Dissident Voice, the wonderful radical newsletter, has published my essay “The Privatization of Creativity: The Ruse of ‘Creative Capitalism‘” (here) which attempts to give a general conceptual overview of struggles in and around ideas of “creativity,” including the idea of “creative cities,” the “creative economy” and “creative capitalism.”
The problem with the new hype around creativity is that it presumes that the economic system we have, with all its gross injustices and horrifying effects (global warming, child poverty, unrewarding jobs, imperial warfare, the exploitation of the third world), is inevitable. It doesn’t really imagine that everyone will get to express their creativity and enjoy the life of the artist. In fact, the new hype over creativity actually (ironically) makes us less creative in how we think about social problems and solutions. It makes creativity an individualized thing, the “private property” of each isolated person.
What capitalism does, in effect, is fundamentally shift what we could call the “economy of creativity”: it drastically alters what sorts of creativity we think are valuable and it focuses humanity’s creative energies towards earning ever greater profit for a few. While this system has produced many fine things, it is destroying the planet and most people’s lives because it has no broad vision of a decent future. It is driven only by irrational and pathological competition for profit, not by any compassionate and collective social vision. Imagine what the world would be like if we focused our creativity and energy towards other ends?
What will be key for organizers and activists fighting within and against the hype of creative capitalism, whether they are fighting worker exploitation or neighbourhood gentrification, will be acknowledging that the promise of creativity, while hollow, truly does move many people. It is precisely because our world offers so few substantive opportunities for creative expressions and efficacy that the rhetoric of creativity is so appealing. Creativity is valuable. Our task can be limited neither to pointing out that creativity is a carrot, nor showing that along with that carrot is the stick of brutal global economic terror. Nor can it be a flight into the most esoteric and self-reflexive forms of creative expression in a vain hope to avoid commodification. Instead, we need to focus on making it clear that real, deep creativity can never be achieved as an individual possession but is always a collective process, bound up with values of equality, social justice and community. In other words, the promise of creativity can only be fulfilled in a very different society than ours. Creativity must embrace its tradition, potential and promise as a key part of cultivating critical, revolutionary communities that resist capitalism, colonialism, gender oppression and racism and create fierce and sustainable alternatives within and against the status quo. Creativity is, in part, the way we refuse our current “reality” and, in a very small and often abstract way, propose or model something different. When creativity joins, supports and critiques social movements for radical change, or when it helps imagine and build the post-capitalist society of the future in the present, it is at its very best.