The Cultural and Creative Industries

In the twentieth century, we can see the artistic system evolve into something that now is known as the ‘cultural and creative industries.’ We remark upon this shift in our long-term project called Creative Space, which aims to understand the problematic aspects of the current model of culture and creative industry, and investigate alternative models, practices, and theoretical presuppositions.

In the last century, as prophesized by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, the rise of the cultural industry has become a dominant mode of capitalistic production.1 Yet what Adorno and Horkheimer criticized as the commodification of art, appears to be obsolete. Firstly, art is extending into the realm of design, technology and everyday objects, and we can say that art is becoming something that adds value to a commodity, which Diedrich Diederichsen calls ‘Mehrwert’.2 If we go a bit further, we can follow Peter Sloterdijk where there is the reconnection between functionalism and perception; art as the ‘Mehrwert’ brings functional objects back to aesthetic experience. Secondly, design and technology are becoming art. Especially when considering the current modes of production on the Internet. As Boris Groys points out, those are repeating the post-Duchampian economy—an art practice which connects the artists to commodities and industrial objects. Culture industry becomes creative industry.3

Speculative Capitalism

On the other hand, we can see the continued growth in the traditional art market, where art is becoming more and more speculative. By speculative, we are referring to the current capitalist economy that is characterized by its gambling-like psychic experience and market manipulation. After the financial crisis, buying a painting by Picasso is probably a better way to invest than stocks and estates. But the speculation we are referring to is not limited to artworks as mere commodity, but is only possible within the artistic system, which includes the fame and reputation of the artist, the artists’ relationship to the galleries, dealers and auction houses, and the critics that influence trends in taste and lifestyle in mass culture, etc. For example, the speculative nature of the works by Damien Hirst is no doubt in debt to all these factors. When the investment banks were in their heyday, as artist and filmmaker Melanie Gilligan noted, the hedge fund managers became a growing force of the art buyer.4 Yet the inti- macy between art and speculative capitalism doesn’t end here, indeed it is not difficult for us to find the similarity between hedge funds and the art industry, as it is commonly known that hedge funds plays a game known as “short selling”. Investment in art is not limited to buying artwork, but also in opening galleries and funding artists, in order to create “short selling” of another kind.

Crisis of Creativity

Through firstly, the immanence of art in the capitalistic production, and secondly, the speculative nature of art as an investment portfolio, we want to situate the artistic system within global capitalism. We want to suggest that the financial crisis also exposes the limit of the current artistic system. We want to propose a relation between the crisis of the artistic system and the global financial crisis through our observation of current culture industry, and through some of the facts and figures from the United Kingdom. We want to characterize the current crisis in the artistic system as a crisis of creativity. This crisis relies on a specific way of understanding creativity, which renders it instrumental. Based on this understanding, we also witness the emergence of different forms of the organization of creativity that appear problematic. We propose to understand this crisis in three perspectives:

  1. The limitation of creativity

  2. The proletarianization of artists

  3. The organization of amateur production

We want to raise some of these questions towards the re-imagination of a new system.

The UK “Creative Economy”

1. After the UK’s effort to bring forth the discourse of culture industry through its Creative Industries Task Force in 1998, culture has not only become the driving force of economy, but has itself become the object of economy. This process of putting culture as an object for economy in the past 10 years, as now no one can deny, is gaining its central position in the global economy. The cultural economy is no doubt the most vibrant industry in parallel with the financial industry. Even though they are not in parallel, they do meet. The financial crisis exposes the narrow definition of creativity and their peculiar intimacy. From the very beginning, the UK culture industry understands creativity as central to “individual lives,” “society” and “economic future.” Yet in this great vision of creativity, which has its affinity to life rather than wealth6, is nevertheless a fairytale. The truth is that creativity, which is intrinsic to life, is detached from its soil, and has become the object of economy. If we follow the definition given by the UN report on the creative economy, ‘Creativity in this context refers to the formulation of new ideas and to the application of these ideas to produce original works of art and cultural products, functional creations, scientific inventions and technological innovations.’7 Creativity here is understood as new ideas and externalized ends. The question is: Where are these new ideas from and where are they going?

To locate creativity, we have to briefly look at the structure of the UK creative economy. It has been formulated into three areas that are not clearly discussed or defined, including the non-profit sector, which are the publicly funded organizations supported by Arts Council and grant-giving foundations, the creative industries i.e. design, music, fashion, film, theatre and media companies, which are commercially driven and highly entrepreneurial, and the commercial art market, which includes the likes of Frieze Art Fair, collectors, and art dealers, and is driven by private investment and financial speculation. These three areas are often confused and blurred in a mixed model economy. As we are primarily interested in the non-profit arts sector, where we can see the possibility of creativity to thrive, we can also see how publicly funded organizations are expected to make two thirds of their income from other sources such as commercial or private sponsorship.8 This expectation is rarely met, and the 880 regularly funded organizations (RFOs) are pushed to be more entrepreneurial or to seek support from philanthropic investors. Artistic production becomes tied to a neoliberal economy, where the work of organizations and institutions begin to operate more as gift shops, cafés or lifestyle venues. However, large parts of the cultural economy remains that do not generate value via art stars, block-busters, and billboard hits. There is a mass of smaller organizations, independent initiatives that struggle for survival as they are forced to be extremely competitive for funding and recognition. This understanding of the creative economy as it is realized in government policy and their reaction to the financial crisis, exposes the limitation of the system.

Despite such prospects placed on the creative economy, upon the financial crisis, the first of government cutbacks in the UK begin with arts and culture with cuts of £19m to the Arts Council9, amounting to about 25% for individual Regularly Funded Organizations (RFOs)10. This is followed by recent announcements of the abolishment of the UK Film Council by 2012, as well as the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.11 As it is understood in the UK, the artistic system in the non-profit sector becomes something highly administrative and bureaucratic. The actors (artists and arts administrators) within the artistic system become complacent, while funds largely go to bureaucratic processes rather than filtering down to the artists who get little remuneration for their work. Institutions are expected to fundraise for additional support, tying the welfare of institutions to unsustainable marketing and mixed economy models, which resulted in the largely discussed near bankruptcy of the ICA12 in London and a critique of the loss of their social role as a space for critique.

Creative Proletariats

2. Art is becoming speculative not only in that investors are investing on artworks, but also in the investment on artists, galleries, and museums. This speculative nature doesn’t appear in the increase in investment in arts, but rather in the proletarianization of artists or in other words, the devaluation of artists. Proletarianization, if we follow its interpretation by Bernard Stiegler and Étienne Balibar13, is not only about becoming poor, but it is also a transductive process in which one loses his/her ability to sustain his/her value, or it becomes a process of deskilling.

Paradoxically, while a career as an artist is becoming more and more precarious, new art colleges and art courses continue to grow as more people enter the workforce, deskilled and with few job prospects—save the ones they are expected to create. Creatives are pushed to be more entrepreneurial along with museums and institutions. Aspiring artists, designers and creatives arelured by the glamour and delusion of fame, fortune and lifestyle, which in reality are only available to those who are well connected, lucky or from indicatively wealthy backgrounds.

This personal and institutional investment of artists through accumulation of both social and cultural capitals is now understood as a necessary process of branding. Branding is an intervention of the market, and creates a great difference between its cost of production and its selling price. The highly appraised YBA (Young British Artists) demonstrates this branding process, with its connection to the media, investors, and sponsors.14

Overall, creatives are left to skip from project to project, enter a system of endless internships or low-paid freelance work. In order to regain his/her value, the artists have to start from being a free laborer to accumulate his/her social capital in order to gain investment on him/her in the future. Criticality in artistic practice and creativity loses its potency as it is appropriated by neoliberal government policy and capitalism for the branding of cities and reduced to tourism and entertainment. Business grows, while the “creative class” remains largely impoverished with unequal distribution of wealth. The system enforces a loss of skill; not a skill of making, but a skill of not being able to make, to sustain his/her own value.

In the UK, the number of graduates in creative disciplines far usurps the amount of jobs and opportunities available. Is this be- cause of the foreseeable demand of expertise, or a planned strategy to produce more proletariats? It must be noted that under the shadow of city branding, culture is subsumed to a fabricated schema where it has produced a class of highly educated creative poor. The number of artists, galleries and museums are part of this apparatus, but its quality, the mission of art as a critique of instrumental reason, disappears into the background. This apparatus becomes purely speculative, part of a portfolio, to entertain a populous, attract tourists, and invite estate investment.

Exploitation of Amateur Production

3. Creative production today is shifting in the digital turn with the Internet through what we can call web 2.0, social networking, user-generated content, where amateur culture is becoming a generator of creativity. Following Boris Groys, creative production is a repetition of artistic practice after Duchamp’s ready-made. Art production, prior to Conceptual Art, is very much body-based. We can interpret it in the sense that creativity originated from the life of the artist himself, and has been extended to the canvas through the artists’ gesture and painting. The post-Duchampian art practice short-circuits this bodily connection between creativity and the work of art through the mediation of ready-made industrial objects. Groys’ critique lies not in the fact that some of this UGC (user-generated content) is better than many works by artists, nor that the artists are using these materials as part of their work, but rather, in that there is a specific mode of organization of creativity which alienates creativity from the artists.

The importance of this proliferation of creativity doesn’t destroy the present artistic system, but rather it is absorbed in it. UGCs are incorporated as part of the work of artists, museums, galleries, and bring forth what shouldn’t be called interactivity, but rather “inter-creativity.” These inter-creative processes (and departments within institutions) have been widely employed by the manufacturing industry. For instance, as customers become “prosumers” or active consumers involved in “co-creation,” they contribute their collective creativity to the design products of t-shirts for or Nike’s custom Air Force 1 sneakers15 that are marketed and sold on behalf of the free labor of the fans.

This user-generated content is a huge reservoir of creativity for the economy. It is also an indispensable element, which the artistic system has to appropriate in order to connect to the broader economy. It is a step further in the process of proletarianization; not in the deskilling of the artists this time, but in the know-how of the amateur. Creativity is subsumed into algorithmic control following the will of the institutes.

New Configurations of the Artistic System

The three aspects that we explained above aim to demonstrate the crisis of creativity within the current artistic system as the limited understanding of creativity, the proletarianization of artists, and the organization of amateur production. This crisis begins at the externalization of creativity as the object of economy, then follows the merge of creativity with the neoliberal and speculative spirit of capitalistic production, and finally the incorporation of an external milieu (the internet-based production) into the artistic system to reinforce the instrumental nature of creativity.

We propose here a reconfiguration of the artistic system, and in order to do that, we must go back to the original question of creativity and alienation. Art, the least alienated field in history today, is transforming into a system that is no different from a factory. In our project on “Creative Space,” we are developing and researching concrete case studies specific to geographical areas and economical configurations. Nevertheless, we want to propose three general directions here. Firstly, we demand a new configuration, which does not favor the endless externalization of creativity as new objects and ideas, but one that favors the creation of a new economy that takes “life” as its first consideration. Secondly, we demand a new form of artistic practice that is not within the critique of the art itself, as we have seen in the post-Duchampian arts, but also its outer milieu—the artistic system as a whole. Arts cannot subsume to the normal understanding of production, arts have to be politically engaged in the industry. How can we resist the creative industry becoming merely a factory of creativity, and rather form a community which restores the alienation and externalization of creativity back to lives? Thirdly, we demand a positive algorithm juxtaposing the current industrial model. We need to build a community that sustains amateur production and artistic production, and that doesn’t belong to the entrepreneurs, or the computer scientists, or the geeks. Can we define a system based on values found in practices of artist-lead initiatives, social and pedagogical turns in contemporary art, open source and collaborative models of work? How can we begin to re-think a system for culture in an increasingly digitalized, user-generated and globalized economy? We also open these questions up to you.

This paper was presented at the European Congress on Aesthetics, ‘Societies in Crisis’ panel at the National Anthropology Museum in Madrid, November 2010.

  • 1. Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, Verso,1997.
  • 2. Diedrich Diederichsen, On (Surplus) Value in Art, Witte de With Publishers, 2008. The German word “Mehrwert” literally means more value, it was also translated as “add-value” 3 - Peter Sloterdijk, Terror from the air
  • 3. Boris Groys, Marx After Duchamp, of The Artist’s Two Bodies, e-flux, 2010, [online]
  • 4. 6 - Chris Smith, Creative Britain, 148
  • 6. Chris Smith, Creative Britain, 141, at the beginning of the chapter No Wealth But Life: the Importance of Creativity, Smith quoted from John Ruskin’s Unto This Las, “There is no wealth but life. Life, including all its powers of love, of joy and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings...”
  • 7. United Nation, Creative Economy Report, 2008
  • 8. Mentioned by William Wong in ‘Re-Imagining Culture’ a discussion event produced by DOXA in May 2010 at A Foundation in London.
  • 9. Arts Council England implements £19 million cuts to 2010/11 budget, Arts Council England website England-implements-19- million-cuts-to-2010-11-budget-412.aspx
  • 10. Simon Rogers, Arts Council cuts: the full list of all 880 organisations affected, The Guardian website, posted on 18 June 2010 datablog/2010/jun/18/arts-council-cuts-list-spreadsheet?plckFindCommentKey=Com mentKey:39930f38-7c81-45a8-b14c-6ae030e69eb4#data
  • 11. Catherine Shoard, Government to axe UK Film Council, The Guardian website, 26 July 2010
  • 12. JJ Charlesworth, Crisis at the ICA: Ekow Eshun’s Experiment in Deinstitutionali- sation, Metamute, 2010, [online] < ica_ekow_eshun_s_experiment_in_deinstitutionalisation>
  • 13. Etienne Balibar, The Philosophy of Marx,Verso 1995
  • 14. Scott Lash and Celia Lury, Global Cultural Industry: the Mediation of Things, Polity Press, 2007
  • 15. Fiona Graham, Crowdsourcing: Turning customers into creative directors, BBC website, 29 September 2010