For me this is about two things: first, is just my inner cranky grammarian; “creative” is an adjective. Second is that calling someone a “creative” for me undercuts the potency of being an artist. I don’t think “artist” is slippery. It’s a noun, it’s a way of thinking of things. It’s a profession if you’re really lucky, and it’s one of the few ways you can make your life that’s not primarily about consumption and selling. I’d say teaching is another. Research is another. Maybe saving souls? They all intersect with the market but they aren’t necessarily beholden to it.
Calling someone a “Creative” for me says artists who make something out of nothing are just the same as graphic designers making a flyer for a new product, for instance. Both surely take skill and craft. But they are really different pursuits. I don’t mean to say that I think artists are more worthy than other people, just that I want my work to be acknowledged for what it is: pointless, interested in beauty and communion rather than consumption, ridiculous and worthy of consideration for it’s own sake. I do believe in the subversive nature of poetry, for instance, because we will never know it’s use value.
Someone asked me if ‘artist’ is not a similarly slippery term. “What is an artist?” “What is artistic?” And I don’t think those questions are really up to me to answer. You want to call yourself an artist? Go for it. I do, I even get paid for it (most of the time). You should, too, so should everyone as far as I’m concerned. At some point other people will judge you for it or judge your work, but that’s, luckily, most of the time, not up to me. And by “you” I mean the royal you. “Us,” “One”, Etc.
Here’s the real problem though: Who’s not creative? It takes way more creativity than I have to get through a day at a shitty job assembling things over and over again, or selling fast food to people, or fixing things, for instance. What do you have to make up to deal with the dehumanizing impact of contemporary work life? It takes creativity to raise a kid well. It takes creativity to see what Nabakov called “…everything with which god so generously surrounds human loneliness.”
By calling one set of people ‘creatives’ and by delineating creativity as a job rather than something that makes us human, the implication is that anyone else is not a ‘creative,’ ie, not creative. Like an account manager is not creative. Like a lawyer is not. A doctor, someone who digs wells. Hell, we are all making shit up all the time.
It creates a sort of hierarchy, that goes hand-in-hand with the thoroughly discredited1 creative class mythos. I’d like to return creativity to its proper role as a universal human trait. Maybe it will keep people – ‘creatives’ and non-creatives alike, from acting so incredibly stupid, Probably not, but at least we are all equally able and responsible.
1Even Richard Florida, whose Kool-Aid I drank in buckets, unfortunatelya, back in the 90’s, says he was wrong about the positive impact of creative class arguments to cities.
aTo be fair, we were all looking for some positive news about being artists back then, after the culture wars and the NEA’s defunding of fellowships. The creative class stuff seemed like a nice balm, a way to measure value, to say we’re not just looking for handouts. Which is already problematic. What the hell is wrong with a handout?