What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos


Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers


Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge


Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Entrepreneur

May 4, 2011, 9:23 PM

Have you noticed that something in the digital zeitgeist has changed the way we think about creativity and commerce? Artists are no longer just “artists” - they are now entrepreneurs, marketing gurus and branding experts, all rolled up into one. You can thank creative “crowdfunding” sites like Kickstarter and RocketHub for that. They have helped to change the dynamic of how and why creative projects are funded. Instead of relying on a single patron or supporter, creative types are now able to mobilize groups of micro-patrons to provide funding for their projects. In many ways, an artistic project is now a lot like a start-up company.

To celebrate its two-year birthday last week, Kickstarter released figures about the level of support that creative projects on its site have attracted. In two years, over 600,000 people have ponied up over $50 million in financing for over 20,000 creative projects. That's a tidy little sum of capital, even for a venture capitalist. What’s impressive is that financing is being raised literally $10 at a time from fans and supporters. That's the point of micro-patronage: you can buy in to a project like a film or book at whatever level makes sense for you. As a result, Kickstarter is now growing at a rate of nearly 2,000 new projects a month.

By making it easier for the average person to play angel investor, some very unique projects are getting funded – projects that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Last summer, Kickstarter hosted the first-ever Kickstarter Film Festival in Brooklyn to showcase some of the innovative films that were made with the help of these crowdsourced micro-donations. Just to give you an idea: one film (A Short Lecture of a Different Time) involved Nintendo graphics, Game Boy music, a spoken word performance, a discussion of theoretical physics and shadow puppetry. Talk about the Long Tail of creativity!

Think back to the scene in "The Social Network," where Napster founder Sean Parker (played by Justin Timberlake) is waking up from a little one-night-stand with a lovely Stanford undergrad. He claims to be a "serial entrepreneur," and she counters that he's probably unemployed ("Ok, so what's your latest preneur?"). And so it goes. An article by Susan Reid on the American Express OPEN Forum site for small business owners captured this zeitgeist perfectly: What exactly is the difference between a freelancer, a consultant and an entrepreneur?

What's interesting is that the history of the prototypical “starving artist” traces out a nice little historical narrative from about the time of the Renaissance to modern times. During the Renaissance, you basically rented out your artistic ability to the patrons with the deepest pockets, and hoped for a commission from an Italian nobleman. Before the days of Internet crowdfunding, it was the role of government grant-making agencies, philanthropic non-profits and wealthy corporate philanthropists to provide the bulk of financing for artistic projects. (Unless your name happens to be Morgan Spurlock)

With a hat tip to Bourdieu, the Internet has blurred the line between the consumption of culture and the production of culture. Sites like Kickstarter make it possible for an artist to become a hustling entrepreneur. To get a creative project funded requires a mix of marketing savvy, digital social networking prowess, and, yes, the ability to summarize your project with a pithy, viral-like video. In short, everything a successful digital entrepreneur needs these days to hustle up some cash from deep-pocketed venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road.

And, for now, this unique convergence of creativity and commerce appears to be a good thing. When the artist is also an entrepreneur, it leads to a flowering and diversification of creativity in wonderful new ways. If James Joyce were writing today, he might even have been tempted to title his classic work A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Entrepreneur.


A Portrait of the Artist as...

Newsletter: Share: