Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Culture and the Artist as Entrepreneur

From "Culture and Enterprise" by Don Lavoie and Emily Chamlee-Wright:

Entrepreneurial decision-making is not some sort of pure calculation but a complex reading of the polysemic dialogue of the market. It is necessarily embedded within a cultural context. (72)

Hayek pointed out that entrepreneurs also make use of inarticulate knowledge, perhaps derived from the experience of many years within a particular industry, which enables them to make sense of all the many bits of information available to them. (73)

culture provides a framework of meaning that allows entrepreneurs to make sense of all the various, often conflicting pieces of information. Culture gives shape to the interpretive process that is entrepreneurship. (73)

All the above quotes describe what artists do. Their experience within a particular industry is their familiarity with one's genre. And of course, the works they read or view or hear are done so within a particular cultural context, which affects the creation of the artists' own new works.

The last quote applies to both artists and critics. The artist if of course interpreting within their own cultural context, translating works from their own culture and from others into new works within the culture in which they work. But the critic must also keep in mind that they are in a particular cultural context as well -- a lesson from the best elements of postcolonial theory and cultural criticism. There should be little question the importance of culture to the creation of art and to the understanding of works of art. Like the economy, the spontaneous orders of the arts are embedded in a cultural context, which affects the nature of that order. While spontaneous order gives us a structuralist explanation of artistic production that is necessary to understand artistic production, one can argue that the details of that order require poststructuralist approaches, including the details derived from an intimate understanding of the culture the work was created in. However, culture too has its structures:

culture is a society's collection of meanings which emerges through social interaction, and which allows the individual to interpret her own circumstances. This interpretive process results in patterns of behavior across individuals that we call cultural structures. (67)

So a structuralist approach also underlies the apparent poststructuralism of cultural criticism. And if one wants to go further, and argue that individual interpretations can still give us poststructuralism, one can point to the structuralism of the human mind/brain itself. This does not disprove poststructuralism, but rather points to the fact that the insights of poststructuralism come from the space between structures, rather than from cultural differences. But as in any space between stable structures, between equilibria, if you will, you find a discontinuous, far-from-equilibirum space where creativity takes place. So this place is precisely one we should find of great interest, whether we are artists or critics.


  1. Thought provoking article Troy. The cultural framework, the set of traditions in thought and practice, which a society has evolved is often overlooked in discussions on socio-political change.

    We are attempting to generate conversations between people like yourself, who are able to add to the global perspective and create true dialogue. If you could post a short description (with a link) to your blog, I’m sure many people would be interested.

    Just reply to the following post:


    Hope to be communicating soon,
    Tim Colgan

  2. Tim,

    Thanks for the invitation. I have done as you asked. I'm glad you like the blog.