are we all bored with describing people as creatives yet?
We're all guilty of saying it, but what does it actually mean when we refer to someone as 'a creative'? As the word enters our daily conversations, we contemplate its negative effects on perceptions towards creative careers.
There are few terms in the contemporary lexicon that grate as much as "creative", or its extension "creative industries". Don't get me wrong, I'm not some sort of dullard that gets off on filling in Excel spreadsheets, because it's not creativity itself that bothers me, it's the "young creatives" working in the "creative industries" that make me wince.
What is a "creative" anyway? It sounds a lot like an artist, but it's not. Does that mean artists aren't creative? No, because they are. So what separates the arts from the creative industries? Their respective creative value, mainly.
The modern use of the word "creative" has very little to do with actual creativity; it's new media doublespeak used to conflate marketing with genuine artistic pursuits, and is representative of an ever-increasing corporatisation of culture, which is precisely why the term is so loathsome.
I can't tell you when and how, exactly, it became a byword for graphic designers and Snapchat strategists, but my theory is that the advertising industry is to blame. In ad agencies, the "creative" department comprises of "creative" teams of copywriters and artistic directors. They're the ones tasked with conjuring up the slogans and visuals for all those campaigns that most people go to such great lengths to avoid. I spent a brief, horribly unfulling period as a creative in adland, and in my experience, creatives tend to be people with genuine artistic ambitions but lack either the talent, stomach, vision, or the inherited wealth to realise them.
What is a young creative? Why does someone feel the need to call themselves a "creative" rather than a video artist or a playwright or whatever?
Many of them are would-be illustrators, novelists, screenwriters or photographers too daunted by the financial and professional insecurity that comes with pursuing a career in the arts, or, more broadly, the so-called creative professions (markedly different to the creative "industries") so they spend their careers trying to forge an emotional connection between consumers and whichever brand of washing powder happens to pay their wages. They're materially comfortable but creatively unfulfilled, which breeds a certain internal dissonance that permeates their entire industry.
Marketers want the financial reward of their day jobs, but they also yearn for the social capital and creative validation that comes with being an artist. Yet there is nothing glamorous, inspiring, or admirable about marketing toilet paper to the masses. It is fundamentally a banal work that has no cultural worth and most would consider it an irritant. Resultantly, the ad industry invests a lot of effort into justifying the creative value of its output to both itself and the wider public. It bestows upon itself titles like "creative" and pats itself on the back once a year at the "Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity", which, to the untrained eye, might appear to be affiliated to the eponymous film festival - one of those calculated smoke-and-mirror tricks that the ad industry does so well. In advertising, "creativity" is a front that serves to give hollow marketing a superficially artistic sheen, mimicking the creative professions in outward appearance alone.
This interpretation has seeped beyond the advertising industry and into the wider new media sphere (we're as guilty as anyone of course, of using it as shorthand for any and everyone), projecting it into public discourse through an obsession with "young creatives".
Again, what is a young creative? Why does someone feel the need to call themselves a "creative" rather than a video artist or a playwright or whatever? Because it sounds so sexy and mysterious, and because that mystique doubles up as a form of disguise. People have a clear mental image of what it is that an artist is and an artist does. When someone claims to be an author or a director, that's a label that can be scrutinised and quantified with questions like "so have you done anything that I might have read/seen/heard of?". They are nouns that are attached to processes. "Creative" is an adjective. It may imply that someone creates, that they're a creator, but create what? Create how? It removes the labour from the artistic process, mystifying creativity as this esoteric force that manifests itself like magic rather than an arduous cycle of repeated refinement.
There's a vagueness to it that feels evasive, one that is arguably used to conceal the fact that most of these "creatives" are really just Instagram #influencers rather than people with something worthwhile to contribute to the cultural discourse.
Not only does this perpetuate the ludicrous notion that a fulfilling, creative career isn't real work, which, in turn, reinforces a status quo of meagre pay, but it also attracts mediocre people who clutter culture with their substandard ideas, content to wear "creative" like a glamorous title rather than forge something of real value. There's a vagueness to it that feels evasive, one that is arguably used to conceal the fact that most of these "creatives" are really just Instagram #influencers rather than people with something worthwhile to contribute to the cultural discourse; con men and women who take photos of their fashionable mates at parties and try palm it off as art. Because fundamentally, these so-called creatives aren't really creative, they're just slick and stylish and without substance. This year's Berlin Biennale serves as an epitome of the creative paradigm: curated by New York fashion collective DIS, it has been described as "an ultra-slick, ultra-sarcastic biennial, replete with ads, avatars, custom security guard uniforms, a manic social media presence disposed to hashtags like #BiennaleGlam", and one with less sensitivity than a spambot."
Worse still than the young creative are the "full service creative consultancies", branded content producers and every other form of glorified marketer that plies their trade in the "creative industries". As I've outlined above, the modern manifestation of "creative" is a commercial term masquerading as an artistic one. What is it exactly that "creative agency" does that's so creative? A quick Google search leads me to Stinkdigital, who conceptualised a virtual reality "odyssey" for Hennessy X.O. that "illustrates the unique taste and feel of Hennessy X.O."; Big Spaceship drafted up a series of city guides for Fiji water that aren't "marketing, but rather a monthly magazine presenting curated portraits of Fiji's favourite destinations"; No Commission is a contemporary art fair funded by Bacardi that was no doubt cooked up by some creative consultant somewhere to help the brand position itself as the rum of choice for the cultured drinker. So marketing, basically. The only thing that differentiates a creative agency from a Mad Men-style ad firm is that their expertise lies in social media campaigns rather than billboards.
Now, I'm not trying to argue that advertising is completely devoid of creative thought or that creativity is solely the preserve of the arts. Of course not, and some of the legendary campaigns cooked up by the likes of BBH or George Lois are testament to that. Great advertising requires an incredible amount of ingenuity and diagonal thinking, and it's a very rare talent to be able to transform the mundane components of a client's brief into a memorable campaign. But the fact is that not all creativity is of equal creative value, and even the greatest of advertising amounts to little more than great advertising or a case study in how to do advertising well. The ad industry's hijacking of such an artistically-loaded term is a clear attempt to elevate its own work from the dregs of low culture -if only superficially- by blurring the de-marketised zone that divides advertising from sincerely creative disciplines, those that serve human civilisation rather than Unilever's profit margins. The two are not equatable and we shouldn't allow marketers to pretend otherwise.
Text Aleks Eror
- creative industries