4 letters on Arts

Mass Creativity

Dear Adam Szymczyk,

contemporary Europe is filled with creativity. Everywhere middle class kids who went to relatively decent schools can develop some sort of artistic talent and an immense desire for expression. This enormous quantity of creativity defines a new context for artistic production and it should be taken as the starting point to redefine some of its presuppositions. Indeed, if artist are millions, they cannot expect to behave all like romantic geniuses.

Is contemporary cultural production in the need of some discipline? Can we somehow escape the contemporary catfight of million egomaniacs fighting on the art market? Can we imagine some sort of shared discipline; can we forget romantic heroes and bohemian role models? Don’t we need a cultural production that is, first of all, realistic towards its positive conditions of production? A classicism of the general intellect?

Best,
Pier Paolo Tamburelli


Dear Pier Paolo,

thank you for your email and I am sorry for I did not have time to read into your concept earlier. I did now, and I must say I have some fundamental doubts with regard to the landscape of ideas described. For instance, one question would be, which Europe you speak of, and the second, of which Europeans, and/or on behalf of which Europeans you speak? Aren’t these really obsolete concepts to describe a contemporary identity?

But aside from my general objection to extending a perspective of one specific and rather small social class (creative, very slightly pauperized Europe-born neo-bourgeoisie who like to call themselves “new” proletariat — since the old proletariat has, probably thanks to God the Almighty, disappeared, and the new proletariat — the migrants, the unemployed — has been rendered unproductive/non-creative and silenced so it cannot be heard, as yet) to something that appears as the general and immutable state of things-as-they-are, I also have problems with the questions asked specifically to me: Contemporary Europe is filled with creativity. Creativity (and quality as well) are empty signifiers, forces and values without vector, attractions offered by industries in search of new identities and new markets.

Everywhere middle class kids… A scary vision: middle class kids everywhere. Where exactly, and why should tomorrow be about presumably white middle class kids?
…who went to relatively decent schools can develop some sort of artistic talent and an immense desire for expression. It is important to master one’s desires when growing up. This enormous quantity of creativity defines a new context for artistic production and it should be taken as the starting point to redefine some of its presuppositions. I think what you call “creativity” is perhaps connected to what you call “artistic production” (as well as production in architecture, design and creative industries in general) but should not be mistaken for art.

Indeed, if artist are millions, they cannot expect to behave all like romantic geniuses. I don’t see millions of artists around, perhaps hundreds — and I guess neither would sign up for the romantic genius trip. On the contrary, many of today’s artists are acting responsibly towards their diverse social and economic contexts and fields, an attitude that is perhaps a lesson taken from the critical philosophy, sociology and education, from international conceptualism and political activist movements of the 1960s and 70s — all of which now inspire counter-neoliberal, conviviality-driven initiatives (including artistic ones) around the planet. Is contemporary cultural production in the need of some discipline?

No, it needs far, far less discipline than it is subjected to, as it is now currently almost completely, or already completely compartmentalized as part of leisure industry concerned with the eternal present, on the one hand, and future-looking creative industry, on the other hand. Both tied with the art market. Can we somehow escape the contemporary catfight of million egomaniacs fighting on the art market?

Art market is not an arena that one can enter and leave at will, but a common drug that replaced reality. Art market boosts the idea of individual artist, individual art work, individual production, controlled and measured by the erratically changing prices. To paraphrase Richard Serra’s 1973 film about television and mass entertainment, Television Delivers People: art market does not deliver art. It delivers people. They pay for the privilege of being sold. Can we imagine some sort of shared discipline; can we forget romantic heroes and bohemian role models? Don’t we need a cultural production that is, first of all, realistic towards its positive conditions of production? A classicism of the general intellect?

I am deeply skeptical about the notion of classicism as I cannot not see it in any other way than reactionary. Classicism was and remains a European episode – a formatting device concerned with reproducing and maintaining the existing power relationships. I am also even more than suspicious about the idea of “general” intellect, as it seems to offer an easy way out from the notion of individual responsibility (shared by intellectuals with all human beings), which was once crucial for the European and other diagnoses of the “crisis” as a possibly productive moment in culture. So let’s try to imagine a bunch of particulars.

All the best,
Adam Szymczyk


» Pier Paolo Tamburelli forwarded the conversation to Oliver Thill

Dear Adam Szymczyk,
Dear Pier Paolo,

From my limited point of view as a practicing architect, I think that the discussion is quite interesting. While it is hard for me to say something objective about the relatively hermetic contemporary art world — with its rather artisanal and pre-industrial basis — I guess that the Tomorrow’s questions regarding design production are at least quite relevant.

The paradigm shift, which happened in Capitalist society from the 1960s on, with its slow move from “industrial production” to “post-industrial management”, had rather strong consequences on the human condition in Europe. The working class became basically obsolete — because there was hardly any production left — and we all had to become unintentionally part of the new “creative class” (maybe artists in the widest sense of the word). This development is clearly reflected in the numbers of high school seniors as well as the enormous growth of the educational sector in Europe. Nowadays, art schools, design schools, media schools and architecture schools are everywhere, and as a result, artists became millions (at least from a bureaucratic point of view).

At the same time, it seems that there is less and less need for design and art production in the European post-industrial society. After seventy years of peace, political stability, secularization and freedom in Western Europe, there is not so much need for art and design production anymore. There is already so much, and first of all, there is not so much to say. Therefore the public’s interest in art and design production seems limited. While the average European does not know any name of any living contemporary artist anymore (Who the hell is Gerhard Richter?) — due the nearly complete absence of art, design and architecture in the public mass media — everybody knows at least a dozen of football players. So — yes, there is a nearly endless reservoir for creativity but it seems that there is a very limited interest.

So where does all the creativity go?

I guess that better and longer education in combination with political freedom stimulates a more general creativity and design knowledge. People are better informed, know better their rights, and try to make more independent decisions. Artistic talent and creativity is progressively becoming part of other disciplines and is more and more integrated in extremely complex design processes. How many designers are working on the new Airbus, the I-phone or the newest BMW? Millions. How many designers are producing the complex European norms, laws and regulations? Millions.

I foresee a gigantic collective effort in the design production in the widest sense of the word. Of course, there are still important individuals but their role is less and less visible, and their influence is more and more limited. We believe in individuals but don’t trust individualism anymore. “Critical intellectuals” are disappearing and are being replaced by experts with specific knowledge. A lot of the design work is done by an endless amount of highly educated anonymous experts. The results are un-personal and generic. The complexity of the demands implies that the possibilities are more and more limited. A new standard is produced. This standard is somehow forming the basis of contemporary Europe: an unconsciously produced classicism for our daily life.

For example, this is very visible within the field of architecture. The combination of new EU government rules, limited budgets and high sustainability standards produces a new architecture that looks nearly the same from Stockholm to Naples. Even if individuals try very hard, 90% of all design decisions are produced by external factors. We might call that the result of the “general intellect”. So yes: individuality is important, but no: we should not overestimate the role of individuals…

Oliver Thill


» Pier Paolo Tamburelli forwarded the conversation to Wilfried Kuehn

Dear Oliver,
Dear Adam,
Dear Pier Paolo,

the “middle classicism” evoked by Pier Paolo may be understood as an aesthetics of professionalism, at least after reading Oliver’s comments. These aesthetics are realist aesthetics, still they represent the opposite of realism in art. If this realism might follow the mindset of Walter Gropius as Apollo in the Democracy, it might equally end up as standardization pure and simple.
I agree with Adam in his rejection of this perspective as a general idea of artistic production. I also agree with the claim that art, far from being an artisinal retreat of romantic geniuses, is a practice involved with overall reality by working on specific contexts. This practice relies on subjects rather than general intellect and therefore cannot be disciplined without being turned into its opposite.

Two very different value systems are at the core of your arguments. The proposed realism in art is based on the postulating of autonomy, establishing its own truth independently of the normative framework of our society (including the art market), in this regard rather similar to the autonomous value systems of religions and of the Mob. Can architecture have this autonomy? The proposed realism in architecture is based on the postulating of integration, establishing its truth through the realization of socially successful projects. Can art have this kind of integration?

I would argue in favor of both. Still, not many architects and artists yet work in a way that encourages this thesis. It means addressing a paradoxical situation: acting professionally without professionalism; acting ideally without idealism. It means respecting the rules while breaking them. It means building Trojan horses. Having lost the innocence of either Andy Warhol and Venturi&Scott Brown, we have to ask ourselves what realism means when pop has been taken over by populism and we globally witness capitalism staging the endgame of permanent conflict. Can we act within this system but without being absorbed? Can we achieve emancipatory moves while being objectively more enslaved? Can art and architecture be universalist practices in an environment of fragmented professionalism?

Regards,
Wilfried