me wonder if artists today are changing how we see the world like a century ago.

Manet, Monet, Degas, Cezanne, their peers, mentors, and legacies–to pick one of countless lineages–provoked discussion and debate in their time and affected society and culture forever. The biggest debates on art in my time surrounded a photograph of a crucifix in urine and a portrait of the virgin Mary with feces.

Maybe I’m shortsighted, but today’s art seems to lack something of former times. I wondered who, if anyone, measured up.

To be fair, hindsight is 20/20 and time lets you cherry-pick the best. And we do have groundbreaking artists today–Banksy comes to mind for me.

Then it hit me that in today’s world, the greatest creativity, expression, social change, progress, innovation, introspection, performance, determination, struggle, challenge, and even truth and beauty that historically came from the art community need not come from there any more.

What do you think of when you see that list of attributes today?

Are Entrepreneurs Today’s Artists?

I suggest that the entrepreneurial community of today plays the role that art did over a century ago. I’m no art historian, so I may overstate my case, but I think this perspective matters to those of us who think and act entrepreneurially.

Why It Matters To You As An Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurship is an expressive, challenging, personal, and introspective pursuit. While there are small-time dilettantes, many entrepreneurs face personal challenges, have to think deeply about their craft, and reveal personal things about themselves.

Society doesn’t always recognize this internal side. The media focuses more on novelty of ideas and sizes of IPOs.

But in my entrepreneurship courses, I focus on developing skills to develop and grow as a person, not just to learn accounting and coding, essential as those skills may be. I think recognizing the personal expression of taking a vision from your mind and heart and putting it out for the world to see (and judge) helps support entrepreneurs

Entrepreneurs Grow In Their Personal Journeys

Think of a young Richard Branson starting to sell a few records, a young Elon Musk playing with a Vic-20, or a young Mark Cuban selling software in a retail store. No one could have predicted what would come next. Their unique visions that they alone expressed changed the world.

Now look at this 1858 Monet, from before Impressionism began. I’d say it’s beautiful, but who could have predicted what would come?

Now consider Branson developing Virgin Records, Virgin Atlantic, and eventually the gumption of Virgin Galactic. Or Musk with Zip2, Paypal, and the gumption of SpaceX. Or Cuban with Broadcast.com and the Dallas Mavericks.

The media portrays these developments as businesses, but why not see them as the personal growth of visionary people expressing themselves with greater freedom?

When we think of entrepreneurs deciding to go to space, like Branson, Musk, and Bezos, or take on malaria like Bill Gates, are we not seeing people expressing themselves with freedom like Monet in his later years, when he had the freedom to paint anything he wanted?

Are You An Artist?

Does thinking of yourself as an artist give you freedom and direction to grow? Does it help you develop as an individual? Does it give you a place in history?

Professor of NYU
Joshua Spodek co-founded and led several ventures. He coaches and teaches leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, and related skills at Columbia Business School and NYU using experiential, project-based learning. He holds five Ivy League degrees, including an Astrophysics PhD and an MBA, and studied under a Nobel Laureate. He helped build an X-ray satellite for the European Space Agency and NASA, and holds six patents. His current passion is developing methods to master business's soft skills, even for geeks like him.