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007: Finding Flow in Entrepreneurship Without Sacrificing Artistic Integrity w/ Daniel Harris Rosen

podcast Nov 19, 2020
Hey Flow fanatics, on this episode I talk with the creative director at Tokyodex, Daniel Harris Rosen, about how he found flow his way by uniquely staying true to his passion for art while building a business, and how allowing space for spontaneity and splitting your time between spaces may be one of the keys to leading a high flow lifestyle.

Daniel Harris Rosen is a bilingual creative director based in Tokyo, with over 25 years of experience in the Japanese arts scene. Originally a visual artist himself, he is also a curator, VJ, film director, and art writer for The Japan Times & other esteemed media outlets. Daniel first formally studied art at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and went on to earn his MFA at Tama Art University in Tokyo. Through   working with internet sensation Rinpa Eshidan he gained experience handling commercial work while also pursuing his own artistic career in contemporary art, exhibiting and selling his artwork worldwide.

After earning his PhD in fine arts from Tama Art University, he founded TokyoDex, a multifaceted creative agency that encompasses all of his artistic endeavors. Daniel’s creative vision, extensive network in the Japanese art community, understanding of the Japanese culture and international standards of business make him a highly sought creative director for exciting art-based projects in Tokyo and around the globe.

Eventually he began to take his own art more seriously. But he settled on aiming to build a bridge between corporations and artists as an art agency.


Creating your supportive entrepreneurial community.










00:00:00 Josh 

Daniel Harris Rosen is a bilingual creative director based in Tokyo with over 25 years of experience in the Japanese art scene. Originally a visual artist himself, he is also a curator, Vijay film director, an art writer for the Japan Times and other esteemed media outlets. Daniel first formally studied art. 

00:00:20 Josh 

At the University of Hawaii at Manoa and went on to earn his MFA at the Tama Art University in Tokyo. Through working with Internet sensation Dean. But as she done, he gained experience handling commercial work while also pursuing his own artistic career in contemporary art, exhibiting and selling his artwork worldwide. 

00:00:41 Josh 

After earning his PhD in Fine Arts from Tama Art University, he founded Tokyo Decks, a multifaceted, creative agency that encompasses all of his artistic endeavors. Daniels Creativision extensive network in the Japanese, our community understanding of the Japanese culture and international standards of business. 

00:01:02 Josh 

Make him a highly sought after creative director for exciting art based projects in Tokyo and around the globe. 

00:01:10 Josh 

Where was the point that you went from student to? OK, I think I wanna make a career out of this. Not that we ever stopped being students, but. 

00:01:25 Dan 

Sure, you know I got into the arts later a little bit later. 

00:01:31 Dan 

In life I did start ceramics when I was like 19, but I was never serious about it until much later and. 

00:01:42 Dan 

I started off as a writer. I was doing copywriting, English copywriting at an advertising agency in Osaka for a while. While I was there, I went up to Sadau Island. I don't know if you're familiar with the Earth celebration music festival. 

00:01:58 Dan 

That yeah, but I. 

00:01:59 Dan 

Happened upon that in the mid 90s and was really inspired by the Kodo drummers and. 

00:02:04 Dan 

Actually ended up. 

00:02:08 Dan 

Touring the world with them as a tour manager and interpreter and press response. Like I I got it. I was so inspired that I started as festival production staff and ended up like working with them and that's one where I really. 

00:02:24 Dan 

You know earned my colors as they say in arts management and two where I really thought, OK, this is something that I want to do that there's an expression inside of me and I'm not going to be happy working so that other people can kind of be on stage. And that's when I decided to take my own artwork seriously. 

00:02:45 Dan 

And I went back to the States to study for a while at the University of Hawaii and my teacher at the University of Hawaii. 

00:02:56 Dan 

Introduced me to a teacher at Tamabi and we met an really clicked and he appreciated, but I was trying to do and how I felt stuck and wrote me a recommendation for the Mombu Corruptio scholarship. So I ended up at Tamabi doing one year as a. 

00:03:17 Dan 

Can you say I guess a research student, two years doing a Masters program and then actually went on to do their PhD, which was half studio and half? 

00:03:28 Dan 

Research had to write a thesis and all of that, but it was while I was into movie that I met these other artists that were doing just incredible work an I can actually I can probably. I know you do links in the write up, so I'll send you some links, but I I hooked up with these guys called Green by she dumb. 

00:03:49 Dan 

And we were doing early. 

00:03:54 Dan 

Kind of time lapse art videos back in like 2006, YouTube was only a year old and we were doing these Fast forward kind of art motion videos. But really before anybody else or we were one of the early ones to do it for sure and they just went viral in the early days of YouTube an we started getting cook eggs. 

00:04:16 Dan 

While we were still in school an that's when I, you know, that's when you know the gears started turning and I was like, OK, there's a need for this like people are excited about the artwork and there's potential within the commercial realm. And one of the most tragic things for me was to be surrounded by all these incredible artists. 

00:04:38 Dan 

Who would graduate and then have to give up their art work to make a living? And so that's when I thought, OK? 

00:04:48 Dan 


00:04:50 Dan 

There's gotta be space in Japan for someone like me who comes from an arts management background. Also, you know studying the artwork, so I understand both sides. 

00:05:04 Dan 

I have a bit of a business background as well working in advertising and just kind of all these things started clicking and I thought OK, this is the path. This is what I want to do. I want to try to harness some of this talent and help one help artists get work. 

00:05:24 Dan 

Uh, beyond school in in their fields and also, you know, help businesses be a little bit more creative in their approach to things. And you know, it's it's over 10 years since then and the landscape has changed a lot. But yeah, I feel like we've we've built a nice year. And anyway, I'm sorry. I as I said, I tend to ramble on, but yeah. 

00:05:46 Dan 

To get back to your original question, I think it was in when I was at tamabi that I felt like, OK, this is something that I can do. There's an opportunity here, that's when I guess I started feeling that entrepreneurial spirit and got excited about my current project, which is Tokyo Dex. 

00:06:07 Josh 

Yeah, yeah it. It seems. So many artists have this feeling like mixing business with our is selling out and the myth of you know keeping the myth of the starving artist alive. But you know. So you were forming a vision or a business plan from the beginning to incorporate your art. 

00:06:27 Josh 

Into your business. 

00:06:30 Dan 

Yeah, I mean. 

00:06:33 Dan 

In terms of my own artwork, you know I was by the end I was doing sort of ceramic installation, an multimedia pieces and then with the success of the videos that we were doing at Rimp, I was doing more video work. But I kind of realized halfway through that. 

00:06:53 Dan 

I was never going to be a studio artist that this idea of making product and then trying to sell it in the world wasn't really who I am. I'm a much more gregarious person. I'm very excited about building teams and about collaborations and so. 

00:07:11 Dan 

You know, right now I'm more of an art director than an artist myself, but I also feel like the having the experience of doing the building and making my own artwork definitely informed my process, and I feel like my process is quite creative, so I definitely feel like I'm doing what I should be doing. But in terms of. 

00:07:33 Dan 

Whether you know this, this myth of the starving artist or I shouldn't say myth, there are definitely some starving yes, yes. Artists have always had patrons, you know, like art is one of those tricky things where I think it's one of the most essential things to society. But the economy doesn't necessarily value it that way. So somebody's gotta pay for it. 

00:07:56 Dan 

And you know right now, that happens to be companies that have the money and then your art becomes part of a branding process, which I know that some people are uncomfortable with. But you know, your modern day businesses are your, you know your modern day meta cheese. You know this idea that. 

00:08:16 Dan 

You know there was ever artwork being created in a vacuum. There were always people that you had to make happy. Whether it was the church or or you know whatever. Whoever the wealthy patrons were at the time, and I know that's sort of an extreme example, and people will take issues with that, but I don't. I don't think that doing artwork for money is selling out, I think. 

00:08:40 Dan 

Compromising your integrity as an artist is selling out, and that's one of the things that we sort of fight for all of the time when we talk to clients, we say, you know, they're like, Oh well, you know, put this over there and do that and we're like, yeah, that's not the way this works, right? This is not a design project where you're going to dictate the finished product you've. 

00:09:00 Dan 

Chosen an artist who you think matches your vision and your brand and now the real value is in letting that artist interpret that vision and do something original. If you already know what you want on the walls. If you already know have this vision of the artwork that you make it. I come close to saying that. 

00:09:20 Dan 

But in a in so many words. So yeah, I think that you know. 

00:09:27 Dan 

Why should an artist get paid? Why shouldn't be artwork be valued? I think it's incredibly value. Dan. I think that on personal level or in a business context, the artwork is incredibly influential and and valuable. And so we fight for artists to get paid and to be able to continue to do what only they can do. 

00:09:52 Josh 

OK, so I guess here maybe it would be great if you told us a little bit more about what your business is and what your revenue streams are. 

00:10:03 Dan 


00:10:05 Dan 

Basically, ever since the my tamabi days Comart University days I saw this. 

00:10:16 Dan 

Potential for kind of building a bridge between. 

00:10:22 Dan 

Corporations and artists and. 

00:10:27 Dan 

Ascentia Lee was at the beginning just hustling for any gigs that we could get, and maybe it was, you know, live painting performances with Rainbow or. 

00:10:40 Dan 

I think we were. I was super lucky that through rempo we we got some commercial work right away so we were doing you know life painting events, an things like that for like Mini Cooper. We actually did a McDonald's at one point which is not my finest moment but it's pretty cool add. 

00:11:02 Dan 

And so we already had a portfolio upon graduation of these different things that we had done and in the early days it was. 

00:11:13 Dan 

No pitching for events and. 

00:11:18 Dan 

A bit of like party Deco and that kind of thing and then about 5 six years ago we had an opportunity. I had an opportunity to curate. 

00:11:30 Dan 

The CBR E Office on CBR E is an American real estate company. Yeah and. 

00:11:39 Dan 

They really wanted to do something bold and we brought in three artists and three different groups to do these, and I can send you links to this as well, but really bold artwork on the walls and it became a made a bit of a stir both within the company and outside and. 

00:12:01 Dan 

We realized like how powerful the artwork could be in terms of motivating be starting discussions. 

00:12:09 Dan 

And changing brand image and all of those things. And really from there because CBR E is in the industry, then everybody who was coming in after that to see the artwork were also architects. So they were. So we started to get a lot of work from that so slowly but surely. 

00:12:30 Dan 

The our main source of revenue became office art work and I think we've probably done more murals in Tokyo than any other single company, and the connection to the artist Network that we have both through my coming up through art school here and also just all the people that we met. 

00:12:51 Dan 

Along the way. 

00:12:54 Dan 

Has really helped us build that network and I think build the trust because we're not. We're not, you know, we call ourselves an art agency, but we're not like an advertising agency. We're not one of these. I don't want to speak ill of advertising agencies, but I think sometimes people don't know how to speak to artists they don't know. 

00:13:14 Dan 

How to make sure that you know basically the the artist vision has to be? 

00:13:22 Dan 

Pure, it has to be upheld right for the end result to be good, so it's that balance between how do we make the client happy and how do we make the artists happy that we kind of struggle with all the time? But yeah, I was just using go ahead. Sorry I I was wondering how much input. 

00:13:42 Josh 

You allow, I guess, the the client to have like do they want to see a final rendering before it goes on the wall? I mean are they you know, I guess every case is probably different, but like you said dealing with artists and I mean it could be a lot of back and forth struggles. 

00:14:01 Dan 

Yeah, I mean absolutely. That's a that's a. 

00:14:05 Dan 

A very intuitive question, especially Japanese clients who a lot of times are afraid to let go, and they want to see everything ahead of time and not just Japanese clients, though everybody to a certain degree, and so it's this kind of dance between, well, we can show you. 

00:14:25 Dan 

Um, you know the the. 

00:14:29 Dan 

Rendering ahead of time, the proposal ahead of time, but you have to understand that it's going to be different when it goes on the walls, and that's a great thing, because otherwise you know we could just print wallpaper for you. It's we're building, you know, the the artists actually creating an original work of art on site. And that's going to come. You know, different inspirations are going to come from the space itself and. 

00:14:52 Dan 

You know the vibe and like you know you can make put something on a 2 dimensional piece of paper, but then it comes to life in 3D and so it's convincing people that to let go to a certain extent. And then it's also match ups. You know we have certain clients that we know. 

00:15:12 Dan 

Are not going to give us much leeway there, and so then we deal with artists who also work digitally, so they can give a better idea of what it's going to look like ahead of time. And we get approval and then for other for other clients that are like look, you guys are the pros we want to talk to you about color. We want to talk to you about themes, but otherwise we're going to let you go for it. 'cause. 

00:15:36 Dan 

We think that's the best way to get the best. Doesn't happen happen often, but it does happen sometimes. And yeah, kind of. You know, we've made all the mistakes we've had all the arguments, so we've gotten to a point where we know how to prep the clients for for what they can expect to manage their expectations. And we also know how to. 

00:15:57 Dan 

You know, talk to the artists about how, what at what point are do you feel like you're sacrificing your integrity? Like how much input are you willing to take, and some artists approach it from? Oh yeah, I'd love to hear what the client has to say, and I'd love to incorporate ideas so it is a case by case thing. 

00:16:16 Josh 

I just wanted to take a second to mention to you that. 

00:16:19 Josh 

If you're finding the show interesting and inspiring, please make sure to head over to the website where you can get free access to my weekly flow hacks for optimal human performance and happiness. Get high flow lifestyle boosts weekly in your inbox and get new strategies on how to access flow. 

00:16:42 Josh 

Be more creative and productive. Reach a peak performance and most of all, live a happier and healthy life. Now back to the show. 

00:16:52 Josh 


00:16:53 Josh 

Do you do for stress relief? 

00:16:56 Dan 

Uh huh. 

00:16:58 Dan 

Answer Really good question. I try to meditate. 

00:17:03 Dan 

Every day, if I can an I think having. 

00:17:08 Dan 

Having the high armor space in my life has been super key. Just going and looking at the ocean I find to be one of the most calming things in my life for sure now. 

00:17:18 Josh 

When you say you. 

00:17:19 Josh 

Split your time is that half a year there half a year here? Or is it back and forth? 

00:17:24 Dan 

No, I I I share a house in Hama with some friends and would basically spend as much time as I possibly could there, especially in the summer. But I'm also working in the city of course. 

00:17:39 Dan 

And I love Tokyo as well, so I'm back and forth. It could be like a three day, four day split or something like that, great. 

00:17:48 Josh 

Dan, with you being both a creative and an entrepreneur, do you have any interesting book recommendations for our flow fanatics out there? 

00:17:59 Dan 

There's a. 

00:17:59 Dan 

Book called the Tools. 

00:18:05 Dan 

And it was written by two psychoanalysts, I guess called Phil Stutz and Barry Mitchell's. 

00:18:17 Dan 

And you know, I, I've definitely read some of the business books that are like this is how you approach. This is how you should approach business. This is how you run a small business. Nuts and bolts kind of things, but I feel like you can get that information anywhere and the real hard work. 

00:18:36 Dan 

And you know, like being a leader, an in running a business, I think comes from the, you know the internal work like. 

00:18:44 Dan 

Combating anxiety and learning to get unstuck and perhaps control anger, and these are the things that this book really deals with in in a way that definitely draws upon the spiritual, you know, like sort of talking about. 

00:19:02 Dan 

You know, really going deep internally and and working through some of our things, but then actually? 

00:19:08 Dan 

Giving real tools like practices, things that you can put into practice to make changes, and I found that book to be just the right sort of combination of. 

00:19:23 Dan 

Practical and spiritual. OK, and I I highly recommend it. 

00:19:28 Josh 

Yeah, I haven't heard that one. I have to check that out it's. 

00:19:31 Dan 

Actually it was a New York Times bestseller, but when I found that out, I was quite surprised because at the time I had never heard of it either. 

00:19:38 Josh 

OK, what advice would you give to someone wanting to start their own small business? 

00:19:46 Dan 


00:19:48 Dan 

I think you have to. 

00:19:51 Dan 

When you have to decide if it's really what you want to do, I I think when you have your own business, there's literally no end to the work that you could be doing, so this is the day today that you have to do to get work done. And then there's you're working with other people. There's managing people on communication. 

00:20:11 Dan 

And then there's development and thinking ahead and accounting and everything else that goes along with it. So there are definitely easier ways to make a living. So first thing you should decide is like lifestyle is there. Is this something you really want to do? 

00:20:29 Dan 

And if your passion, if you're passionate about what you do, I think that you don't really have a choice because you wouldn't be happy anywhere else. An the other thing I would say once you decided that this is really what you want to do, and I think it kind of for a lot of entrepreneurs, it chooses you rather than you choosing it. 

00:20:50 Dan 

But for me personally, like my community has been the most valuable resource in what I do so. 

00:21:00 Dan 

You have to get out there. You have to build the the. 

00:21:05 Dan 

Relationships and you have to let people know what you're up to. And that's to me like the most important thing I've tried to become so many people have helped me along the way that I've tried to become more available as well to other people. Last year were so busy and people would say, can I ask you about what you're doing and need some advice and I would just be like I'm sorry I just can't and this year. 

00:21:29 Dan 

I'm really trying to get back a little bit in that way. If somebody is like you know, how do I get a visa? How do I start a company? How do I do these things? I'm really trying to be available for that because we all have to help each other and so many people. As I said, have helped me along the way. That yeah, go out and develop. 

00:21:50 Dan 

Develop an interesting community, get out there, get to events, get to talks and and let people know what you're up to. I think that's probably the most important thing. 

00:22:01 Josh 

Where do you think the inspiration or the creativity comes from to spark that? 

00:22:10 Josh 

Um, wanting to get your own hands dirty? 

00:22:14 Dan 

Um, honestly. This year it's just about having time. 

00:22:22 Dan 

You know, I it isn't really time. It's also mental space. I think last year last year was our biggest year ever and I was leading up a large project and it was. It took up all of my mind space. 

00:22:37 Dan 

So that if I did have a weekend free, I was drinking with friends or sitting in front of vision, watching, decompressing. Yeah, it was not like OK, I've got a day free. Now I'm going to go build something. 

00:22:51 Dan 

And this year it's been a struggle for all of us on several levels, I know. But it's also been forced pause that I definitely needed to recenter and to reevaluate personal goals and. 

00:23:12 Dan 

Potentially find a better work life balance. I hope I hope that stays with me when things pick up again, as I know that they will, but it was just a feeling that you know it was on my mind for a long time. This was something that I wanted to do and then this year it was finally like oh, I actually like. I could actually see myself doing it. I could visualize it. 

00:23:33 Dan 

And that's always key for me. If I can see it, I feel like I can create it. And when you can't see it and it just doesn't make sense intuitively it's very hard to create anything. And yeah, that's I think that's the main factor is just feeling like I can't hear. 




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