Small Business Owner as Artist

Are you an artist?

My guess is most people who read this blog don’t consider themselves artists. I think you are an artist, here’s why.

Last weekend I was listening to an online workshop conducted by photographer Joel Grimes. The topic of the workshop was Creative Expression in Photography. In laying the groundwork for his talk, Joel made the following statement:

“If you have a passion to create, you are an artist.”

By that definition, almost every small business owner that I meet is an artist. I say “almost” because once in a while I run across someone who just gave themselves another job. But the majority of owners I meet, and the ones I love to work with, have that passion to create. They may be creating as part of their job, or their job may provide the means for pursuing their passion – either way, their business is more than just a job.

I’ve heard others talk about looking at your work as art. Seth Godin talks about this a lot. According to Seth:

“Art is what we’re doing when we do our best work.”

In the past, I’ve always just sort of nodded and said to myself ‘I get it”, but it never really struck a chord with me. For some reason, when I heard Joel say it, it did strike a chord. It wasn’t just his definition, but his thoughts about how adopting the mindset that you are an artist affects your outlook of what you do and how you do it.

For example, one of the concepts Joel discussed was the concept of building a body of work. He explained that if an artist wants to be know for something, they need to build a body of work around that subject.

Building a body of work takes time. You get an idea, you try it out. You step back and evaluate it. You determine what worked and what didn’t. You figure out how to make it better next time. And then you start again.

A photographer may want to build a body of work consisting of 20 photographs. Photographers only want to show their best work, so they don’t just go out and take 20 snapshots and call it a day. How many photos do you think they take before they have twenty they want to show?A hundred? A thousand? I don’t know the answer, but I know it’s a heck of a lot more than 20.

It’s the same for business owners. We don’t create the perfect product or solution on the first try. We also try new ideas, evaluate our results, and work on improving. Creating a body of work around a specific type of solution for a specific type of customer takes work – we can’t just do it once and call ourselves specialists.

How we go about building our body of work also influences our happiness and success. Would you create 20 photographs that were all the same? Or take 20 “easy ones” in order to be done as quickly as possible? Or would you take more time, work on the difficult shots, forcing yourself out of your comfort zone in order to learn and grow?

Another lesson I took from the workshop is that defining yourself by your tools (or title) can limit you. Joel explained how changing his self view from photographer to artist helped him break free of the constraints of what was “technically correct” and create art that he enjoys making and his audience not only likes, but are willing to purchase at a premium price.

Have you ever limited yourself or your customer because “that’s just the way things are done in our industry”? If so, take another look, filling this type of unmet need may be the key to taking your business to the next level.

So why is any of this important for small business?

Viewing your work as art is one way to connect your passion to your daily activities. Many others much wiser than me have written about the connection of a larger purpose to your daily work as a key to success. The key is to actually implement it and I think Joel’s ideas on viewing yourself as an artist can help.

As you plan for the coming year, take some time to answer these questions:

  • How would your business be different if you looked at yourself as an artist?
  • What is your current body of work? How do you feel about it, does it represent your best work?
  • What will be your next body of work?
    • Will you chose it deliberately or by default?
    • Will it help you grow in your art?
    • Will you keep taking the same types of photos, or will you branch out and try something new?

What do you think? Can you see yourself building a body of work the way an artist does in 2014?


  1. The greatest battlefield is located between our ears…indeed, it is our mind and thoughts. Stretch beyond your comfort zones to grow and achieve what you were destine for. Nice post!

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