Creative Mulch – fertilizing dispositions, fertile environments

October 15th, 2012 by Emma Agusita in Creative Networks | no comments

Credit: Kurt.W. (Flickr)

Recently, a research interviewee described Bristol, the city where our case study is based, as possessing “a culture of triers”. He inferred that such strivers are motivated by the desire for creative accomplishment but are ultimately thwarted by lack of accessible ‘progression’ routes, such that, London is still mythologised as the media-metropolis.

That notion struck a particular chord with our research team. As researchers and community media practitioners we have all experienced the double-bind of creative earning and creative yearning within the provinces of grass-roots media arts; in seeking to enable localized media access and representation. It is within this terrain that deeply held values about social equalisation meet individual artistic aspirations which both coalesce and conflict in the contours of informal and formal creative practices.
Moreover, our recent discussions have considered ways in which both small scale and, or, informal individual-and-collective creative actualization activities produce a significant social asset – know-how, skills, ideas and outputs, that compound to form a facilitating fodder. This creative micro-biotic mulch plays a significant part in fertilising the wider creative ecosystem: meso and macro media, whilst simultaneously seeding and feeding micro creative communities and networks.

Within this ecology, informal and formal creative practices are mutually interdependent and the former is vital in creating a nutritional environment in which all forms of creative and cultural flora and fauna can flourish. The perpetual problem is of course, that informal creative practices are differentially valued in a system predominated by economic imperative – where commodification of creativity has largely served to value profitable productivity over cultural process; monetisation over meaning-making.

In response, as Jon underlined in a previous post, neo-liberal critics have mobilized a ‘free labour as exploitation’ argument, as a lens through which to locate informal cultural production, particularly online media content production and yet this stance appears to circumvent an analysis of the creative element. Moreover it obviates consideration of what intrinsic value may be associated with this type of creative endeavour.
Perhaps Guy Standing’s differentiation between ‘labour’ and ‘work’ can help to hack this mobius strip of meta-theory. Whilst labour is a commodity, that often represents exploitative relationships, Standing argues that ‘work’, framed in positive terms, can be considered as personal development, where inner pressures govern production, reproduction and creative activity… “Work done because a person wished to do it, in the pursuit of self-chosen goals of development and social participation” (2009: 6-7). Teresa Amabile’s research concerning the personality of creativity also emphasizes the determining role in creative work played by an intrinsic motivation principle, “motivated primarily by the interest, enjoyment, satisfaction, and challenge of the work itself – and not by external pressures” (1985: 6).

Our initial research data appears to support the notion that commercial incentives for creative incubation can act as a creativity killer because it can have a privatizing effect on knowledge/skill/resource sharing – counter to the concept of an economy of contribution. Rather, mobilising creativity is reported as an act of self-manifestation, which frequently responds to frustration with, and alienation from, commercial culture considered false and out-of-touch (and reach).

Thus, participation in an informal creative network and platform such as South Blessed involves subscription to a kind of talent culture where hope, dreams, skill and knowledge combine in the development of your creative talent which is activated through the network… But what does this mean for the relationship between informal and formal creative practices where creativity can be recreation, manifestation, vocation and profession?

As Jon describes: “the economy of creativity is based on hunches, gambles, talent and risk” and characterized by “an excess of diversity and a superabundance of dreams of stardom”. Geoff Crossick describes knowledge in the creative industries as created in creative spaces, through creative conversations and requires “conceptual and theoretical imagination, critical and lateral thinking across disciplines, and the willingness to take risks” (2006). Clearly there are common characteristics here: ingenuity, aspiration, agility, adaptability, agency (and, as our early interviews suggest, perhaps the encumbered concept of ‘authenticity’) – Being a transient ‘trier’ is actually part of the life-blood of creative and cultural actualization.
Therefore a big part of the problem actually lies in professionalized notions of what ‘making-it’ means, which usually pertains to exiting localized and unofficial creative media activity, rather than working across and between practices. In our study of informal practitioner networks thus far, creativity appears to function as a value, a disposition, a process, an output and an outcome: creating a nutrient rich mulch for motivating and manifesting.

Leave a Reply