There was a time when if you told a person that you are an artist, they would immediately assume that you’re a painter, and that you painted with oils, and that you are slightly weird.
When I first began to go to job interviews, I would never mention that I was creative, or that I was very interested in becoming a painter. That would have been the end of the interview. Back then, in the late 1970s, creativity and the artistic personality was still suffering from a very badly drawn image that the psychologists of the mid twentieth century had labelled them with.
Basically, an artist was a nut-case who spent all day dreaming and mooning around, painters would paint something then throw a tantrum and smash their work to pieces, often finishing off their day by hurling the canvas through a top floor window. These were just some of the impressions about art and artists that psychology of the past believed the public needed to know about.
In fact, psychology didn’t have a clue about artists, they just found it convenient to use the negative image as a reference to what most people should never aspire to. Most of the ideas came from Freud who believed that artistic pursuit might be a sickness and he would like to have a crack at curing it. A strange idea indeed, but since then, many of Sigmund Freud’s theories have been disputed as being nothing more than fancy academic notions that he needed to formulate in order to complete his theory of psychoanalysis.
Today, it seems that to declare yourself as a “creative” is a cool thing.
In the past, big companies always needed creativity, but they liked to call it innovation. That way it sounded more inline with the Japanese idea of reiteration in business practices. The Japanese were way behind with modernisation until after the second World War, then one day, they decided that it’s time to get involved in the rat-race and make some money.
Japanese Reiteration Techniques
Firstly, the Japanese Government modernised their society and allow citizens to experience new ideas like Elvis Presley and the Beatles, this was soon followed by New-Wave ideas and David Bowie who blew the Japanese people off the planet.
Since then Japan has gone from strength to strength in the World economy just through the powerful dope of listening to David Bowie’s music.
By the way, David Bowie is an excellent example of being creative.
Western Business got really scared at this stage, so they invented the Yuppie.
Yuppies popped up in the early 1980s. They were nasty little characters who wore crappy off the peg suits , but claimed to be making millions of pounds and dollars. Their battle cry was “Greed is Good!”, Margaret Thatcher was their leader and she loved them all like her very own children.
Yuppies made money and they changed people’s views of how to perceive life. “Life is crap, so you may as well make bundles of cash and have lots of decadent fun before you go.”
Basically, the average Yuppy didn’t give a monkey’s toss about creativity or innovation, both of these being the same, Yuppies found the idea of creative process to be awkward and slow, and anyway, who wants create something when you can make money stripping a company of its profits and then just throw it in the bin afterwards.
You could say that the Yuppy was capitalism’s answer to the Punk-Rocker. In 1977 Punk hit the streets, they dyed their hair any colour but normal, had Mohawks cuts and wore bright and colourful cast-me-downs from their grandmothers. Punks did more for British industry than any other fashion up until that time. Sales of safety-pins sky-rocketed, trouser braces and the tie-dyed tee-shirt business was at an all time high. The Japanese were getting worried about their Economy, so they introduced their secret weapon — a brightly coloured car. It was chromium orange or yellow and reminded most people of fruit on wheels.
The car was specially designed for Westerners. Japanese thinking was that the people who lived in England and the United States loved bright colours, in-car radios with smart looking knobs and seats kitted out with transparent heat-sealed plastic covers — the covers could have been removed in a jiffy, but the Brits loved them, it made it look as if the car was always only a week old.
Then, one year later, the Japanese were hit with disaster. The cars turned into total rust buckets. Datsuns buzzing around the streets, yellow as the sun but with a massive brown streak of rust along the base line of the car. Innovation had failed for the Japanese, so Ford stepped in and said, “we told you so!”.
Alexei Sayle, a well known British comedian capitalised on the problem and did an advert about Ford Cortinas. With his singing abilities and powerful persuasion, he convinced the UK to drive Ford Cortinas instead of Japanese Datsuns.
Americans said, “we knew all along, anyhow.” , and they continued to drive cars that made the men look like Steve McQueen and the women look like the characters from “Thelma and Louis”.
British men and women drove Ford Capris and Ford Cortinas, they thought it made them look like Micheal Caine, and the women wanted to be Olivia Newton John, so they wore tight yoga pants while driving to the shops.
The Japanese went back to their drawing boards and began to get creative about things, they called it reiteration — a word that baffled most industrial experts, the Brits sent spies across the ocean, and while pretending to be British tourists they found out what reiteration meant. The Japanese were using creativity to improve their rusty cars, and would probably be back in the game faster than a Yuppy could fleece an old lady.
By the early 1980s the Datsun car was back on British roads. And the Brits loved them, the Japanese had cracked the DaVinci code of how to build a bright shiny car that didn’t collapse after one year. Their method of reiterating each step of work, checking as they went that the process of building and designing a car was a harmonious procedure, paid off in big dollars and an enormous chunk of the British car market.
They also perfected the idea of using the creative method of asking questions such as, “what if we built this component the other way around?”, and they took their time in studying exactly what the problem was, and how to think like artists instead of Yuppies.
The British car industry was already coughing and spluttering after unions went too far and demanded the boss’s wages as well as their own, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister, lost the plot and sold off chunks of England to foreign governments, the Germans were quite pleased at getting a good deal on the Rover and Mini Cooper business. Germans had secretly wanted a small car that was easier to park than a big BMW or Mercedes Benz.
British car makers and manufacturers were still baffled by the creative process that the Japanese had implemented. Many British bosses still enjoyed wearing bowler hats and carrying long black umbrellas as they went about their business at the Ministry for Stiff Business Thinking.
Bowler hatted gents sitting in London’s finest business district, still refused to speak to art students looking for jobs.
This would cause the continued agony of a bad industrial economy for the Brits. At this time, the Americans were running a campaign at home, “Buy American Only!”, so a lot of Americans went out and bought hot-dogs and Mustangs on a regular basis.
Times Square flourished and pandered to the entertainments industry, Las Vegas encouraged Americans to spend long weekends out in the desert staring at spinning wheels while their wallets got thinner, and Ronald Reagan tried to convince a bunch of rebels down in South America to buy a truck load of guns with American money — the American Government still had to figure out the finer points of the reiteration process.
It continued to rain in England — especially London, the creativity of Punk had dwindled to a group of middle-aged people wearing Doc-Martens while they hung around outside Woolworth’s, the British music scene started to lack creativity and turned to the American charts to listen to Chris Isaak singing “Wicked Game”, and for those with a hard edge to their soul, “Creep”, by Radiohead sounded more like the pub music they wanted to drown their sorrows to.
Then, after Margaret Thatcher hung up her bovver boots and Yuppies everywhere started claiming to be nice people really, Tony Blair’s New labour Government made Britannica Cool. Or, at least they said something like, “from now on you have to think of Britain as being a pretty cool place to do reiterative stuff.”
They meant that creative people were going to be given a chance to get through the door and start contributing to the rainy landscape.
A 290 million pound Government grant package was given to the Department of Arts, Media and Sport. Great news for creative people, especially if you were about to finish your hard earned art degree that summer.
The deal made it clear that investments in creative people were to be accompanied by a programmed campaign to guide creatives into new industries like architecture, IT, advertising, and designing packages for cat food.
Creative training and work processes would be monitored to keep the kill-joys in London happy that things were being monetised down to the last penny.
Initially, the focus for spending this new cash went on encouraging audiences to try out new types of art. Classical music lovers were told they would have a life changing experience if they would only go and see Fat Boy Slim in concert, theatres were encouraged to show work from new writers instead of the cheap method of putting on a play by a dead writer.
It seemed to work, but the usual problems occurred, opportunists saw that lots of money was involved, so those “really nice people” put their cheap Yuppy suits back on and started to monetise the process of paperwork and consulting.
Things slowed down, art students sat in the pub sharpening their HB3 pencils, but the paper pile got bigger and the money went into the pockets of the smiling Yuppies. If you keep the process of money changing hands for useless services going long enough, lots of people make money.
The Treasury’s Green Book guidelines for cultural expenditure require things to be kept strictly profitable. They decided that paperwork and Yuppies hadn’t been the goal, and cultural centres were to realign their efforts for creative people by actually focusing on the creative person and their endeavours. Instead of spending being used to encourage ex-punk rockers to go and see “Cats”, new creative people were going to get a shot at a funded exhibition of their work. Writers, painters, musicians and circus performers were being given a shot at financial freedom — or at least getting their work seen by a broader public audience.
The story of art and society vs government spending continues, and will always be a point of argument hard to resolve.
Funding students, and artists, getting their work in front of the public by using wads of cash promised by the Government, doesn’t do much when the people making the decisions about spending don’t know much about art. Their brains tend to function with facts and figures which have been made up for them by other people in government. So they get it wrong, mostly.
The Tony Blair Project for the Arts didn’t turn out to be a raging success for artists, but it did help the public get over their inhibitions about trying something new. According to statistics, more people have cross-pollinated their interests for arts, and are now visiting all types of shows instead of just sticking to one type of art form.
Innovation, reiteration, improvisation, inspiration, these terms, some which fit nicely into the realms of business, are all from the same root meaning ; creativity. The domain of the artists.
Artists are valuable members of society, they work and graft at projects which would normally drive a person nuts. They stay the course, they show determination and courage when non-artists describe them as wasters who avoid responsibility.
It’s hard to be an artist, to continue, and never give up, but it’s definitely worth it, society needs nut-cases who are prepared to think differently, risk looking foolish with their ideas and then after turning that stupid idea into something amazing, just to hear a “yuppy-type” person say, “well, I could have done that too.”
It gladdens my heart to see more and more companies embracing creativity, and instead of calling it reiteration or innovation, they admit that it comes from the land of artists and it’s called Creativity.
Alexei Sayle, song — ‘Allo john , Gotta New Motor