Against Creativity!

You can buy Oli Mould’s “Against Creativity” from Verso Books.

Saying you’re “against creativity” is like saying you dislike Beyonce. It’s an alien opinion; smack dab in the heart of the pop culture’s motherland.

Creativity inhabits a similar position to Beyonce, in popular culture. Its influences are everywhere. Its alters take up significant cultural realestate. Despite its monolithic size, Oli Mould manages to light a dozen or so fires of rebellion throughout its territory. “Against Creativity” is a much needed vanguard against a seemingly neutral social force.

Creativity, Mould argues, has been reconstructed by capitalism to feed its endless cycle of growth. Mould doesn’t dwell long on the definition of creativity. A pleasant decision, as defining words like “creativity” and “art” do more to bog down the conversation than move it forward. Mould instead deals with the actionable: the daily experiences that constantly demand our “creativity.”

Creativity’s true potential has been hidden behind a depressing veneer of growth charts, Venture Capitalist bullshit, and the never ending quest for profit, argues Mould. Before Mould progresses through creativity’s main regions of control, he offers up two alternatives. The first is that creativity is a force for change in the world. And secondly, creativity is “the power to create something from nothing:” Mould clarifies that it is not an “ability.” Nor is it reactive: producing a new product in reaction to what the market has deemed necessary (As Seen on TV is a great example of just how necessary most products are). Creativity, Mould says, “drives society into new worlds of living.”

Mould’s alternatives do not elaborate on abstract concepts (what is art, what is creativity?). They reexamine real-word implications. Who does creativity and art benefit? What are their products used toward? Who owns the tools, value-systems, and narratives used in creativity? Etc.

Mould answers this in five categories: work, people, politics, technology, and the city.

“Turn It Upside Down” – i.e. a generic “creative” phrase that litters Crystal City, Virginia.

Work and People are two sides of the same coin. Thanks to neoliberalism’s endless monetization of life work has seeped further and further throughout our non-economic lives. With the intensification of a marketized life, comes further alienation from our labor, communities, and lives. Creativity under capitalism is not diverse, open-minded, or accepting. It only welcomes said values if they prove useful in the furthering of capital. Creativity under capitalism is normative. It builds upon an established set of standards, perceptions, and expectations that aid in capitalism’s unhindered growth, incorporating everything eventually into its rotting corpse. You are not creative unless you do X, Y, and Z, and consume A, B, and C. To be truly creative, you must be useful.

“The Creative Class” – a term only a rose-colored glass wearing entrepreneur-bro could come up with – is just that. A class. And like all classes – especially the ones in service of, or benefiting from oppression – they have their signals, mythology, and position in the class hierarchy. They take in objects, groups, individuals, and influences, normalizing them within the system; reproducing dominating value-systems.

  • A Green Patterned Hotel building in Crystal City, Virginia
  • Patterned wall in Crystal City, Virginia
  • Random art installation in Crystal City, Virginia
  • Patterned wall in Crystal City, Virginia

The Creative Class are foot soldiers. Expensive foot soldiers, but foot soldiers nonetheless. They are gentrifiers: traversing into neighborhoods with “character” and “authenticity” to get an real experience (i.e. where the working class and poor live). They are apex consumers: their purchases considered fascinating, enlightening, and trendy. They operate as the cheer leaders of capitalism. Armed with a multitude of entrepreneurial horseshit platitudes, shallow mind games to bring you peace and focus, exercise and diet routines worthy of a roaring laugh, and enough material success to make you envious, these foot soldiers cheer you onto the next labor milestone.

All the while, creativity becomes more and more individualized. Even seemingly group-focused creative outlets are bent to the supremacy of individual success and competition. Mould highlights co-working spaces as an excellent example of this. Open-concept workspaces “hide the increasing individualization of work under a veneer of collectivity.” They not only assist in alienating us from our labor, but from each other.

Open-concept workspaces also help in breaking down barriers between work, leisure, and play. The stereotype of the Silicon Valley startup with a fully stocked beer fridge, arcade games, and a functional kitchen is not a humorous gimmick. Startup culture didn’t just pounce on the concept of a fun workplace because they needed to attract the best of the best. It’s main function is to encourage the degradation of work/life balance. Not only is it implied that “since we give you all these perks, we expect 120% from you.” It is also implied that work is fun. You play to work, sleep to work, drink to work, and mingle to work.

Only in the all-encompassing mindset of labor that Silicon Valley proudly pushes would people sleep underneath their desks in the service of building an app. All of the great entrepreneur stories of suffering, hustling, and grit are, in reality, examples of a complete subjugation to labor.

Capitalism’s ever ingenious methods for extracting maximum labor from us is nothing new. Mould just does a good job of connecting creativity to it. Despite the ease with which entrepreneurs and the “creative class,” who they manipulate, are to criticize and mock, it has come at the expense of deeper investigation.

The creative class, with their business acumen and brainstorming sessions are perfectly happy being corporatized and monetized to the ends of the earth. But this incorporation of creativity (and specifically, art) in the business world has a nasty trickle down effect. An effect Mould barely mentions.

Art has been severely poisoned by business rhetoric. On one hand, it’s easier to make a living through one’s art. On the other hand, that’s mostly true thanks to the utter commodification of life. Artists now have a shot at making a living with their art, because art has moved down from its cultural pedestal. It no longer holds a special place, culturally, above the day-to-day shenanigans of the market and survival. Art has become a consumable object.

Art is now a business, as are most artistic avenues.

Consequently, the priority for artists is no different from the average businessman. Stay on brand, and/or develop a personal brand. Scheduling new releases, sales, and news. Increasing demand (i.e. marketing, advertising, etc). Stock. Know your audience, and cultivate loyal customers. Art has become synonymous with a candle business. This isn’t helped by the trendiness of companies designing aesthetic workspaces with commissioned full length wall murals. Artists now have a shot at success in the corporate world (a world they were once excluded from).

Subsequently, the issues I hear artists focus on are detached from the art. “I’m not being productive enough.” “I haven’t published anything lately.” “My sales are down.” My followers aren’t as engaged/aren’t increasing.” It’s depressing!

This has the added effect of individualizing art. Business alienates us from that which we love. It’s ironic then that we advise friends not to make a living off what they love, for fear of eventually hating it. We hold two opposing views at once (as Orwell coined it: doublethink). We are pushed and prodded to monetize our art; subsequently planting the seeds of future disillusionment. The art becomes subservient to economic demands (and the petty whims of consumers). Thereby, withering away slowly into a pathetic version of itself.

(I’d hope this would be obvious, but you can never be too careful these days.) Art is not a process of to-do lists spread out over a 9-to-5 work-day. If it happens to be, then it’s just work. Mind-numbing, depressive work.

But day in and day out we are bogged down with economic advancements into our respective worlds. Productivity is a god-forsaken curse on the creative.

Perhaps Mould’s focus on the community narrowed his focus in this area. Then again, what better mirage to shatter than the one of the lone artist? Surrounded by squares, carving out a life of high taste, wonder, and creation. It’s an individualized portrait of where and how an artist reaches their full potential. Although “creativity” has become democratized, accessible to anyone who will work for it (e.g. sell their soul to work at an advertising agency), the artist is still considered an integral feature in crafting and upholding high culture (all the while expected to do it solo).

“Against Creativity” by Oli Mould, with a feature from my nails, and that boring-ass background.

A democratized creativity is designed, as Mould writes, to weaken the boundaries between work, play, and community. It legitimizes the precariousness of work. I should add that to “democratize” something in the oligarchy we live in is a nefarious plot to subvert what little freedom we have from the supremacy of labor. A “democratized” creativity is one that further blends work, life, and play.

Freelancers are the embodiment of this democratization of the creative, and the subsequent precariousness it invokes. To be a freelancer is to trade the benefits of a secure job (a stable wage, health insurance, PTO, etc) for an empty promise of flexibility. You know what gives people flexibility? Paying them a living wage. “Flexibility” to be your own boss, set your own schedule, and take on work when you want to is a farce. All this flexibility does is allow companies to outsource (at this point a synonym for wage slavery) work to underpaid workers (mostly in the Global South).

If this democratized creativity implants capitalism further into our lives, then the artist’s “creativity” reinforces and distributes a culture beneficial to this assimilation.

“Against Creativity” is a helpful introduction to the perversion that is creativity these days. If you’re already cynical of the value Silicon Valley and their peons bring, this book will only assist in refining what you already know.

If we’re to detach ourselves from a monetized, commodification of art, both the alternatives and eventual success will come at the hands of communal consciousness raising. The biggest lesson from Mould is that creativity is inherently cooperative. As is change. An artist alone cannot hold back the overwhelming force of the market from their art. We flourish together. More importantly: a healthy self-edifying community is a powerful force in the face of an alienating (and ever so lonely) economic system.

“And I threw it on the ground!”

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