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Elliot McGucken
Visiting Professor: Pepperdine University 2006
Posted 9.1.2006


Elliot launched the
ArtsEntrepreneurship.com program at UNC Chapel Hill and he is bringing it to Pepperdine University this fall. He received a B.A. in physics from Princeton and a Ph.D. in physics from UNC Chapel Hill where his dissertation on an artificial retina for the blind received several NSF grants and a Merrill Lynch Innovations Award. The retina-chip research appeared in publications including Popular Science and Business Week, and the project continues to this day.

He founded
jollyroger.com in 1995, and now runs over 30 sites. The New York Times deemed jollyroger.com "simply unprecedented," adding that the site "teems with discussion, the kind that goes well beyond freshman lit 101."

Elliot presented Authena Open Source DRM/CMS at the Harvard Law School OSCOM, and
22surf was accepted to the Zurich OSCOM. Both Authena and 22surf are aimed at helping indie artists/creators. He has published four books including two novels and a poetry collection, and blogs on Artistic Entrepreneurship for the Kauffman Foundation.

Your Spring 2006 course, The 45 Revolver: Artistic Entrepreneurship & Technology 101, is somewhat iconoclastic when compared to other Arts Entrepreneurship courses across the country. Can you briefly describe the class, your course philosophy and the design process.

The students don't think it's iconoclastic. AE&T is the opposite of iconoclastic, as Artistic Entrepreneurship & Technology adheres to the wisdom of the classics. In preparing the course I have been greatly humbled by all the infinite wisdom and classical art that has come before, and I try to communicate this humility to the students. Dante understood eternity. Homer understood "built to last." The Founding Fathers penned the Constitution--the fundamental business document of all modern business--without a law degree between them--instead they had read the classics.

And so it is that the students can make the greatest investment of their time in college by learning the eternal principles that will guide them in all future endeavors.

The class is based on Joseph Campbell's Hero's Journey which Campbell based upon commonalities he perceived in myths spanning all cultures. There are few texts more diverse than Campbell's and yet few more unified.

So often we're told that a liberal arts education is fundamentally useless, but AE&T is based on the premise that nothing has greater value than learning the eternal principles--the very same eternal principles Buffett, Bogle, Dante, Jefferson, Dickinson, Franklin, Campbell, and all successful artists and entrepreneurs use. In his book Battle for the Soul of Capitalism, Bogle, a life-long Wall Streeter quotes not the Wall Street Journal, but Shakespeare, St. Augustine, Jefferson, Emerson, and Gibbon. On the first page he quotes Joseph Campbell! The principles of a liberal arts education are needed more than ever for renaissances in Hollywood and Wall Street alike.

John Bogle, a classic entrepreneur who founded Vanguard based on the youthful idealism of his senior thesis at Princeton recently wrote a great book called, "The Battle for The Soul of Capitalism." This, along with Homer's Odyssey, is a required book in AE&T.

On the first page Bogle writes,

My generation has left America with much to set right; you have the opportunity of a lifetime to fix what has been broken. Hold high your idealism and your values. Remember always that even one person can make a difference. And do your part "To begin the world anew."

That's a great message to every student--to "hold high their idealism and values."

How much of your syllabus is dedicated to traditional business concepts and what concepts do you address?

The syllabus focuses on both the classics and the cutting edge, both the fundamental theory and the best way to leverage it in the digital age.

For instance, the Constitution states that one gets to own what one creates. I show the students this simple clause, and then we're off to sites such as uspto.gov and bizfilings.com and nolo.com where they can see the forms they need to fill out to protect their copyrights, trademarks, and patents, and where they can incorporate. All this takes about ten minutes. I tell them that I am no lawyer nor MBA, but then neither was Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, Scorates, Branson, Jobs, nor Gates, nor any of the poets. I advise them to procede with caution in all they do--seek out the advice MBAs and lawyers, but first and foremost, read and understand the contracts themselves!

Just as the teaching of ethics should never be separate from the teaching of business, the teaching of business is never separate from the teaching of the classics. The exact same rugged morality, wile, and independence by which Odysseus makes it home, forgoing short-term temptations such as the Sirens and the Lotus Easter, is the same morality by which businesses must be lead.

AE&T seeks to teach aesthetics to MBAs as much as it seeks to teach the fundamentals of business to MFAs.

I see you also teach some aspects of law in your course. How do arts students react when the classroom discussion turns in that direction?

Law comes from classical myths. The aim of the class is to teach the spirit of the law--the eternal part of the law, which the students can take with them the rest of their lives.

When Mark Twain addressed congress in 1906, he said, "I am aware that copyright must have a limit, because that is required by the Constitution of the United States, which sets aside the earlier Constitution, which we call the decalogue. The decalogue says you shall not take away from any man his profit. I don't like to be obliged to use the harsh term. What the decalogue really says is, "Thou shalt not steal," but I am trying to use more polite language."

As usual, the authors, artists, and poets cut straight to the everlasting essence.

What did you learn by teaching the class? What would you improve?

The class was a vast educational experience! Towards the end, I realized it would have been fun to create a wiki devoted to entrepreneurship, and so I will be doing that for the next class. Please look for wikienterpreneur.org this fall!

My greatest challenge throughout all this is to extract as many of the eternal principles that arise in the classroom, and render them in books, blogs, and websites. The larger goal of AE&T is to provide lasting resources/handbooks/tutorials for AE&T.

Your class was virtually overrun with student interest. What contributed to the success of your effort?

Students naturally love two things--the classics and the cutting edge. And that's what AE&T is--an intersection of the two. With 10 students from music and art, and others from computer science, communications, business and law, it's an idea whose time has come

Every student dreams of making their passion their profession, and the great thing about this country is that with some talent, luck, and a lot of hard work, this is possible. They read about the disappearing pensions and corporate scandals, and they think, "perhaps the best investment I can make is in my dreams."

Will you be teaching the class again in the fall of 2007?

Yes! I am teaching two sections of AE&T right now at Pepperdine--an upper-level class and a freshman seminar. In the Spring of 2007 I am scheduled to teach AE&T and co-teach a class on DRM in the law school at Pepperdine. I have signed up to teach AE&T in Summer 2007, and will be teaching it again all next year. And in spring 2007 we'll be hosting an AE&T conference, inviting students and faculty to come out and discuss the best ways to make ones passions one's profession.

The classroom is where the rubber hits the road--it's by serving the students in a live setting that one finds the right words to reach them. It's where it all comes to life.

What textbooks and readings did you use for the class?

I pulled books from both the classical realm and the cutting edge:


Art
Aristotle. "Poetics"
Michael Tierno. "Aristotle’s Poetics for Screenwriters"
Skip Press. "The Ultimate Writer’s Guide to Hollywood"
Joseph Campbell. "The Hero with a Thousand Faces"
Jonathan Eldredge. "The Sacred Romance"
Robert McKee. "Story"
Kate Wright. "Screenwriting is Storytelling"
The Writer's Journey, Second Edition : Mythic
Christopher Vogler. "Structure for Writers"

Law
The United States Constitution
Bill Pressman. "Patent it Yourself" (nolo.com)
Larry Lessig. "Free Culture: How Big Media Uses Technology and the Law to Lock Down Culture and Control Creativity" (Nolo.com)

Business/Entrepreneurship
John Bogle, "The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism"
Napoleon Hill. "Think and Grow Rich"
Bill Miller. "The Warren Buffett Way"
Guy Kawasaki. "The Art of the Start"
Edward Jay Epstein. "The Big Picture : The New Logic of Money and Power in Hollywood"
Garrett Sutton, Robert T. Kiyosaki, Ann Blackman. "Own Your Own Corporation"

Classics
Harold Bloom. "The Western Canon"
Shakespeare
Dante. "The Inferno"
Homer. "The Odyssey"
The Bible

Biography
Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography
Richard Branson. "Losing My Virginity : How I've Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way"
Jeffrey S. Young, William L. Simon. "iCon: Steve Jobs : The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business"

Technology
Slashdot.org

Web Resources
artsbusinesstech.com/forum
artsentrepreneurship.com
nolo.com, uspto.gov, slashdot.org, gamasutra.com,
variety.com

How do you conceive or envision "entrepreneurship" and it's context in Arts education?

Entrepreneurship was perhaps best defined by Shakespeare in a Midsummer Night's Dream:
The poet's eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven;
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet's pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.

Entrepreneurship is about giving "an airy nothing a local habitation and a name." Artists naturally do this, and with a bit of wisdom regarding the law and business, they too can make their passions their professions. They can incorporate and protect their IP. The act of original creation is the hard part--the poet's vision is where the everlasting value lies. And when one realizes that our laws originate within Story and Myth, and that all our business principles are based on such classical laws, one sees that artists, prophets, and poets--those who conceived of the fundamental framework of freedom--were the original entrepreneurs. At the end of the day, I want to help artists everywhere make their passions their professions.

I hope AE&T can help!