Thursday, 24 July 2008

Creative Work

"For far too long the accent was placed on creativity. People are only creative to the extent they avoid tasks and supervision. Work is a supervised task - its model: political and technical work - is attended by dirt and detritus, intrudes destructively into matter, is abrasive to what is already achieved, critical toward its conditions, and is in all this opposite to that of the dilettante luxuriating in creation."
Walter Benjamin, 'Karl Kraus'

Benjamin's comment offers a powerful articulation against the "beautiful soul" form of the creative ideology, in which the creator is somehow immune from assessment or measurement while all the time really engaged with the new discourse of creative production (otherwise known as "Having your cake and eating it").

Of course we could argue that that Benjamin's Brechtian "productivism", which runs against his image as a dilettante artist of fragments (the "W G Sebald effect" as Owen has remarked), risks recuperation in the new discourse of the "creative industries". Here "creativity" - qua the perpetual parade of false novelties required by capitalism - is placed under supervision through the usual mechanisms, not only of the market but also of various funding bodies and academic metrics. Here then "technical work" is equated with work for the market and supervision with conformity to funding requirements.

I would argue, however, that it this discourse of "productivity" or "value creation" in the arts that is what makes operative the "luxuriation in creation"; in the fashion identified by Žižek the ideology of creativity operates by allowing a cynical distance towards production, which is what then preserves that creative industry. As a "free" artist I engage in my process of creation at some supposed distance from work and the market, all the while with an eye on that market. After all, in the end, what is left to judge the worth of creation except money? That is how the doxa has it.

In this situation Badiou's point becomes all the more true: "It is better to do nothing than to work formally toward making visible what the West declares to exist."

In a sense Benjamin's over-identification with technical work disrupts the minimal distance of the creative ideology - it suggests a guide to disrupting the existent regime of visibilities. It does so, precisely, by articulating an effect of negativity (being "attended by dirt and detritus, intrud[ing] destructively into matter, [and] abrasive to what is already achieved"). This is what overturns the relentlessly positivities of creativity, whether encoded in the figure of the artist dilettante or the reconvened under the sign of measures and financial reward. This is truly the labour of the negative against the ideology of creativity.


subjectility said...

Would you have a link to Owen's remarks on the W.G.Sebald effect, please?

owen hatherley said...

It was in conversation, I'm afraid. In short, referring to the erroneous perception of Walter Benjamin as middlebrow Mitteleuropean melancholic. There are things along these lines in the forthcoming book however.