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4.3 A Real Possibility or an Aestheticisation of the Economy?

Post-proletarians in a Euphoric Atmosphere .. .

I cannot avoid observing that what has not been made clear by the Lisbon Strategies is what they mean by culture and art, and what their approach to creativity might be. A UNESCO research shows how the “strategies” have been undertaken without previously establishing what “good cultural participation” is, and when it actually occurs.[1] In such an ambiguous context, the identification of shared parameters through which to evaluate the qualitative achievements of those policies is still missing. As a consequence, there is still no clear and shared method for evaluating the economic effects of the “cultural” and “creative” industries.[2]

Furthermore, the predicted job growth has not occurred, if not in fashion, design and especially digital technologies sectors—which were in any case expected to grow even without these policies. The Evaluation of the Lisbon Strategies admitted that their objectives had not been achieved.[3] The present global crisis demonstrates that the art/culture-creativity-economic innovation-growth sequence cannot be taken for granted. Unemployment rates are still growing.[4] The Evaluation stated that the cause of the failure to achieve the goals was the crisis.[5] What a discovery on the part of the European economic “strategists”! Were the “systemic risk of the financial markets, speculative bubbles (eg. in housing markets), and credit-driven consumerism” (even in relation to products of the so-called cultural and creative industries and the art market[6]) and other such features of neo-liberal economic policy not under the eyes of these strategists?

If creativity is considered in merely formal terms, in terms of fluidity and speed of change for instance, without questioning its rootedness in a given way of life, milieu or “landscape”,[7] and hence its effects on this life and relationships, without wondering whether its release of energies is productive or destructive—in short, without questioning its ethical implications—then creativity produces a euphoria that can be shared, but is essentially narcissistic. People invest energy in order to see themselves reflected as being ... energetic. This is the emerging message of the current apparatus of financial capitalism intertwined with the digital industries and digital information. Already long ago Lyotard, in a discussion with Deleuze, came up with the amusing but perfectly apt expression “capitalisme énergoume`ne” (Lyotard, 1973). Is this energy flow really democratic? Digital devices produce a new form of individuality, entering and modifying the intimacy of the personal mind. They construct individuals. However, this does not mean that individuals can successfully accomplish personal projects. Is it realistic to think that some new idea, born in a creative milieu, can change the prevailing lines of force by itself? Or is it more realistic to think that only those inventions that facilitate or increase these lines of force will be accepted?

Over 10 years ago A. McRobbie showed that these policies help big fashion companies, while the majority of young “creatives” are reduced to an economic condition of poverty and to subordinate roles that do not have anything creative about them. A rhetoric prevails that abuses of the glamor of the “artist”:

“Labour is, 'self-employment', set up your own business, be free to do your own thing. Live and work like an artist. And creative work is particularly appealing to youth because of the emphasis on uncovering talent, because of their proximity to the kinds of fields flagged up as already successful i.e. popular music, film, art, writing, acting, fashion, graphic design and so on” (McRobbie, 2001).

Scott (2008) has noted how often the policies for the knowledge-based economy, the culture economy and the implementation of the idea of “creative cities” produce new differences in wealth and power among élites and a multitude of underpaid workers, or unemployed. Inequalitities in job markets and marginalisation as effects of the creative industries are analyzed also by David Hesmondhalgh (Hesmondhalgh 2013, p. 17 ff, p. 228 ff).

It seems as though the subject of creativity is now mostly used to produce competition among the poorest, to further social disintegration and lower remuneration. In this sense, the “aura” of creativity will be enough to make those with precarious and poorly paid but vaguely “creative” jobs (one can always be assigned the task of inventing something!) believe they are in a glamorous position. And so in the modern imagery continually recreated by the art market, “artists” perform a function far more important than the enrichment of a few artists, art dealers and auction houses: that of maintaining the system. By contrast, the unemployed can always be told that they are not creative enough. In this sense, the “creative” (the entrepreneur of himself) is the one who, unlike the old worker, has to invent everything: there are no longer any means of production for her/him. She/he no longer even has a job. The “creative” is the post-proletarian in a euphoric atmosphere. This euphoric atmosphere expresses the aestheticisation of life and of the economy (See Boltanski & Chiapello, 2005; Goldoni, 2013b; Reckwitz, 2013)—a phenomenon that stems from the fact that commodities create their own exhibition space: not only everything, but everyone is in a shop window. Well beyond the aestheticisation of politics, the economy creates individuals within a pervasively ambiguous atmosphere.

However, this is not an absolute claim I am making. The fact that the economy has the need to resort to creativity is not an obvious sign, but an ambiguous one, since the existence of widespread creativity is also the reflection of a profound change, whereby it becomes necessary to seize the opportunity to develop one's potential in responsible, supportive and non-narcissistic ways.[8]

Perhaps too the implementation of Creative Europe 2020 will work better, hopefully distinguishing between the cultural and artistic development of people and strictly monetary gain, between neo-liberal and libertarian democratic perspectives.

  • [1] See Measuring cultural participation. 2009, Handbook 2 published in 2012 by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, on web. About the conceptual tools for evaluation see also Goldoni (2012a)
  • [2] See Measuring the economic contribution of cultural industries. A review and assessment of current methodological approaches, 2009, Handbook n. 1 Published in 2012 by UNESCO Institute for Statistics, available on the web
  • [3] Evaluation pp. 3–4.
  • [4] Evaluation, p. 17. But what has happened to “flexicurity”? “.. . the success of the Flexicurity concept represents the ability of Lisbon to stimulate and frame policy debates and generate mutually acceptable solutions even though in many cases relevant measures still need to be implemented” (Evaluation, p. 3). As far as I know, there is no trace of “flexicurity” in Europe, except in Denmark (see Auer & Cazes (2003); Egger & Sengenberger (2003) with “light and shadows” (Amoroso)), and, for the artists, in some countries such as France, Belgium, Germany..
  • [5] Evaluation, p. 4.
  • [6] See Ben Lewis's documentary The Great Contemporary Art Bubble, whose trailer is on YouTube
  • [7] On this meaning of the word “landscape” see also Chapter “A Hermeneutic Approach to the Knowledge Economy” by Cusinato
  • [8] These observations show that the understanding of what may be perceived as a euphoric, artistic and creative climate requires an investigation that moves beyond its “aesthetic” “perception”: since this may be an ambiguous “symptom” of the media that make up the context and express themselves through that “atmosphere”. Thus, in order to unambiguously understand the context, a deeper analysis is required, able to recognize the specific “messages” of the media expressing that atmosphere
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