Artists, galleries, and patrons
Issue 180: How are art and tech scenes mirror each other
Before working in tech, I was an aspiring artist; studying Drawing and Painting with the dreams of being an art professor. Instead of pursuing an (expensive) MFA, I took a gap year and used the Photoshop skills I learned from Computer Art to do freelance UI Production Design. The majority of my work was software for a new device Apple launched called the iPhone. The rest was history, and the iPhone launched my career.
As I worked in tech, I quickly realized the world mirrored that of the art world. The tech and venture capital ecosystem was similar to that of artists during the Italian Renaissance and Medici family; a wealthy and influential Italian family from Florence, played a significant role in funding and supporting the arts during the Renaissance, particularly in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Medici were prominent patrons of artists, architects, and scholars, and their support had a profound impact on the cultural and artistic development of the time. The Medici were the Marc Andreessen (or any other tech billionaire) of their time.
Players in the ecosystem
Though this doesn't encompass every single person or role in the ecosystem of art and tech, let's compare the major roles.
Artists are builders
The core of the ecosystem are builders—the people actually creating. Note that I say builders instead of founders because not all builders are founders. Like many artists, some have such grand and uncompromosing visions and never start a company or simply build a side project they care about. This is why most venture capital firms focus on being founder (or builder) friendly. Without them, there is nothing to invest in. Many people in the tech world started as builders or founders, but not all of them, as not all gallery owners or art crticics were artists themselves.
Art critics are writers and journalists
Anything created will elicit a reaction, resulting in reviews and critique. As someone who worked on iOS apps in the Apple App store, I’ve received my fair share of one star reviews, telling us that our Free app is too expensive. There are also reviewers and journalists, those at the TechCrunches and VentureBeats, who may critique but also praise. The craft of artists and critics may differ, but both are opinionated in the craft. If you cannot deal with criticism and critique (fairly or unfairly), you're not going to survive in tech.
Galleries are venture capital firms
Galleries are the way art is distributed, sold, and shared with that world. There are small co-op galleries, family galleries, or large museums. This mirrors venture capital firms. Within galleries, there may be associates, assistants, and then the owner. All have various levels of influence and authority. Venture capital firms support and fund builders. However, they have a brand, presence, and story to tell, and have their own incentives. They need to cultivate stories of being the first check in when nobody else believed in you so they can tweet about it on the day you IPO. It’s natural for venture capital firms and galleries to have their own incentives as they too are building a business.
Wealthy patrons are...well, wealthy patrons
This just in…rich people are rich. In art and tech ecosystems, both require funding and patronage. Wealthy patrons fund ideas in how they feel the world should be. This might be accelerating AI like e/acc or starting an Olympics where performance enhancing drugs are allowed. Though the Medici family were influential in arts and culture, a lot of it was motivated for political influence with the Catholic Church. Everyone has a motivation, and wealthy patrons have a lot of capital to work with.
Avoid the lifestyle trap
If you work in tech or startups, focus on the craft of your work. Avoid, “the scene.” For some, having a startup is a lifestyle and there are always people who want to appear like they are doing stuff but don’t care about the work. These are people who appear to be players mentioned above, but they really aren’t doing anything. Avoid the lifestyle trap. For the number of authentic builders out there striving to make something great, there a number of people who are "building something new" in the form of a waitlist, appearing like they're building.
Navigating the ecosystem
To change the game, you have to play the game; understand how you work through the ecosystem. If you're raising money, know you're going to have to listen to the investor share their thoughts and advice they can say they gave you once you become successful. As an investor, you must identify the Fool's Gold when there is a hype movement (see Crypto and AI).
Remember what's most important—the art
As confusing (or sometimes gross) the ecosystem can feel, it's important to remember why you go through it—the craft. It's human nature to create, build, and have purpose. For art to exist, artists need to sustain it. Patrons and distributors can facilitate that—all parts of the ecosystem need to exist.
Throughout my journey, I've met startup founders, investors, and wealthy patrons who live and breathe this—people who give me optimism about being in this space. Find those people latch on, and focus on building something you believe in. All roles in the ecosystem are important. Reflect on what gives you the most joy and how you want to play a part in it.
Week 05 recap
Last week, I was in New York City where it was cold but energetic. I spent time with Replit team members and participated in a few events across the city.
Demo night with Play
M13 hosted an event to demo Play, the go-to software design tool for iOS. Dan and Harcourt demoed using play, the gyroscope feature, and App Clips.
Figma’s AI in Creative Tools
I had the pleasure of joining a wonderful group of people presenting at Figma's New York office for AI in Creative Tools.
Collection of what I read and related to this week's post