The following writing was rejected, in June 2014, from an internal essay competition held by the company I work for. The prompt was: is a well rounded education valuable? Discuss. The company I work for is a large conglomerate that owns brand consulting shops, media buying groups, and advertising agencies. The essay is based on a manifesto I wrote in 2011, which appeared on the artist Tom Moody’s blog, and based in-part on the views of middle class creative theorist Slash Lovering.
Awareness of everything:
a well-rounded education is creativity
By Erik Stinson
I want to propose a theory of commercial creativity against Bertrand Russell’s classic statement in favor of specialized knowledge and against liberal education. I’d like to show that a wide education, rather than being an auxiliary part of the creative business proposition, is itself the central act of creative commerce. This inclusion of a vast education into the commercial creative cycle is based on my experience that powerful, disruptive ideas and practices come out of interpreting diverse experiences – experiences that are often antithetical to mainstream business culture.
Creativity is defined as a demonstrated disposition, tendency, devotion, or gift in the area of new ideas, words, and art of all three dimensions.
Theory is an actionable set of values and definitions that enable someone to understand or reproduce something.
Creativity is capitalism-agnostic, despite being essential to business. Because of its close, sticky, tense relationship with human experience and communication, creativity has neither a wholesome, values-oriented character or totally a profit-driven motive.
1. The two most important things creativity must have are humor and surprise. These two qualities are related but separate. Unfortunately, tragic surprises exist as well as humorous ones. That’s storytelling. That’s life.
Where do humor and surprise live? In experiencing and then brilliantly articulating authentic human feelings of love, loss, anxiety, etc. A deep education puts the student in diverse settings with all types of people. This is the origin of good ideas and smart storytelling. It’s also the explanation for a lot of boring, drab, whitebread mass culture. Many people simply don’t experiences life so widely or deeply – they may well be better off for it.
2. To become creative (or more creative) there are very concrete steps that can be taken, but they are difficult and probably not worthwhile emotionally or monetarily. Beyond having intense life experiences that span cultures, a creative person would require extensive knowledge of a wide variety of cultures and forms including:
Writing and spoken language
Film and video
This knowledge is sometimes called an education but most educations do not include this. Creative people must know about everything and at the same time actively disassociate from everything in order to grasp wider contexts, to test of broad cultural meanings. Originality lives in the exceptions to the rules provided by an excellent education: the knowledge you can only have from deeply experiencing something from many angles, the joke you can tell because you understand both what is being lampooned, and who is listening. Creativity means being an outsider on the inside of cultural power and yet:
3. However despondent or revolutionary, creative people must fit in with a society. They need to participate in order to observe and reproduce desirable elements. They can’t speak authentically to people or cultures they don’t understand. They can’t participate in cultural processes from a position of isolation.
4. Creative people must appear different in some what they identifies them as creative. This may include anything from clothing to language to place of residence. If nobody is able to identify creativity superficially, they will be unable to interact with the less superficial parts of creativity. Theatricality and story framing elevate information and order narratives. The most important parts of creativity are not original ideas or genius productions but knowledge and effective communication: the contextual presentation of that knowledge.
5. Creative people are aware that creativity is inherent in all people and that any given or produced concentration of creativity within themselves is a privilege, a curse, a burden, and not a carte blanche.
6. Creative people know that good ideas alone do not make wealth. Suffering, labor and existing wealth make wealth.
7. When corporations or governments pay creative people, they do so with the understanding that anything the creative person highlights is morally acceptable in wide political fields and fit for mass reproduction on an global scale. Creatives are responsible for confirming and reproducing social values. They turn experiences into mass narratives with explicit and implicit meanings.
8. Without recognition from social and corporate hierarchies, a creative person is only an artist. Works without recognition (as in hobbies and marginal or outsider art) have nothing to do with creativity in the commercial sense. The ability to effect the tonality of industries turns a practitioner of art into creative a professional. Whether a creative person does fine art or commercial web production, creativity is the dance of recognition that surrounds the production, demonstrating its power and importance. Creativity is not inherently artistic, aesthetic, or dramatic in a classical sense. Rather, it is a position of power that emerges at the intersection of education, politics, and corporate practice.
Deep cultural knowledge makes brand-oriented businesses possible. Ongoing awareness of everything and mediation of position in the total society can reproduce creativity. Having seen it all, responsibility exists on the part of creative people to determine the moral acceptability of everything they produce and promote under the circumstances of early 21st century global capitalism. Creative success and capitalist success uneasily partnered. Creative people are the link between mass-appeal intangible articulations (vast cultural currents, political nuance, family values) and wealthy, inhuman industrial structures. Creative people are actually comfortable with this responsibility because without the experience of (and dialog with) wider culture, their work would be irrelevant.
As in all human affairs, there will be sell-outs and betrayals. Certain brand stories will be told wrong – or right, for the wrong reasons. Expensive work will fall flat on its face as the uneducated “creatives” continue to nest in the plastic aura of Authenticated Experience™, the fashionable codes for cool, the popular mantles of empty personal-branding.
However, creativity – the elaborate system of contextual authenticity – is self-policing. Like a politician of art and commerce, a creative person’s power comes from her broad cultural constituency, developed over time and experience. Nothing blind and toneless will stand the test of mass approval for any length of time. Broad education is the way the creative person must interact with the world, the way they begin to produce compelling work. Technology can’t come between creative individuals and the immense, intricate culture they serve. A narrow, programmatic education based on industrial needs will not substitute for the multitude of experiences that must coincide with creativity.