Radical media, politics and culture.

Florian Cramer, The Fiction of the Creative Industries

The Fiction of the Creative Industries
Florian Cramer

[This text was written for the emergency issue of the journal "Open"
by the Dutch Foundation for Art and the Public Space (Stichting Kunst
en Openbare Ruimte / SKOR) SKOR/Open is one of the arts organizations
to lose their funding in the Netherlands. The complete
(Dutch-language) emergency issue of Open can be downloaded from:

The German artist Gerhard Merz said in 1991 that "creativity is for
hairdressers".[^1] Professional artists and designers never had a high
opinion of the word "creative" and the people bearing it on their
business cards, from creative directors to creative consultants and
creativity trainers. An exception perhaps was Merz' colleague at the
Dusseldorf Academy of Fine Art, Joseph Beuys. Anticipating much of
today's community art, he embraced the notion of creativity in its
broadest sense and sanctioned any type of socially constructive work
as art. And Merz, while making a sound point against romanticized
artistic subjectivity and the overall stupidity of the word
"creative", was a highbrow art snob dismissing the lower crafts.

To the uninitiated, the notion of the "creative industries" sounds
like a corporate version of Beuys, but it isn't because it doesn't
include the hairdresser, cook or childcare worker either. It is a term
whose normative political power is in blatant contrast to its almost
arbitrary definition. Linguists might call it a rift between the
performativity and the semantics of the word. Therefore, almost every
position paper on the creative industries starts with impressive
economic figures. In the Netherlands, the most recent of these is
"Creatieve industrie in topvorm", a report of the "Topteam Creatieve
Industrie" chaired by Victor van der Chijs, managing director of Rem
Koolhaas' bureau OMA. This paper had been commissioned by the Dutch
government. Secretary of culture Halbe Zijlstra has factually made it
a government agenda and will follow its advice to move all previous
public funding for design and fashion, new media arts and architecture
into a new sector institute for the creative industries.

On the first pages, we learn that the Dutch creative industries
consist of 172,000 professionals and an annual turnover of 7.1 billion
EUR amounting to 2% of the country's GDP.[^2] The authors adopt a
government definition of "creative industries" as the arts, media and
entertainment and creative business services (essentially
architecture, design, fashion and advertising).[^3] According to this
definition, media include publishing houses, film, TV and radio,
gaming, mobiles and photography. Which makes one ask: Does a political
journalist from NRC Handelsblad or BNR Nieuwsradio know that he or she
works in the "creative industries"? A publishing giant like Elsevier:
creative industries? Is a mobile phone carrier like Vodafone part of
the definition and business numbers? H&M store personnel? Why them and
not hairdressers, cooks or Tattoo Bob in Rotterdam?

On the remaining sixty pages of "Creatieve industrie in topvorm", we
do not even read anything anymore on the publishing industries,
television or radio, never mind the fact that economically, they
amount to a large part if not the bulk of the "creative industries" as
defined there. With such arbitrary inclusions and exclusions, and
inflated business figures, the "creative industries" - a term invented
by Tony Blair's political advisors in the 1990s - remind of other
economic bubbles from the same era: the dotcom industry and the
financial sector.

Industries are normally defined by their products: the food industry
produces food, the computer industry produces computers, the
construction industry buildings, the healthcare industry health. But
with the exception of the creativity trainers mentioned earlier, the
so-called creative industries do not produce creativity. An architect,
for example, does not work for the creative industries but as the
creative-artistic part of the construction industry. A fashion
designer is the artistic part of the textile industry, a graphic
designer the visual artist for the publishing and media industry, and
so on.

Often, "creative industries" have been an illusion created by
globalization: Nike and Apple, for example, were able to be seen as
"creative companies" because manufacturing of their products had been
outsourced to China. This does not mean that there is no computer
industry or a fashion industry anymore, but simply that these
industries have turned into networks where labor is shared across
continents instead of adjacent buildings. (Moreover, it is
questionable whether this mode of globalized production will be
sustainable, given the social, macro-economic and environmental damage
it has done; aside from that, countries like China strive to also
design and market the products they manufacture in the near

The only "creative industries" that actually work as industries in
their own right are the ones originally - but disparagingly - called
"the culture industry" by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in the
1940s: the film and the music industry. Their products are, according
to Pierre Bourdieu's sharp revision of the term, "autonomous art" in
the sense that they are not being produced for an external
commissioning party (nor as part of another industry's production),
but have to find their own market after they have been produced.[^5]
In Tony Blair's Britain, the coinage of "creative industries"
coincided with the boom of Britpop and the British music industry. The
Independent wrote in 2003 that "New Labour ill-advisedly prolonged its
Britpop period. Alan McGee [owner of the Britpop music label
Creation], along with Paul Smith, Richard Branson [owner of Virgin
Records] and [television producer] Waheed Ali were appointed to a
short-lived and long-forgotten body called the Creative Industries
Task Force".[^6]

Today, there exist no genuine - large-scale, divided-labor,
economically self-sustaining - film industries anymore except
Hollywood and Bollywood. The music industry nearly collapsed and
radically shrunk in the early 2000s. In all developed countries, TV
and radio audiences are becoming smaller and older. The newspaper and
books publishing industry is in a deep crisis, the golden years of
advertising are now celebrated as nostalgia in the TV series "Madmen".
For media, communication design and performing arts professions, the
"industries" model is one of the past, not the future.

In all cases, the Internet and new media played a crucial role. For
young people, TV has been killed by YouTube, the music industry by
mp3, DVD profits by bittorrent, newspapers by the web. But even more
significant than these shifts of consumer technology was the digital
revolution of production. Most musicians no longer need a record
label, but can master their music on a laptop. Thanks to the last
generation of inexpensive digital cameras, cinematic films can now be
shot and edited at home by freelancers. Writers no longer need
publishers, but often are better off self-publishing via
print-on-demand and e-books. In all these areas, "creatives" become
allrounders. Division of labor is decreasing, not increasing, with
many industries, big agencies and highly staffed bureaus becoming
dinosaurs of the past.

This development first began in graphic design, with the revolution
from traditional typesetting to Macintosh- and PC-based Desktop
Publishing in the 1980s and 1990s. Since then, large-scale graphic
design firms like Total Design, which defined Dutch Design in the
1960s and 1970s, have disappeared. Innovative corporate graphic
designers today operate like Buro Petr van Blokland + Claudia Mens, a
two-people company that - with its expertise in computer-programmed
typography - has designed house style and multilingual documents of
big customers like Rabobank.

From a business organization perspective, van Blokland + Mens operate
like Tattoo Bob. The Dutch government seem to suggest that they should
go back to becoming Total Design. Among others, the "Topteam Creatieve
Industrie" praises Frog Design as a role model for the future Dutch
creative industries[^7] - a company once famous for its design of Sony
TVs in the 1970s and Apple computers in the 1980s. When it's about
macro-economic numbers, the advice report inflates the "creative
industries", but as soon as visions and policies are proposed, the
focus narrows down on design companies that fit the industrial

But industrial design and architecture, too, are changing through the
kind of technological and cultural disruption that transformed media
and communication design. With 3D printers and public FabLabs,
material objects can now be printed like pages with laser printers. As
the technology is becoming more accessible and affordable,
non-professionals will design and print home products, an Open Source
design sharing culture will be likely, freelancers - including those
in low wage countries working over the Internet - will be able to
undercut the big players. With currently seven FabLabs from Groningen
to Arnhem, the Netherlands are on the cutting edge of this
development. No mention of it, however, in the "Advies Topteam
Creatieve Industrie".

I have intentionally refrained from moral judgment and humanist
concerns over the contemporary arts in the Netherlands in this
article. They have been voiced elsewhere in this issue. The suggested
policies harm non-profit arts; but they don't even do the commercial
design and media world a favor. The "creative industries" vision of
the "Topteam" and, by adoption, the Dutch government reads like a
retro trip into "Madmen". On top of that, it is bizarre how a free
market-advocating government acts like a central committee here.
Business development master plans are being made like in China, public
arts money is repurposed for a commercial sector that, if it lives up
to its own name, should pay taxes instead of taking them.

If one looks at the "creative industries" meme globally, then one
encounters the same story again and again: the fiction of an industry
based on arbitrary definition criteria and blown-up business figures,
made to persuade governments into funnelling public money (and
increasing public debt) into large-scale infrastructures;
infrastructures that more often than not end up failing to meet the
real needs of an "industry" that, right because of new technologies
and globalization, really is a post-industrial patchwork of Tattoo

[^1]: "Ich habe mich immer gegen Selbstverwirklichung in der Kunst und
gegen Kreativität gewandt. Ich habe immer gesagt: Kreativität ist was
für Friseure", Gerhard Merz in the documentary [_Measure Color
Light_](http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ImwKc4_VQhs), 1991, statement
at 3'41"
[^2]: [Creatieve industrie in topvorm, Advies Topteam Creatieve
Industrie, 2011](http://www.rijksoverheid.nl/documenten-en-publicaties/rapporten/2011/06/...),
p. 4
[^3]: ibid.
[^4]: The latter point is also acknowledged in Creatieve industrie in
topvorm, p. 2
[^5]: Pierre Bourdieu, The Field of Cultural Production, Cambridge:
Polity, 1993, p. 39
[^6]: John Harris, [The Britpop
in: The Independent, 7 May 2003
[^7]: Creatieve industrie in topvorm, p. 2

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