Step Up Create

November 23, 2021
E12 – Creative Book Club “Against Creativity” by Ali Mould
The Step Up Create Podcast
The Step Up Create Podcast
E12 - Creative Book Club "Against Creativity" by Ali Mould

Show Notes

This month our Creative Book Club reads “Against Creativity” by Ali Mould. This was a book we choose because it seemed to have such a different approach to most creativity books, and it did not disappoint. Whether or not you agree with the key message of the book, you will find ideas that will make you question your own role in the so-called Creative Class.  

Certainly not a light read, Against Creativity, highlights the role of the creative class in the maintenance of the Neo Liberal status quo. Looking at work, people, politics, technology and cities, the author takes us through the many ways in which he believes the idea of creativity has been coopted by capitalism to maximize profit and minimize collective power.

If you’d like to join our free creative book club where we discuss books like this one, go over to our website and sign up to the book club.

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Original music written and performed by Jonathan D. Mellor licensed to Step Up Create S.L.

So welcome back and I just wanted to say thank you for listening to the podcast last week. You listeners have proven to me that once and for all my brother Toby is far more popular than me because that is the most listened to episodes so far. But anyway, thanks for listening and let’s hope that you enjoyed this week’s show as well. 

Today is a creative book club edition. And this month we’ve been reading “Against Creativity” by Ollie Mould. Now I have to say that when I started this part of the podcast, I thought it would be a great way to push myself a little bit further to learn new ideas and force myself to think a little bit more about some of the books I was reading. And this book has been one of the ones that really has pushed me out of what my normal comfort zone is. Now it’s a book that is about creativity and that I chose basically because it seemed to be saying something completely different from everything else. If you look online about creativity, you’ll find that there’s so much written about how great creativity is how we all need creativity, blah, blah, blah. And yet this one stood out as something quite different. And I always find it interesting to have conversations with people who have a very different point of view from myself. And so I thought it would be interesting to read a book that on the surface seem to have a very different point of view. 

So this book is written by Ollie Mould. He is a lecturer in Human Geography at the Royal Holloway, which is part of the University of London. He previously wrote about urban Subversion and the creative city and he gains creativity was published in originally in 2018 and republished in 2020. So his guiding idea throughout the whole of this book is that modern and read read that to be near liberal capitalism has corrupted the idea of creativity. They’ve just taken the idea of creativity so that now being creative means exclusively to dream up new products and services to bring to market. So this is that corporate creativity that we know and love somehow. So only Mould refers a lot in the first part of the book to another book, which was written by Richard Florida in 2002, called “The Rise of the Creative Class”. 

And Richard Florida, who is a sociologist ended up influencing large swathes of urban policy across America and Europe, and maybe even further because basically what he was saying was that a new socio economic class was emerging that would transform the economy and this was the creative class. These were knowledge workers, people who were able to work from anywhere they wanted, but could skip in and out of a coffee shop. They could wear what they wanted. They were after much more autonomy rather than this kind of management bureaucracy and it was a move away from these office cubicles into one big creative space. And this would be filled with freelancers and contractors, and also those in traditional jobs who’d have to use their creative problem solving to find new solutions to age old problems. And this was used as a basis for a lot of the development of the economy that’s gone on since 2002. Mould highlights this by picking out some job applications and seeing where the word creativity is used, for example, in an application to be a nurse, you need to have be creative, you need to be creative, to be a secretary, be creative, to work in a factory. All of this fits with a message which came from Florida, which was that we are all creatives now. And what Mould says is that this idea of creative creativity is not really creative at all, but is there to cement the status quo.

The idea here is that by coopting, by taking on board this idea of creativity, and making it or putting it into the service of a capitalist regime it becomes something which we’ll want to do, and we think is possibly creating some kind of change, but it’s really maintaining the status quo. Now this for me was a really interesting idea because firstly, I haven’t really thought about it very much. And yes, I’m I’m usually attracted by this creative economy. I love it. You know, this is how I lived my jobs have always more or less been like this with more or less structure. And yet, here’s someone saying that instead of me being somehow part of some kind of resistance or using creativity for good, I’m actually maintaining the status quo, and not a fun status quo either not a great status quo, the status quo that he’s painting is a system that causes homelessness, that causes all sorts of other related in justices precariousness, racism, pushing forward fascism, massive inequality, global health crisis. It’s all the same system in which we have to be creative in order to progress. 

So Mould organises the book into five chapters, plus the introduction and conclusion and they look at work people, politics, technology, and the city as different ways of employing creativity in order to maintain the status quo of capitalism or neoliberalism. In terms of work he suggests that even in the dullest of jobs, we now are required to be creative and entrepreneurial, which means basically finding new ways to survive in hostile difficult environments, from which all solidarity has been sucked out. He talks continuously about the rhetoric of creative work. He notes that the rhetoric of creative work is merely a ruse that allows work like practices to invade our leisure, social and non economic lives. Everyone is creative, but those who have made it those with privilege have the luxury of profiting from creativity. But what they are creating is simply more ways to maintain that division. 

So he talks about rather than releasing the inner entrepreneur creative work really should be about releasing the inner revolutionary, but doesn’t really give us many ideas on how to do that. When he looks at people in the next chapter, one of the ideas that really sticks in my mind is the idea of individuality. He says that under near liberal versions of creativity, if you want to make a creative change in your My, a the world, the power to do so comes from within, rather than through connecting with others. And I found this really interesting idea because a lot of what I do is about helping people to connect with themselves and understand where they’re coming from, take that on their individual responsibility, understand their role that they’re playing. So it really is emphasising the individual. This is in terms of coaching in terms of therapy. It’s a lot about looking at yourself and not necessarily looking at yourself as part of the system. Obviously, there are other types of coaching that also do that have to do with a more systemic approach. But really, a lot of it is to do with this individual approach. What can you do? How can you change this idea? of believing that the individual is capable and creative and whole is interesting because I do believe that and I do think that’s important and that we do have the opportunity to change within us. And yet also there’s an important part that has to do with connecting with society, and thinking what our role and responsibility is in society as well. 

So I think that a lot of what we’re doing in coaching and therapy and all of these kinds of practices, which of course would fit into creative class economy is about making the individual feel more empowered and in making the individual feel more empowered. The question is, whether we are disempowering the collective and that’s something that he comes back to quite a few times throughout the book, and I find it quite an interesting idea. He says, It’s makes it difficult to mobilise a collective force that could subvert any kind of system that we want to go against. He, of course, is talking about capitalism, but even if you don’t want to completely overthrow capitalism, it’s an interesting idea that by separating people down into very individual parts, and not making it easy to group together, you don’t have these groups. And so therefore, you don’t have this activity that you might have had previously. That really made me think and I think throughout this book, there are things that make me think more than things that gives me an answer on what to do about them. So really, the question for me that keeps coming up is how exactly am I maintaining this status quo and how could I slightly change what I do to maybe lift that veil a little bit? Again, I don’t necessarily want to completely overthrow capitalism, but I think there are definitely things that we could do to make our world more social, more supportive, more open, and more just with less privilege. But how do we do that? 

Obviously, there are quite a few places where we could start, but according to the book, one of them is by not individualising people so much in terms of the capitalist creative rhetoric, what comes across is he says that working together is only worth it if the benefits to those involved are more than if they were to perform on their own this is an interesting idea. And it’s, again, it’s something that we talk about in design thinking we talk about the need for a diverse team, not because it necessarily allows us to be more inclusive, but actually because it helps us to come to a better solution. So that’s exactly what he’s saying here. This idea of the creative class is something that if you look at it in detail shows up as being much much easier if you’re male, white, middle class and live in the West. And also, as Oli mould mentions in the book are able bodied. 

So he talks a little bit in this chapter about disability he likes the idea of changing disability for disability different abilities, and says that real creativity would come not from adapting workspaces to allow differently abled people to be able to take part in the same work, but actually involving their different abilities. In order to come up with different more surprising kind of solutions or ways of doing things. At least that’s how I understood it. We tend to do what he calls normalising the body which means that we prepare it to be able to undertake creative labour efficiently without needing to augment the workspace. We’re basically making employable bodies, and that completely ignores the creativity of disability. So an interesting topic that we could go into a lot more detail on. In fact, I’d definitely be interested in speaking to some people with different abilities if you have different abilities. And would like to come on the podcast, please let me know. So we’d love to hear about your type of creativity that comes from that in his next chapter. He talks about politics, and he calls it politics dash or steer creativity. But before he gets on to austerity, he started talking about how politics has changed or has moved from something that actually did have in depth conversations towards more of a reality TV situation. 

So Mould starts his chapter on politics talking about hearsay, which were the UK band put together in 2001, one of the first reality TV shows where basically people had to audition in order to get a part and then the producers put them all together, and he highlights that they were not artists who had spent years honing their skills or working up through club scenes or anything else. They literally made it in six weeks. And that was something that changed the scene of television somewhat, I mean, not necessarily that band and their number one singles but essentially TV started to move towards this really exciting reality TV, and it was also very cheap to produce. So it basically has a story, which is about uncovering hidden creativity, rags to riches, and it’s talking about this belief that anyone can make it and at the same time, it’s completely mediatized and spectacular arised. And this idea of the emancipation of the self, so extremely capitalist ideals being put forward through mainstream television, and something that we all got sucked into. It’s something that we all most people I say, most people were extremely interested in this in the beginning, I remember watching pop stars, and I know people watching over the other side of the Atlantic American Idol and things like this, and they’re still really popular today. 

And essentially, when you think about it, it is just storytelling around something that is extremely staged and has very little to do with creativity. What mould says about this is that stage democracy and an underdog story of the ordinary citizen becoming a superstar set within a melodrama of pantomime villains, fairy godmothers in public scrutiny. That’s what reality TV is. The stage of democracy is this idea of being able to vote. So it’s this involvement of the audience. Of course, that’s not really democratic. And of course, it’s not to do with really the skill of the people but it’s involving the audience. And so therefore, we have a feel that it’s democratic. And what he says is that politicians and their teams take advantage of this. And this led to a radical reframe of how political power was wielded. So Trump is the best example of this. Let’s say he was already experienced in reality TV and so when he started running for the presidential elections, he was able to harness all of that skill of creating sound bites to make slogans or whatever else they without real connection to the political realities mould here. Says that US presidential debates have taken on a form of creative industrial production in which the construed reality is far more packable and profitable than real life. 

This for me, connects me totally to storytelling. Now. I teach storytelling so I’m sort of like Oh, I’m even propagating this really bad form of creativity, which is maintaining the status quo again, in another thing that I do. I try to include something about ethics and storytelling and making sure that you’re wielding that power for good and all of this, but I’m still teaching it I’m still teaching this idea that you can take a reality and you can kind of augment that reality or tell it in a way which engages people more which uses persuasion techniques, which are understood in neuroscience. They’re understood in psychology, we’re using that science that we’ve got in order to essentially persuade people to do something through stories. I’m not saying that I’m working with politicians, but it certainly also connects me to my years working in public relations and press relations. This idea of being able to simplify stories down into something which is interesting or captivates the imagination of the audience, rather than being the full story. I used to work a lot with professors who were giving quite a long winded version of what they were trying to explain and my job essentially was to cut down what they were saying, to simplify it into editorials that could then be placed in the Financial Times or somewhere else. Part of what I was doing, if I wasn’t doing it properly, I’d like to think I was doing a good job of this but if you don’t do it properly, if you don’t do it carefully, is dumbing down those ideas and making it fit into a norm, which people are going to go ahead and like and engage with, which is something else only mould connects back to in the chapter he talks about technology, and this idea that you’re actually just including information or telling your stories or this reality in order to get more likes to get engagement not necessarily to create any kind of political movement or change. 

Another interesting thing that he talks about is the involvement of actual TV dramas, like in the thick of it or House of Cards, and how they have seemingly played out these completely absurd situations. But then those absurd situations have come true in real life. And it kind of makes those programmes complicit mould says in this change in politics, so things that we thought were impossible became possible, in part, because television shows pave the way of that being a possible reality. I think that’s an interesting idea. And it could certainly be something we could talk about another time. To what extent do these massively popular Netflix shows numb down reality? And we could, we could talk about squid game here and things like that. They make it seem like it’s something that’s acceptable and therefore in real life. If something like that does happen, it becomes more acceptable to us. What more talks about here is that celebrities and politics seem to have collided into this single realm of political creative consumption, where government leaders can masquerade as celebrities and celebrities are masquerading and entering into political discourse. 

And that means that there are plenty of opportunities to maintain the status quo in that also, if you voice something which is outside of the norm, trolls are waiting for you to slash that down and often often vitriolic prose on your Instagram or your Twitter or whatever else. So there’s maintenance of the status quo through the social networks. What mould says is that to be visible is to engage in the capitalist mode of creativity and entrepreneurialism. It is a process of branding the self cultivating instantaneous appeal, and remaining flexible at all times. Again, this connects to something else that I do, which is all about self branding, the curation of the self as mould calls it. So interesting that once again, I haven’t really thought that the idea of self branding connects with this individualistic idea. This no longer being part of the collective, just things like on your LinkedIn profile. The advice that I would give and everybody else would give is that you don’t put the company that you work for in the title at the top. You’re saying what you are you individually not us connected to the collective that you work for, and there are reasons for that and it works but it’s still playing part of the system. And the question is, do we really want to play part of that system? I don’t know. 

I’ve spent a lot of time doing personal branding, getting more comfortable with it for myself and helping other people to do it as well, because it is part of the system and if you want to sell your services and of course this has formed parts of the capitalist regime because I need to sell my services in order to survive. So let’s say I want to sell my services but at the same time, I don’t want to everything to just be about Instagram influencers and things like that, but then you might think well, of course you don’t think that because you’re not an Instagram, influencer. And if you were then you would like it. And that may be true. I don’t know. You see, this is the problem with this book. It makes you think too much. So it’s making me think and question the stuff that I do and really think, wow, so what’s the answer to this? How can I do what I do or something similar to what I do without necessarily upholding this regime? And in fact, in the book, it’s not really talking just about capitalist regime. It’s talking about the Neo liberal regime which is all about not really supporting social structure and creating more inequality, which is something that I really disagree with. So how can I not do that, but still do some of the stuff I do. That’s one of the questions that’s raised by the book and not answered at the moment. 

The next thing that mould goes on to talk about is creativity and austerity. This is quite interesting. The way that he sets this out because he says that the financial crisis was essentially a product of this creative narrative basically caused by financial innovation. So this idea that we needed to be creative in whatever job we have, even if that’s in finance, and that with this financial innovation, this idea of subprime that people who would not normally be given such large mortgages were given large mortgages, knowing that they would not be able to pay them back. And that then those debt obligations were sold on to other people who were then able to do different things with them using them as a basis for some kind of bonds. And building up more and more financial innovation on top of it, to create what ended up being the backbone of the financial crisis in 2007 2008. He said all of that was created by this idea of creativity, their creative culture or whatever you like. And then on the back of that, which was caused by creativity came in the bailouts which were connected then to austerity, this idea that okay, we needed to bail out the banks so the banks could keep lending so that we would be able to be financially liquid that people would be able to continue doing their businesses. But then at the same time, the countries that bailed out the banks use the excuse of having bailed out the banks in order to put in place austerity measures and in some cases when they were bailed out by the European Central Bank, or whatever that was when those measures were put in place by that institution, like the IMF has done in many other countries. 

And that actually connects me just now thinking about the IMF to what this book reminds me of is reading Naomi Klein books. So if you’ve ever read a book by Naomi Klein, and I’m thinking particularly of no logo, and I can’t remember the other one, but I’m thinking particularly of these kind of earlier books of hers, because I haven’t read this changes everything although probably should. I remember reading Naomi Klein books and thinking oh my god, this is like taking a pill in the matrix and seeing something else that I didn’t realise was there. It’s really interesting to sort of take away the veil for a little bit and think, wow, if this is true, what else is true? What else is true? And you get to this system where you think I’m part of the system, how can I stop being part of the system or how can I be a more useful part of the system, which I’m guessing is what the books therefore and what the whole reason is? Anyway, I got distracted from the financial crisis. So what we’re talking about was austerity and austerity measures, this idea that they were put brought in to balance the national books and they’ve actually cause structural changes. So austerity measures are things like cutting funding, particularly to health care, to cultural bases, such as libraries also to other things like the police general cutting of public funds. 

What he says is that rhetoric of creativity is just below the surfaces. So state goods and services began to be sold off to private contractors under the assumption that private companies are more innovative and efficient as they operate in the market. So again, we go back to this idea of the creative class of being able to do more with less, which is not necessarily true. The public sector is told to do more with less and to be creative. And that also then Prime’s them for this appropriation because their ability to act this is what mald says that their ability to act as engines of non capitalist knowledge and social practices. has been eroded, and in some cases destroyed, only to see them resurrected as another agent of capitalist competitive and entrepreneurial versions of creativity. He’s thinking here, particularly of libraries, there are some examples of libraries that have had basically all of their funding cut and they needed to then start doing evening classes and basically functioning like companies in order to preserve that space in order to continue functioning. What he’s saying is that also that using up these collective energies and resources in doing what the state should be doing is thereby making any kind of resistance difficult. 

He talks about austerity as an ideological project, one that is fundamentally altering the role of state of moving from a position of providing welfare, public service and regulation, to enabling the creative appropriation by capitalism. Of all vestiges of social life from which profit can be squeezed. He concludes the chapter on creative political creativity by challenging creativity as a political. This is something that that I’ve always felt that creativity isn’t really a political thing. It’s a skill or it’s a knowledge set or whatever. But it isn’t political. You could use creativity on both sides of the fence at different places. And yet, what he says is, yes, it is political because it is maintaining this idea of the individual, the competition against others, and therefore not a more collective approach. And so to really be careful about thinking about creativity as political or non political, he says that creativity is always political. So in the next chapter, he’s talking about technology, subtitled algorithmic creativity. And mould says that we’re now living in an Alocracy. A world visibly nudged by uncontrollable algorithms that tend to erode any sense of collective sociality, and create personal filter bubbles. He goes back through the history of where this came from talking about the difference between the approach in Silicon Valley and the East Coast, and how some of the mergers and acquisitions between different companies created this all powerful Silicon Valley approach suggests that the clarity and orderliness of the code is thought of as a better world than the messiness of human interactions and says it was a coming of age of a corporate culture that mirrored the autonomous complexity of computer code that’s talking about Silicon Valley driven mentality. 

This makes me think about when we’re talking about our last book, which was messy by Tim Hartford, and he was talking about code and the inability for code to really cover human messiness. So here’s that idea coming back, but in a different context. When mould is talking about it here. He’s talking about this Silicon Valley driven mentality that is essentially seeped into our global system of economics through what he calls economic monopoly. Were thinking independently and the ability to be truly self interest, trusted, and intense competition between those individual individuals are fundamental prerequisites for a more progressive society, and that he says quoting Hyack The idea here is that if we are driven by code in a way the corporate culture in Silicon Valley began to be driven by code, but also the code itself is seeping into our everyday lives. I don’t know about you, but I wear an eye watch. I have the iPhone, I’m connected. I’m giving up creating all this data all the time. And then somehow led by this kind of code. On Facebook, we do things specifically, especially if we’re running a business there are specific ways of trying to generate more reactions or times of the day when you should pose and all of these different things that might help the algorithm we’re thinking about all what’s in the algorithm. We don’t know it’s a secret. All of that is driving our behaviour. Yeah, that’s coming from over the other side of the world. 

Essentially, there’s this idea of algorithmic creativity, the birth of artificial creativity, which comes up he talks briefly about 3d printing Rembrandt painting, actually not a real existing Rembrandt painting, but a new one that the computer came up with based on the different paintings that it’s seen and therefore create something that only very few people would be able to distinguish from an original but is a completely new Rembrandt painting. He talks a lot about algorithms filtering what we see saying that they erode any sense of collective solidarity and create personal filter bubbles. If we are all presented with subtly different answers, even if we type in the same questions, then this action slowly clips away at a sense of collectivised body of knowledge and it’s then replaced with a tailored atomized individualised view of the world and then accompanied by adverts. So we’ve all seen this that the way that the algorithms are working is that it’s giving us what it thinks we want. So essentially, what this is doing is confirming our political, ethical or moral biases already. What he’s saying here is that really having this specific information spoon fed to us by search engines negates these frustrating encounters with opposing counterfactual information. 

This makes me think of when I was at university, there was a guy called Justin and he used to come and visit us on our first floor corridor where we’d be talking about stuff with either red wine or coffee depending on the time of day. And Justin was extremely right wing and basically loved Margaret Thatcher and whenever he came down, he would come with some arguments and he come ready for an argument and cruising for an argument really, and it was just really fun to argue with him and to listen to his responses. I don’t think either of us, I mean, me and my friends or him thought at any time, we were really going to convince the other one of our point of view, but there were certainly things that we learn from each other, which we wouldn’t have learned from each other had it been through Facebook or something like that, which is automatically filtering some of those views. So there’s definitely something to be said for having proper interactions with people who really think differently. And that was one of the reasons why I decided to have a go at reviewing this book, because I thought it sounded quite different from the way that I would normally talk about creativity and certainly it’s been a huge learning experience of especially a question experience. And I’m guessing that’s what the author was looking for was to sort of get people within the creative industry to go hang on a minute. I didn’t want to be part of this. 

This wasn’t my idea. I wanted to be part of this cool, creative thing, but I didn’t realise that it was creating this underclass or maintaining this status quo of inequality and how might I get out of that? Anyway, off the topic again, the last thing he talks about in this section is the sharing economy. He talks about how Deliveroo Uber and the like have essentially managed to under the guise of creativity and reinventing the economy get away with not looking after their workers and invoicing paying an hourly wage. He gives an example of delivery which is particularly pertinent to me because delivery have just completely left Spain. And basically they’ve done so because of this new rider law spends been one of the first countries to bring in a law that protects the riders as an employee rather than a self employed contractor. And that’s force the companies to pay holiday pay and everything else that these people who are working for them should be paid. So you might think that this is stopping creativity, but in fact it is also trying to one point to the book, he talks about squelches. And squelches is a word, I think, coined by Florida, the guy who we mentioned right back at the beginning. For people who kind of make creativity more difficult. These are the ones that sort of force you into some kind of structure the example he gives is wearing a suit to a meeting. This regulation would definitely be thought of as a squelch a regulation but think deeper about it. It’s not fair for people to be forced into these kinds of contracts to work and not to have an hourly wage and to be essentially working full time for that company. It’s kind of getting around the regulation that exists for other people, which is what the taxi drivers were all complaining about when they protested against Uber. 

And this makes me think a lot about I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, it’s well worth watching. I think it was on HBO, he produced it, but it’s called “Years and years”, a drama that came out I think last year and goes into the future. And in that we see a guy who essentially loses his house not through his own fault just through a sort of financial issue, and is then thrown into the gig. economy and how he has to have several different jobs in order to make ends meet and sort of how tough that is. But it’s a dramatised version. And in fact, there are quite a few ideas from this book that are reflected in that TV series. So I’m not sure if someone who wrote the TV series has read the book. Or it’s just that the ideas are general ones that are agreed across those two platforms. Anyway, talking about the sharing economy. What mole says is that it drives a wedge between social capital and financial reward by encouraging us to view our socialised material networks as reservoirs for potential profits. Basically, the idea is why would we give something away if a small profit could be made from lending or selling our items, and even more so if that is easier than giving it away? coming towards the end of this chapter? 

The last thing he talks about is this idea of machine learning bias. And he cites Zenna to Feki. And that the bias is tends to be ignored, because it’s seen as computational and objective. And this is the idea of biases that are built into algorithms. And there’s an example here from I think the Chicago Police who put together an algorithm to find out who is the most likely to become a violent criminal. And essentially, what comes out is the same kind of biases that already exists. The people in that list are overwhelmingly black overwhelmingly male overwhelmingly young and overwhelmingly from disadvantaged parts of the city. So to finish that chapter, he says he actually gives us an idea of what being creative might be. He says that being creative is thinking of entirely new ways of organising society, ways that seek to collectivise rather than individualise good that’s quite useful, but doesn’t give me a really clear way of how to do it. It sort of just says to me that his version of creativity is about using creativity to bring down capitalism, rather than having a sort of wider interpretation of it. Anyway, fair enough. 

The the last chapter and this is really where you can see the author’s expertise is about the city and he calls it concrete creativity. He talks about the Guggenheim in Bilbao, and refers to it as patient zero, which I thought was quite funny. He talks about Creative Cities. This is a example of a flagship cultural project. This is where I find myself torn again because I start reading about all this sounds really nice or this is good, making cities more creative. And yet again, when you think a little bit deeper about what that means and what that means in terms of displacing local communities or invalidating their entire history and putting something else in place. It becomes something that is a part of inequality. And he’s talking here a lot about gentrification. One of the things that he focuses on here is the London Borough of culture idea, which was essentially making boroughs compete for funding that they would have otherwise already had, and calling it creativity. He says that it has implemented what is essentially an austerity programme with a thin veneer of Saturday night TV winner takes it all format. This is where different London boroughs had to enter different entries to a competition to receive. I don’t know how much money it was in arts funding, and he talks a lot about the Wynwood Miami example, which is an outdoor street Gallery, which is created by Golden properties. 

And the idea was to create a whole new neighbourhood geared towards creative people. And what he’s really saying here is that there’s this kind of myth that some areas of the city have gentrified through poor artists moving for cheap rent, and then that becoming cool and things going from there and it was sort of a more natural process. And what he’s saying is there’s nothing natural about it that artists are being used in order to create these spaces in the city. And this is called placemaking. Apparently, this is obviously not my area of expertise. So this idea of placemaking, which is where, for example, that in Wynwood, Miami, Goldman properties bought up a whole load of relatively cheap property in the area. And this was a big Puerto Rican area and and then essentially brought in artists, international street artists from all over the world and had them paint different walls and make it into this cool external art gallery. And I have to say that when I went on the website for this, I looked at and went, Oh, this looks really interesting, or I’d like to go which is exactly the response, that I’m kind of totally falling into what is expected and what they’re saying. 

The idea here is that business with a vested interest in profitable real estate are using and abusing the creativity script for the purposes of gentrification and placemaking is that there’s no place here so let’s make one now I have to say that I just literally stepped outside to get some lunch today in Barcelona and walked up the streets and hanging from the lamppost is an advert for the “Creative Factory” Fabra i Puig and some interesting exhibition and stuff like this, and I find myself going oh, that looks really interesting. And I’ve been there before, and it’s really nice over the other side of the city, either zone, which was a poor area before and is being gentrified. So it’s exactly the type of thing that they’re talking about. And these examples can be found in all cities all over the world. And this is using creativity and using the creative mantra in order to gentrify areas of the city, which then causes real city residents to have to move out and be displaced to other parts or even increases homelessness in the worst case scenario. 

What it’s also saying here is that a new creative city needs to have a veneer. of edginess to appeal to hipsters and maintain a radical progressive, perhaps even anti capitalistic aesthetic while mobilising these now stabilised aesthetics for the same traditional purpose, the wealth generation of the elite, which is an interesting idea as again goes back to this idea of absorption, this idea of saying, Okay, well, there’s this desire to be part of something, why don’t we take that something and make that something part of a service to this neoliberal status quo? And so therefore, people feel like they’re being part of something where they’re mobilising some new thing when actually it’s just continuing, same old same old but with a different style. 

I found this quite interesting because it’s again, it’s sort of lifting the veneer and thinking, Okay, well, what is real, what isn’t real? I don’t really know. It talks about art galleries and public art and hyper commodified Street Arts playing a part in this aesthetic consumption that is high. Culture, and overtly white. And it’s aware of inequality within the urban space but performs as if this is part of the consumption cycle, which is pretty much exactly what I was saying that we can be aware of it we can understand it, and yet still not do anything because it’s seems to be too difficult to break. With that. The last thing he talks about, and this is a continuation is art washing, and I’ve never come across this phrase before art washing is the concealment of ethically dubious corporate activity under the artistic and cultural veil and the instrumentalisation of art as a means to secure a future profitable gain. I give some interesting examples of this. The first one is BP sponsoring the tape for many years BP sponsored the Tate and had quite a they didn’t actually pay that much money for the amount of advertising they essentially got from it and also they a little bit like greenwashing managed to clean their image by associate themselves with something as as high value as art. Eventually BP was forced out of sponsoring the tape and that was partly due to some protests that went continually on and on, and they were creative protests. 

These are sort of documentaries a little bit in the book by artists, performance artists who were sort of highlighting this paradox between having something artistic being sponsored by something that was totally capitalist totally on environmental and essentially using it to clean up their image. He also talks about a different guise of art washing, where you can use commercial street art or use art to increase the value of different areas. So he used the example of the balfron Tower, which is an interesting example. I’m not going to go into the whole detail on it, but essentially it was a brutalist stick Council tower, that longhouse, low income families and essentially became a grade two listed building because it was an example of this type of architecture. And once it became a grade two listed building, it got passed from the council to a housing company that was managing it, who then agreed with the residents to sell it off, basically, because they wanted to have their apartments refurbish because they hadn’t been refurbished for many years. And then over time, it became that the residents were asked to leave and then some of them weren’t allowed back and eventually nobody came back and little by little, all of the true Council residents were out of the building. 

And while this was happening, the same time, the company were creating short term residencies for artists and staging performances in the tower so there was a performance of Macbeth in an immersive theatre trend where it was it took place around the tower block, and as I was reading this, I have to say, I was like, Wow, that sounds really cool. I wish I’d seen it. And again, you’re sort of getting involved in the in what is that? According to this book? What is negative about this example is that it’s it’s essentially, this developer that is trying to use the arts in order to create this cool image yet edgy, it’s cool, it’s artistic, and it’s mysterious, so that later they can sell it off as luxury apartments. And indeed, right now, those luxury apartments are the first of those luxury apartments are available and many of them have already been sold, even though they’re not quite finished. Here is an idea of art being used in order to increase the value of property. And what mould says is art washing has created a fog that obscures artists from clearly seeing how their artistic practices will impact places and their communities. For me, this is an interesting point. And it’s also interesting to think, to what extent is that the responsibility of the artist and to what extent is it the responsibility of everybody else? 

So we have to think about for me, we have to think about how are things sustainable? How is art sustainable? How do we include that? And this, of course, isn’t part of the story of the book because for mould, there isn’t a discussion about art. And there isn’t a discussion about how art has, for many years relied on patrons it’s been involved in a capitalist society. It hasn’t generally been just completely countercultural. Some of it has a lot of it hasn’t so art has this role within creativity and within the society. That’s always been there. And yet, that’s not really discussed in the book. And I kind of think it would be interesting to think about the role and responsibility of artists, do they really carry such a responsibility that they can’t take on a job that would be interesting, because they’re being paid by this developer. I don’t know. 

There’s a very specific definition of creativity here and creative business. And I’m not really sure how art fits into that. In conclusion, he says that true creativity is to seek out the tiny voices offering viable alternatives to the injustice of capitalism. And with all the resources available, collectively fight against those that seek to appropriate them. Again, this is interesting. This is his definition of true creativity. For me, this leaves me in a position of, okay, I still don’t know what to do. What should I do? If I’m a part of this creative culture? If I am part of upholding this neoliberal if you like capitalism, and I don’t really want to uphold neoliberalism, I want to be able to support something else. How can I do what I do in a way that does that? That opens up this possibility that supports possibility that creates spaces of resistance, but also plays along with the game because I can’t afford not to. And I don’t think many people can. I don’t know. It’s it’s a challenge. 

This whole book has been a bit of a challenge for me in terms of reading it, and also in terms of thinking about, okay, so what does that mean? And what does that mean for me? What does that mean for my clients? How can I translate this into reality? Because in reality, I’m not going to stop running my company. I’m not going to stop working for other companies. I’m not going to stop coaching. But I can take on board, some of the points and I can try to be part of creating a more inclusive society. And I guess that that is what the book is trying to do. Even if I take a little bit from the book a tiny bit that says, just be careful. Just think a little bit what’s behind this. You what you’re making a choice. Just like with environmental choices, you’re making a choice with everything you buy with every client you work for. So be aware of what that choice is. I’ve enjoyed reading this book, I think it’s something that is worth a read. But it’s worth a read. If you want to turn off the matrix in a way and spend some time kind of thinking, Oh, no, I’m contributing to this and this is this is something that’s not good. 

For me. One of the problems with the book is that the definition of true creativity already hinges on the fact that it needs to be an action that cook critiques or undermines this capitalism, this neoliberal capitalism. So if you don’t have that in it, it’s not creativity, for mould at all, is difficult. There are probably spaces in between. I feel like there are spaces where you could be creative and still be part of it. And even actually, if you think about it, the author himself has published a book and gain some kind of rights from the book and is therefore forming part of this capitalist near liberal society, even though he’s critiquing it at the same time. So I guess the takeaway for me is to just think about these things to be aware of what you might be contributing to, to be aware of what the influences are, and this kind of very interesting, oh, I want to be more creative approach. Well, what does that actually mean? Where’s that coming from? And how can I take on board some of these ideas and incorporate them in what I do? So that was a quick look at against creativity by Ali moulded and next month, we are looking at something hopefully a little bit lighter by Jenny Odell, which is how to do nothing. I was just looking at the back of this it sounds like exactly the sort of person that is part of the creative economy. She’s an artist and writer who teaches at Stanford University. She’s been asked in residence at places like San Francisco dump, Facebook and Internet Archive. So there we go. That will tell a different story. She is almost certainly within this idea of capitalist creativity. 


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