Critics and practitioners

“When art critics get together they talk about Form and Structure and Meaning. When artists get together they talk about where you can buy cheap turpentine.” – Picasso (via Ribbonfarm)

When I was a kid, I tagged along with my grandfather who was an oboist in a big city symphony. I was struck by the dramatic discrepancy between the culture of the audience and the culture of the musicians. Before the show, the audience attended fancy events, and talked in abstract terms about classical music. After the show, the musicians played poker, told jokes, swigged bourbon, and traded tips about the best places to get parts for their instruments.

In the context of startups, it’s convenient to read the Picasso quote as a tidy summarization of the difference between critics (VCs and the tech press) and practitioners (entrepreneurs). There is some truth to this. When entrepreneurs get together, they tend to talk about tactical details. VCs and the press talk about trends, markets, and other abstractions.

But Picasso was just being modest. He thought about the meaning of his art far more deeply than his critics did. The same is true of great entrepreneurs. “Cheap turpentine” is important, but so is “Form and Structure and Meaning”. The best ideas emerge from the interplay between the two modes of thought.

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