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The Business of Being an Artist

That is the art of running a business.

Reversing that, I submit the business of being an artist requires exactly that same type of consistency and focus. The business of being an artist is an art in itself.

The example of David Bowie may seem overly obvious. Bowie tailored his music to fit each era, embracing styles from folk to glam rock to soul to electronic music and "drum and bass." From Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke to the strung-out Berliner artiste, he paraded ever-changing personae. At various points, he wore dresses, zoot suits, sci-fi clown costumes, an 18th Century-looking jacket made out of the British flag and a businessman's suit and tie. More recently, his attire has resolved into a casual tailored look -- a kind of "Real David Bowie" persona, the actor playing himself.

But all of that seemed to grow spontaneously out of the music he was making, with an intended audience in mind. As a musician he remained his own man, pushing boundaries, diving deep into poetry, saying only what he wanted said, performing the way he wanted it performed. The ability to frame his art, represent it well to public, made his career particularly noteworthy and helped his music reach a wider audience. Every aspect of Bowie is part of his art and part of his business.

So that's Bowie. As I say, kind of obvious.


In my response to the reader's email I drew a comparison from the visual art world to better illustrate the point: Picasso and Van Gogh. The two artists weren't that far apart historically or geographically -- Picasso was a child when Van Gogh died and both spent formative years in France. But judging from their careers they may as well have been from different planets.

Pablo Picasso was a master of self-definition. As an artist, viewed as synonymous with his art by the public, self-definition was marketing. His artistic style changed radically through the years, sometimes turning on a dime to allow him to do exactly as he pleased and to take advantage of the venues and audiences available to him.

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