This informal talk was given as an emerging research presentation at USASBE's annual conference in January, 2022, and serves as a follow-up to the previous year's work on arts entrepreneurship, rhetoric, and industrial music.
The project I’ve been working on started from the question, “what can arts entrepreneurs learn by thinking about the rhetorical aspects of entrepreneurship?” (when I talk about rhetoric, I’m thinking about the means of persuasion in a specific, contingent situation). This is the question I took on in an upcoming paper, and now I’m hoping to go over some of the preliminary findings from that study and maybe get some feedback on the possibilities moving forward.
The basic thesis here is that concepts from rhetorical theory can help both span and challenge distinctions that arts entrepreneurs make between business practice, artistic practice, and social practice; and that this helps these arts entrepreneurs think about their work more creatively and more productively as a unified process. At the same time, as researchers and educators thinking about this, we get a set of conceptual tools and terminology that can help us articulate what makes arts entrepreneurship distinct as a discipline and help open opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration, especially with the humanities. So at the moment my goal is to further explore how arts entrepreneurs use rhetoric in creative ways and what arts educators can take away from this.
The methodology that I’m using starts with a rhetorical analysis of an arts venture, and then tries to connect these findings with models from entrepreneurship to see where there’s resonance, where there’s friction, and what we can learn. Specifically, I take on a materialist rhetoric framework because I think it’s important to understand the interaction of human and nonhuman agents, and how influence and persuasion can happen not necessarily with intention. This kind of posthumanism, I think, is especially important as we see self-taught algorithms take over social media marketing, and businesses are using similar black-box AI to handle information, analytics, and inform decisions.
When we use rhetorical language to talk about arts entrepreneurship, we gain a few different things. The first is that focus shifts from the individual entrepreneur to the rhetorical ecology of entrepreneurship that they operate in. This is following some of William Gartner’s (1988) work, especially recent projects (Ramoglou, Gartner, & Tsang, 2020) – I want to emphasize this as another alternative to a traits-based approach. For a specific example, we can start to think of entrepreneurial opportunity in terms of the rhetorical notion of kairos. The classical greek term roughly translates to “right timing” or “due measure” (Kinneavy, 2002), but in rhetorical theory we use this to think about how the complex factors in a specific situation give rise to a unique, situated, collectively inspired response. We can think of the idea of kairos alongside opportunity actualization (Ramoglou & Tsang, 2016) as an alternative to the traditional opportunity discovery or opportunity creation approaches.
The second thing I’m proposing we gain from this is that the framework asks us to more closely attend to the myths and metaphors that arts entrepreneurs use to sustain their practice, as well as the metaphors that researchers have to use. For one example, the case study that I’ve been doing focuses on industrial music. The source literature on industrial music is filled with references to what they called the Information War. It’s an idea taken from the author William Burroughs, but these industrial musicians infused it with concepts from French poststructualist philosophy, Alistair Crowley’s occultism, all sorts of diverse trains of thought coming together in an intellectual bricolage. The idea of intellectual bricolage generally means “making due with whatever is at hand” (Baker & Nelson, 2005), but Claude Levi-Strauss – who coined the term – also used it to refer to the nature and function of myths, and of intellectual thought, of academic research (1962/1967).
If we think about the case of the Information War, for these artists it served the function of connecting business and aesthetic practice in a way that artistic innovation and entrepreneurial innovation can be understood as the same sort of phenomenon. So when industrial musicians talk about information, they’re using it as a catch-all term for the experimental music they make, the experimental film they make, and the philosophy that inspires them and that they produce, and then they used the idea of disseminating information as a reimagined way to think about marketing avant-garde art to a popular public.
Now as an arts entrepreneurship researcher or educator, we can also start to look at this rhetoric that they use and do our own intellectual bricolage to start to meet these phenomena on their own terms and understand how arts entrepreneurs think about their own work. Back to the idea of the Information War, my next step in this case study was to look a range of other theories that employ the same kinds of militant metaphors as “information war.” I lean pretty heavily on Howard Becker’s (1983/2008) description of revolutionary change in an art world as sustained ideological and organizational attack on the discourses of the art world. Also, interestingly, one of the influences on the information war concept was the philosopher Gilles Deleuze, whose idea of art is that it’s an act of resistance; the organization of counter-information (1987/2007). We can also, of course, look to Schumpeter’s rhetoric of creative destruction (1942/2003), which serves to highlight the change that’s not just essential to Capitalism, but really important for a rhetorical analysis if we’re interested in how messages have effects in a specific environment.
Now all of these things taken together leads to a vision of the arts entrepreneur as a critical rhetorician who makes an argument for aesthetic and economic reorganization through the innovations they introduce. But here, again, we need to think about rhetoric as material – as beyond the scope of pure intention – because the full implications of any sort of innovation are never fully imagined by their creator. This change always happens in collaboration between human and nonhuman actors in a situation.
If I’m allowed to pull another example from experimental music, we can think of circuit-bending guitar pedals. There are pedals like DOD’s “Death Metal” distortion that are just as well known for their unintended uses, for the nature of their circuitry and the kinds of sounds you can get when you manipulate it. The Dead Metal pedal is popular as a circuit-bending tool; it’s popular in noise music as a standalone instrument when you hook it up in irregular configurations; there’s even a local arts entrepreneur who sells samples made from a modified version of these pedals, all coming from the nature of the circuitry rather than the sound it was “supposed” to make.
I’m slowly getting to another important point, which is how myths evolve. The Information War metaphor started to die out and shift to metaphors of the virus, of virality, and of assimilation by the mid-late ‘80s. This second generation of artists took what we might call a “total war strategy” (if we’re sticking to the militant metaphors), where music, film, marketing, and business practice were all part of the same aesthetic paradigm and all had the same ideological weight behind them. The second generation took this practice but instead of attacking existing discourses, they started to more thoroughly assimilate things like dance music, rock music, heavy metal, extreme metal, and this is what set the stage for industrial’s explosion into the mainstream in the ‘90s, when industrial music properly “went viral.” This is what most people think of when they hear the term “industrial music.”
We can see these metaphors of the virus versus metaphors of attack maybe more clearly in a different setting. If any of you are familiar with MVMT Watches, in their mission statement there’s a qualitative war metaphor, “to disrupt the overpriced and outdated models of the fashion industry." This is a little different from their slogan, which is “Join the MVMT.” There you can hear more of a quantitative viral, assimilate-y sort of metaphor. This slogan plays out clearly in their business practice as well: they’ve targeted a younger demographic (not necessarily the ones who are consuming these luxury watches in the first place), and social media’s not just important to their marketing strategy, but to how they run their business and sales. It starts from this notion of virality. Here we can see that war metaphors have an emancipatory appeal to them – it’s important for the early avant-garde – but there’s more room to expand into the mainstream by emphasizing a viral metaphor. We can see this with MVMT and with the evolution of industrial music.
The last thing that it looks like we can gain by putting arts entrepreneurship into rhetorical language is a conceptual bridge with the humanities. Being able to talk about art and entrepreneurship as manifestations of the same rhetorical process doesn’t just make the subject more appetizing to humanities students, but more importantly it opens ways for students to start bringing in their own understandings and experience, and engage in intellectual bricolage themselves. This educational strategy means educators improvising with an array of concepts pulled from different disciplines so that they can engage students with diverse backgrounds. The end goal here is to empower students to start to create their own discourses; to use rhetoric to create myths – like the Information War – that can both motivate them and constructively inform how they practice entrepreneurship.
Baker, T. & Nelson, R. E. (2005). Creating something from nothing: Resource construction through entrepreneurial bricolage. Administrative Science Quarterly, 50(3), 329-366.
Becker, H. S. (2008) Art worlds, 25th anniversary edition. University of California Press. (Original work published 1983).
Deleuze, G. (2007). What is the creative act? In D. Lapoujade (Ed.), A. Hodges & M. Taormina (Trans.), Two regimes of madness: Texts and interviews 1975-1995 (pp. 312–324). Semiotext(e). (Original work published 1987)
Gartner, W. B. (1988). “Who is an entrepreneur?” is the wrong question. American Journal of Small Business, 12(4), 11–32. https://doi.org/10.1177/104225878801200401
Kinneavy, J. L. (2002). Kairos in Classical and Modern Rhetorical Theory. In P. Sipiora & J. S. Baumlin (Eds.), Rhetoric and kairos: Essays in history, theory, and praxis (pp. 58–76). State University of New York Press.
Lévi Strauss, C. (1966). The savage mind (unknown trans.). Weidenfeld and Nicolson. (Originally published 1962).
Ramoglou, S., & Tsang, E. W. (2016). A realist perspective of entrepreneurship: Opportunities as propensities. Academy of Management Review, 41(3), 410–434. https://doi.org/10.5465/amr.2014.0281
Ramoglou, S., Gartner, W. B., & Tsang, E. W. K. (2020). “Who is an entrepreneur?” is (still) the wrong question. Journal of Business Venturing Insights, 13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbvi.2020.e00168
Schumpteter, Joseph A. (2003) Capitalism, socialism and democracy. Routledge. (Original work published 1942)