What follows is a selective and subjective summary of the morning sessions during the event MyCreativity Sweatshop: A Reality Check on the Creative Industries. This event took place on November the 20th and 21st in Trouw, Amsterdam. Vizier was present on the first of these two days in order to report back to you.
The event was presented as a conference but wasn’t quite that. Organised by the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences [Hogeschool van Amsterdam], the programme brought together academics, non-academic researchers, practitioners from the creative industries, and other professionals. Of course the creative industries are made up of many professional groups and therefore the research or insights presented concerned different disciplines such as film making, visual art, music and journalism. But most importantly, the event was an opportunity to discuss ongoing research into the often precarious conditions of those doing creative work, as the title of the programme suggested. What was also different from your average conference that next to talks, various designers presented their creative criticisms to the status quo of creative labour.
Most contributions during the day could be placed somewhere on the spectrum between academic reflection and what is perhaps best described as artistic activism. Organisers Geert Lovink and Sebastian Olma kicked off the day with a manifesto. Their point was that we should realise that creative production does not thrive in shiny, managed, and efficient places (whether physical or metaphoric). Then, drawing on his recent book Cultural Capital, author Robert Hewison reflected on the speedy development of the discourse and policy of the creative industries in the UK and showed how the prominence of the term “creativity” in economic thinking had emerged without much empirical support. Next, a panel consisting of cultural sociologist Pascal Gielen, cultural theorist Josephine Berry Slater and artist Klaar van der Lippe discussed the problematic position of autonomous art in the context of the instrumentalised type of creativity that the creative industries promote.
All these contributions reflected on the discrepancy between the material conditions of creative or artistic work, and the institutional frameworks that surround it. These reflections were underpinned by the assumption, that autonomous art has been absorbed into ‘the creative industries’ (whether discursively, through policy or otherwise) and that this somehow has negative consequences for art. An interesting exception to this observation was Klaar van der Lippe’s talk, in which Van der Lippe suggested that art does not change at all. An artist herself, she stated that art was always about truth seeking and that certain circumstances may allow less or more of that, but do not change the essence of art making.
Van der Lippe’s point was a welcome reminder that any research into art, creative work, or their meeting points, should take into account the views of those executing the work. An academic researcher may mistake the changing practices of artists (as a result of different policies, economic climates, etc) for an indication that art is changing. This may seem a trivial distinction to some. In this time, people seem rather eager to label commercially viable creative products as ‘art’ in order to prove that funding is unnecessary. However, many creative practitioners know very well when their work fits into the art world, and when it does not. So whenever we’re discussing the differences between art and other forms of applied creativity, it might be worth asking whether the producers of these products agree. This does not mean that their view is defining, but it might be a first step in what the title of event suggest we do: checking the reality of the creative industries.