The characteristics of art world entrepreneurs are not dissimilar from entrepreneurs in other fields—they are defined in parts by a shared ethos, philosophy, and approach to daily activity. Taking risks, thinking unconventionally, being curious, offering often-radical transparency, and even eschewing personal taste are recognized traits of most entrepreneurs.
In the art world, however, there are fewer entrepreneurs than in other sectors that are now used to disruption. This relative rarity, as MA Art Business faculty Roxanna Zarnegar posited in a lecture, means that entrepreneurs in the art world can make more of an impact. Additionally, the art market is opaque and operates by forces unique from other economies. This ensures that entrepreneurs—those who dare to disrupt age-old systems and customs—can be more radically transformative.
Zarnegar’s definition of an entrepreneur includes these key ingredients:
- A person or team that creates and operates a business or project taking on greater than normal risks
- Someone who is constantly asking why
- An innovator operating in one or more of the frameworks of innovation
A framework of innovation that Zarnegar uses can include varying approaches to change. One framework is disruptive—a fundamental challenge to the status quo. Another is open, when competitors collaborate to, among other things, create new markets or cultures through mutually beneficial competition. A third is reverse innovation, or trickle up innovation, when entrepreneurs introduce a product or service via prototype, such as launching first in an underdeveloped country.
With entrepreneurship defined, applying it through the lens of the art world creates a unique type of entrepreneurship. The art world is, as author Sarah Thornton defines it in Seven Days in the Art World, “a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art.” Global in nature, it consists of independent multiplicities scattered worldwide that are always in flux. While there might be concentrated markets and cultural hubs, there is no one center to the art world. In the art world, typical business models are often turned on their head, operating in reaction to different and often opaque rules. Being entrepreneurial in the art world often means doing things differently in an economy that already operates unconventionally.