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Against Creativity reviewed in the Guardian

on Tue, 10/02/2018 - 14:13

Are you a member of the “creative classes”? You might be if you do something that vaguely involves ideas or images, and aspire to live in a warehouse-style apartment next to an artisan coffee shop and pop-up gallery.

But what’s so wrong with that? Reader, I sat in a hipster cafe in London’s East End and prepared to find out.

The book’s beginning is wobbly, as it tries to show that the very idea of creativity was invented by modern capitalism. In his day, Shakespeare would not have been thought a genius but a mere “craftsman” or “wordsmith”, Oli Mould claims.

This would have come as a surprise to Shakespeare’s friend Ben Jonson, who called him “the star of poets”, and one who was “not of an age but for all time”. Meanwhile, the Enlightenment is blamed for colonialism (which came first), and for “the privatisation of creativity” by wealthy people commissioning art, although patronage has supported artists at least since Roman times.

Happily, Mould really begins to motor after this dubious introduction, when he embarks on a merciless anatomy of current talk about “creativity” in different social fields.

The guiding idea is that modern (neoliberal) capitalism has co-opted the idea of creativity, so that to be creative now means exclusively to dream up “new products and services to bring to the market”. (As the historian Quentin Skinner has shown, capitalism has a long history of rhetorically appropriating external virtues.)

Everyone, even in the dullest of jobs, must now be creative and entrepreneurial, which just means finding new ways to survive in a hostile and precarious environment from which all solidarity has been ruthlessly eliminated. “The rhetoric of ‘creative work’,” Mould notes, “is merely a ruse that allows ‘work-like’ practices to invade our leisure, social and non-economic lives”.

Read full review here

Against Creativity
Oli Mould
Verso
ISBN 9781786636492
Hardback, £14.99

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