What can businesses learn from street art?

Keith Haring, Keith + Julie, https://www.phillips.com/detail/keith-haring/NY010317/40

If you think that street art has nothing in common with business, then you might be mistaken. Moreover, there are a vast number of aspects that businesses can actually learn from street art to make their work better, more creative and more sustainable. More on what street art is and how it became a form of expression, we covered in our blog here.

Street art, innovation and leadership might seem to stand far away from each other. I am sure that when you need business advice you turn to such personalities as Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, Simon Sinek or Alex Blumberg. But why not turn to some artistic gurus such as Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring or Banksy. And let me explain why.


Innovation and successful leadership are a continuous growth, continuous searching for new ways of doing things, they are a constant adventure, quick responsiveness to what is happening around, looking for new opportunities and keeping your eyes open to what appears. Innovation and leadership are all about discovery, changes, creativity, improvement, but also very often simplicity, storytelling and encouraging people to understand and share your vision. But they also need integrity and integration with existing systems. All of those are the principles of art itself, especially street art.


Street artists need to operate in extremely difficult conditions. Working under time pressure, they often choose just the most important ways of expressions to give the meaning to their artwork - a few lines, a couple of colourful shapes, simple writing. But when you look at those pieces, no matter how simple they are, you always get the sense of what they want to show us or what feelings they want to raise. Artists know what the essence of their design is, what means they should use and how to keep things clean, clear and concise.

Keith Haring, Untitled (1983), https://www.newstatesman.com/keith-haring-tate-liverpool-review

Isn't it the same with innovative products when you build their value proposition or want to make your clients love them? You take this product or a service and strip away all unnecessary elements to show its pure form to your clients and let the beauty of simplicity win. Sometimes it is very difficult though as we tend to overtell our stories, we are not able to focus. Focus on what the meaning is, focus on who the viewer is or focus on what it really needs to stand out from the rest and make an impression. This is the first lesson that we can learn from artistic icons. As they do know how to make an impression.


Art is not only about telling stories. ART is a STORY. And the artist knows what to do to bring the depth to his piece and to take the hand of the audience and make them follow. And let them experience a different world - his or her world. As the story unfolds so many things in them - passions, feelings, forgotten dreams, fears are reminded.

Jean-Michel Basquiat, Victor 25448, 1987, https://rynekisztuka.pl/2020/06/26/basquiat-lipcowa-aukcja-sztuki-phillips/

I remember visiting the National Gallery in London many years ago and taking part in art classes about Noli me tangere, one of Tiziano's paintings. And at that time when this painting revealed its story to me and I understood that it is a beautiful narration about love, inability to be together, new life, I keep it in my mind. And it became part of my story.

With street art you can see the story behind each piece. This is the means of expression that was used to raise awareness, to express emotions, objections and show the truth, especially in the times of rapid political and social changes. And it still continues.

Banksy, Fot. Getty images

Stories evoke emotions, stories wind up people, they inspire, raise passion, provoke questions we ask ourselves. As artists do, leaders and CEOs should also think about what stories their products show through their design, functionalities and why people would want to be part of those stories. When you look at Banksy’s works, behind his plain drawings there is the whole story told in a few lines. And what is your story? Have you stripped away everything that blurs it and takes away the attention off the customer? Is it still powerful enough to move people’s feelings and remind them of their dreams?


Artists always see more than what is there, they have a broader view of the current situation, challenges and opportunities. They observe the world with great consciousness. Experiencing art is a great exercise which teaches you to sharpen your ability to see the details, to pay closer attention to the surroundings and to think critically. Art can help leaders develop their self-awareness, show how to reinterpret reality and create large visions. It is extremely inspiring to analyze the way artists ushered in the new genres that differentiated them from their predecessors but built up on the past and their heritage. I think visionary leadership should also not forget about the past but at the same time choose the best elements of it, always considering the current surroundings - economical, political and social.

Banksy, Fot. Dave Etheridge-Barnes/Getty Images

The strength of street art lies in the fact that it often uses existing architectural elements (as staircases, windows, window sills) as part of their works. This is a real integration with the surrounding and thanks to it, giving it extra meaning. What lesson can we take out of it for business and innovation? To consider all the components available and see how to let them interact and enhance each other. See how various factors can leverage your work. Consider the setting. Gather as much data as possible and then let the harmony take over and put all those elements in proper places.

Natalia Rak, Legenda o Wielkoludach, Białystok, Poland. Street Art News.


Artists create new forms and exemplify thinking out of the box and have an ability to inspire others to do so. We all want to surround ourselves with beautiful objects, there are some forms that are absolutely unique and timeless. With street art, the arts have won the new form - suddenly it entered the streets and blocks of flats and its power took over the whole city. It somehow engaged not only a limited number of people who wanted to go to the gallery, but everyone - as from then on we could consume art wherever we went.

Milo, Wish, Lecce, Italy, 2019, https://www.millo.biz/portfolio_page/wish-lecce-italy/

The visual aspect and the availability are of as much importance in business. Artists make hundreds of sketches and reshape their projects multiple times before they paint them on the walls. They look for new forms of expression to catch the eye of the viewers. This also applies to innovators. Change forms when needed. Look for new ways of raising emotions in people. We often consume with the eyes - and this is an important lesson from street art.


Integrity is something I see as the most crucial while doing anything in life. Being honest and keeping to your values and then showing them in your work is always visible by others. Artists often break rules and stand up against certain systems. As they are being honest. Their art pieces show what is inside them and often you can’t separate the artwork from the artist as they are as one. They are integral. It might be the hardest lesson for business to consider as sometimes profit does not go well with integrity. But it is worth it. As at the end of the day, we want to invest in companies that mean what they say and show that in actions.

Andy Warhol said: Being good at business is the most fascinating form of art.

Antonina Czarnecka

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