What Problems Are You Solving? How Great Artists Think Like Entrepreneurs

How comfortable are you with the idea of calling yourself an ‘entrepreneur’?

Even if the word itself is a little trite, the basic meaning behind it is solid enough for the purpose of this conversation. Anyone working as a creative who works for themselves and initiates their own projects, which I imagine is most of you, can be thought of as such.

One thing that entrepreneurs have in common in their quest for gaining traction, attracting customers, buyers and fans, is that in order to do so, they need to solve problems for people.

Being enterprising is solving problems. Making money, if this is your intention, requires solving the problems of other people who pay you for this privilege.

“The more value you provide as a problem-solver, the more you will be rewarded.”

Creatives of all kinds, be they painters, film-makers, sculptors or photographers, need to be thought of as problem-solvers if they are to make a dent in someone else’s life. The tricky thing with the arts world, compared to, say, the world of ‘computer software’, is that the ‘problem’ is a little harder to define.

Certain creative services are more obvious in this regard, such as product designers. But what about when creative output moves closer to ‘art’?

What problems do ‘artists’ solve for others?

The answers are very definitely real, and they are rooted deeply to an individual’s psychology and primal needs. It’s important to know what they are if we are to know how to ‘solve’ or ‘minimise’ them through providing well-defined products, creations and services.

I can’t claim to know what everyone’s problems are, but I can have a guess at some of the thoughts your potential customers or clients may be having. These thoughts point directly to the problem being felt…

I’m bored and I don’t want to feel bored any more.

Boredom, like so many of the other forms of emotions we’ll come across in this article, is difficult to define, but is commonly rooted to not being engaged or lacking stimulation.

What aspect of your products and services can take someone from ‘boredom’ to feeling engaged?

Here are some other thoughts your potential customers, fans and buyers might be having. How does what you do solve these issues?

“I need an escape.”

“I need to increase my status.”

“I want to feel good about myself.”

“I want to be understood.”

“I need to appear more professional.”

“I need my business to make more money.”

“I don’t want to be like everybody else.”

“I want to be liked.”

“I want to be entertained.”

“I want to learn.”

“I want to feel more motivated.”

“I want to expand my horizons.”

“I want to be inspired.”


A key part of being a creative is factoring in an awareness of the people you serve. If you have intimate knowledge of what they are struggling with, rather than simply doing what you enjoy doing, you will stand out from the rest.


  1. Isn’t there some kind of discrepancy in seeing art as “solving problems for others”?

    Of course, there are many kinds of art and artists.

    When you want to be a pop music star, what you say is perfectly applicable. You solve the problem of (teenage) boredom, make the young fans feel understood by the lyrics of your (deliberately vague) love songs, make them feel they belong to the cool group of kids who dig your kind of music, etc…. etc….

    But the more your art comes closer to “Art”, the more problematic this becomes. In order for your art to be respected by the art world, it has to be seen as autonomous and free, and not cater to the audience (by solving its problems).

    You could say that this is false, because even so called autonomous and seemingly not-commercial art makes the buyer feel special, increases his status, and so on…

    Some artists will even play with this: make their art “about” what it means to be commercial, free, authentic, etc… (Warhol, Hirst,…). They become “tricksters” and being a trickster effectively becomes their art (more than the work itself).

    But what if an artist doesn’t want to go that route and believes in making his own (free, authentic, maybe difficult and rather inaccessible) art? His he doomed to obscurity? Or does he have to play up his so-called authenticity to attract an audience, thereby becoming some kind of trickster again and catering to the audience once more?

    Doesn’t this become a rather silly game of “playing” the serious artist?

    • Thanks Gilliom. Totally see what you’re saying.

      I like to keep things simple, so without looking into this too much, if you make art that does not solve a problem, it can’t ever connect with another human being because it doesn’t align with our raw, primal needs. These don’t need to be superficial, logical problems, though they can be too.

      Because art is massively subjective, you could never label something ‘bad art’ – that would only be in the opinion of the viewer. But there is art that can cause a change in someone, whether that be to make someone feel good, or simply make them think differently. Art that does this, is solving a problem. That is power, and great artists are aware of this, including the tricksters.

      • I just came upon this article through one of your tweets, Alex. Four months late but the problem you discuss still prevails, does’t it? I think we’re talking ‘art’ vs ‘product’. I have the same doubts as Gilliom and I am continuously faced with the problem. In the past century countless new artistic tendencies and movements came to light and most of them, those that wrote Art History, created problems for the viewer rather than solving them. They were challenging, incomprehensible at first sight, revolutionary, daring. They triumphed nevertheless. I am talking about the Dadaists, the Surrealists, the Abstract Vanguard, the Expressionists, etc. Most of those artists cared very little for problem-solving, they were clearly inclined to problem-posing.

        Our society today is posing a huge problem to artists (as opposed to product-makers). People want things to be easy to take in, pleasing, recognizable and backed by solid marketing. A whole different world and way of thinking took over in less than two decades. My challenge is to remain true to myself while getting through to others. I don’t have the answer yet. But I would like to add that the ego of the artist may become a boulder in their own path, a stubborn way of affirming themselves over others. Then the narrow ways of communication are blocked completely and we isolate ourselves from society. At this point, it’s not a question of free creation any more, it’s a question of fear disguised as arrogance.

        I hope this makes sense.

        • Thank you Ersi,

          Rather than write my opinion on your comment, I’m going to thank you and let this sit here for everyone to read. Food for thought!


  2. Great post. While I like fine art, I’m more draw to art that solves problems in creative ways. Take a look at the grammar instruction on The Oatmeal: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/who_vs_whom. This is really helpful with learning this concept, it makes the solution sticky and tangible, fun and memorable. This is the kind of energy that creatives bring to problem solving and add to an entrepreneurial endeavor. Thanks.

    • Big fan of the Oatmeal – he’s a master of combining creativity, art and solving problems in numerous ways, including grammar, but also in knowing what his audience want at a deeper level.

  3. Coincidentally I am reading Dan Pink’s ‘To Sell Is Human,’ and have just read the Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi study on artists and problem solving.

    I like the phrase from Shyam Sankar of Palantir Tech… “The most important thing {his} salespeople do is to find the right problems to solve.”

  4. Hello Alex,

    I’m a regular reader of your articles, I’m even subscribed for your newsletter and I can say you’ve helped me a couple of times with your ideas. But I’m not here to brag you, your work speaks for itself. The reason I’m writing to you is different. As an interior designer I couldn’t help but notice the lovely picture at the begging of your post and I think it will look lovely in my living room. If you know the name or the artist I’d appreciate it if you share it with me.

    Kind regards from Cyprus!

  5. Thank you so much for this post– I’ve been seeing the line “be a problem solver” everywhere but the examples given were always related to coding/copywriting/innovations. I had no idea how to use it in illustrating.Seriously, thanks for making this advice more practical!

  6. This is a really helpful article.
    I guess its how you get artists to think about how you move from the problem space to the challenge space so “How might my art create an escape for someone” then you can start to generate creative ideas. I’m just starting to figure this stuff out for myself. Thanks for the brainfood.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *