Manifesto Destiny Revisited

Philip Schlesinger makes a correction and raises a new question.

Hasan Bakhshi has written to correct my misquotation of the NESTA Manifesto’s definition of the creative economy.  I wrote:

‘those sectors which specialise in the use of creative talent for creative purposes’ (p.34)

But it should be:

‘those sectors which specialise in the use of creative talent for commercial purposes’ (p.34)

Hasan’s corrective nudge, however, has turned my attention to another matter.

He and his co-authors observe that in their proposal to redefine the key terms there is ‘only one bottomless item of complexity: the word creativity’ (p.34).  Not entirely so: if talent has more of a ‘bottom’ (or has been less over-used) it is nonetheless also very complex.

Thus a phrase like ‘creative talent’, while it trips off the tongue, carries much more symbolic freight than ‘creative occupation’, its intended synonym.

While ‘occupation’ is a relatively neutral, official descriptor of a type of work, in popular culture ‘talent’ is currently highly associated with wannabe celebrity. In The X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent context, it is deeply connected to being manufactured, ‘discovered’ and displayed for audience appraisal, thumbs up or down.

By comparison, in a self-developmental framework, ‘talent’ is deeply connected to craftsmanship, and advancement through self-discipline over extensive periods of time. There is another model, therefore, that of apprenticeship and necessary collaboration with others, as Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman has argued, stressing social relations and competences and pointing to wider moral economies in which culture is produced.

None of this is to decry commerce – cultural workers have to make a living, after all – but just to note, once again, that in the creativity debate (which Sennett would like to abolish as obscuring our understanding of cultural production) embedded terminologies can set up some very complex associations. And these will continue to fuel argument.

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