This week, the indefatigable Gerry Hassan (with Rosie Ilett) brings out a new collection of essays entitled Radical Scotland: Arguments for Self-Determination. It's quite a "map of Thoughtland" (or the contemporary Scottish intelligentsia), including James Mitchell, Michael Keating, David Donald and Alan Hutton, Drew Scott, John McLaren, Phil Hanlon and Freja Ulvestad Karki, Keir Bloomer, Sue Palmer and Alan Sinclair, Fergus McNeil, Jim McCormick and Katie Grant, Douglas Robertson, Eurig Scandrett, Andy Wightman, Neil Mulholland, Joan McAlpine, Anthony Barnett and Will Hutton, Zygmunt Bauman, Richard Wyn-Jones and Tom Nairn... and yours truly.
The eagle-eyed reader will see a bit of conceptual recycling from parallel writings in my Play Ethic guise - but as the topic was the wider question of the enabling conditions of creativity in contemporary Scotland, I think it was a relevant steal. It's pretty academic in tone in places, for which some apologies.
As ever, all comments and dissemination welcome.
Between a Creative Scotland and a Cultural Scotland
(Chapter 16 of Radical Scotland)
There is much academic dispute about what the term "creative industries" actually means - and by implication, how that meaning shapes policy-making. Galloway and Dunlop make it clear that there has to be a distinction between "cultural industries" and "creative industries" (Dunlop and Galloway, 2007). For them, culture implies "the production and circulation of symbolic ideas", and has a direct relationship to the right of self-expression, and by association the health of a democracy, as defined by various articles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights (and further refinements by UNESCO).
The question of "cultural industry" is then about the extent to which public policy supports "the space for different types of cultural expression, including local, regional and national cultural identities, which may not play to a global market, and may never make big bucks". A cultural perspective has to consider how communities need "structural possibilities of continuity and reference", and "a shared vocabulary of tradition and convention" (Dworkin, 1985), in order to get the most out of culture. Those structures and vocabularies can be built through public goods like museums, libraries and particular subsidies of artists and scenes, aiming to secure the widest possible access to cultural meaning.
The problem with subsuming "cultural industries" under "creative industries", for Dunlop and Galloway, is that it blurs and fuzzes this linkage between culture, self-expression, democracy, and non-market values. They make the obvious point that "creativity" - the application of new ideas to conventional conditions - exists in almost every "industry", and that the term is so capacious as to be effectively meaningless.
But they also identify that the term has salience in very political contexts. And particularly the post New-Labour era of promoting the idea of a "knowledge economy" - where all ideas and sensibilities are regarded as inputs into a commercial environment; where the outputs are most evidently in those cultural forms that combine technology and "symbolic ideas" (film, tv, publishing, internet, computer games); and where revenue comes from the accumulative sale of objects/services and the exploitation of intellectual rights.
Dunlop and Galloway have fears about a "creative industries" paradigm - centrally concerned with the commercial rent to be derived from symbolic and semiotic expression - and how it might come to dominate how public bodies think about the support and development of culture. Might it be part of "a longer term strategy to undermine the ideological basis for state cultural support? When the distinctive attributes of culture are being so purposely ignored, we may ask whether we are slowly heading for a US approach to culture, as in healthcare and education?" These writers powerfully alert us to the implications of the use of the term "creative" in any debates about cultural policy.
So does a "Creative" Scotland anticipate the kind of creeping marketisation of cultural provision that Dunlop and Galloway fear? The consistent formulation used on the department's new website - as the "new national leader for Scotland’s arts, screen and creative industries" - implies (at least syntactically) a distinct understanding of something called an "arts industry", which in its policies might reflect those "distinctive attributes of culture" - around democracy, common resources and rights of self-expression - that the writers adamantly defend. One should also remember the parting statement from the outgoing chairman of the Scottish Arts Council (Creative Scotland's predecessor), Richard Holloway:
Creative Scotland is going to have to pull off the difficult feat of trying to forward the Government’s agenda for growing the economy by unleashing Scotland’s creativity, without taming the anarchic energy that lies at the heart of the creative act .... Living with this tension without trying to resolve it will give us edge and keep us on our intellectual toes. But Government, too, will have to recognise that we cannot always be a comfortable ally for them as they pursue their different but legitimate purposes. We will be vigilant in protecting the spiritual integrity of Scotland’s makers, including their ancient right to bite the hands that feed them. And we will never forget Graham Greene’s admonition that disloyalty is the primary virtue of the artist. If we can all learn to live within that tension without trying to resolve it, then Scotland will have become a truly creative nation. (Holloway, 2009)
Is this a tension that can be "lived with... without trying to resolve it"? The early indications from the new leadership of Creative Scotland are fascinating. A story in the Scottish Review revealed correspondence between Creative Scotland's head, Andrew Dixon, and a grant application, in which Dixon wrote that "we will not be a funding body in the old sense of the Arts Council but a strategic body". A minor public dispute resultedi, where Dixon answered the Scottish Review’s charge that the secret agenda of the new Creative Scotland is “the privatisation of the arts”. Dixon said:
We intend to promote cultural exchanges between this country and the rest of the world and to ensure that the country’s creative professionals can profit from their talent. That is not ‘privatisation’; it is about valuing the skills and ideas of talented people and protecting their intellectual property. (Roy, 2010)
From a commercial arts and media perspective, the underlying meaning of this is familiar. Creative Scotland begins to sound more like a record company, book publisher or maybe even venture capitalist. “Ensuring that creative professionals can profit from their talent” doesn’t imply the old idea of giving a grant to an artist so they can clear the time in their lives to be creative, with outcomes expected but not prescribed, and with the ownership of the object staying with the artist to deploy as they wish - Dunlop and Galloway's vision of arts practice as a public good connected to democratic self-expression. Those of us who have dealt with managers, investors and svengalis of the music business, have heard for years talk about “valuing the skills and ideas of your talent” and “protecting your intellectual property”. And in the course of protecting their “investment” – another code word in Dixon’s discourses – they demand a cut of the overall royalty of the intellectual property of the artworks you produce.
What might be haunting the new Creative Scotland is the J.K. Rowling scenario. A few thousand pounds from the Scottish Arts Council is granted to a struggling writer to help her complete her children’s novel. The book becomes one of the biggest multimedia cultural franchises of the last 20 years – and no scrap of royalty returns to the organisation that played a foundational role in making it possible.
But there are many subtle dimensions to the relationship between markets, property, subsidy and the autonomy of the artist. Until recently, I’ve never taken a penny from public arts subsidy and then was given a few thousands pounds to be a judge, in 2009 and 2010, for the Scottish Books of the Year. This provided an overview of just how widely, and sensitively, the old Scottish Arts Council supported the continuing dynamism of Scottish literature.
The novel category winner in 2010, John Aberdein’s Strip the Willow, bore its SAC-funded symbol proudly, was published by a successful Scottish commercial publisher (Polygon, enjoying the fruits of Alexander McCall Smith’s success, but long the recipient of SAC grants and funds), with Aberdein receiving a £5000 prize from the sponsors Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust.
But there is no inevitable happy spot to be found between artistic autonomy and more commercially aware public arts bodies - and there shouldn’t be. One look at the SAC-funded arts journal Variant which devotes large stretches of its editorial to detailed critiques of arts-funding policy, demonstrates that this tendency won’t be going away any time soon.
Do we go to see contemporary art, for example, hoping that it’s going to be “customer-sensitive” – or do we want it to be customer-insensitive, to rattle and shock us into the new. The right of pure artists to maintain a creative distance from their funders (or as Holloway would put it, a "creative disobedience") must be maintained. In the overall balance of arts, even commercial artists want to be able to turn up to a space that hasn’t been squeezed through the sausage grinder of formats and markets. However much Creative Scotland wants to develop its role as a rights-sharing venture capitalist, they must still recognise their ultimate function: as the organisation that allows imaginations to lift free from the usual pressure of consumer or investor expectations.
Culture as a "public good" is about providing intense visions in our lives, available generally and at no or low cost. And that’s about an ‘intellectual commons’, not intellectual property – not just a competitive market, but an ecology of creativity. But talk of an "intellectual commons" or an "ecology of creativity" should prompt us again to look at what we mean by creativity, beyond Galloway and Dunlop's account of it as a terminological stalking-horse for commercialisation of the arts. Could there be a understanding of Scottish "creativity" that evades both its assumed conjunction with the "industrial", and the implication that commercial relations and property rights are necessarily involved?
In an aside, Galloway and Dunlop note that "individual creativity could equally well include developing scientific innovations, yet industries that develop these are not typically included in definitions of the creative sector". They seem to have overlooked one of the most notable institutional innovations of the New Labour era - the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts (NESTA). Though its current incarnation is the promotion of innovation in the public sector, its original ambit in 1997 was to encourage collaboration between the arts and sciences, in cross-disciplinary endeavours and projects.
Yet with the increasing spread of information and communication technologies (ICT) into every area of social existence in the developed West, it would be easy to say that such a collaboration between arts and sciences has been going on entirely by itself, without much need for public policy of any kind at all. And where do the productions of the internet sit in a debate that counterposes "cultural industry" to "creative industry"? Where do phenomena like Google, YouTube, Facebook and Flickr sit between the poles of symbolic communication as an expression of freedom and human rights (at one end), and functional systems, instrumental technology and marketed products (at the other)? Surely the latter facilitates and enriches the former, equally as much as it subjects it to the law of the market?
Cyberculture - an old term, but still useful - has a complex relationship to debates around culture, creativity and the relationship between public and private. We are living through an era, comparable to that of the introduction of movable type in the 14th century, where the transformation in the production of cultural representations and expressions is causing a shift in several regimes of power - political, organisational, economic, even familial and emotional. Beyond debates about public or private subsidy of the arts, or policies aimed at exploiting new ideas, the operations of the Net reveal some fundamental strata of the human condition - among them a "creativity", or openness to change and transformation, which is far more elementally subversive than any particular cultural or business initiative.
The distinct neoteny of our species – that is, the extension of youthful characteristics far into our maturity, by comparison even with other simians – keeps us always, as the Italian thinker Paulo Virno says, in a state of "permanent formation" (Virno, 2009). We have kept this endemic and anxiety-inducing openness to the world under control, says Virno, by means of what he calls "cultural and social devices" – religions, castes, class identities, civic values, educational systems, regional and national cultural traditions. But Virno's warning is that the regime of flexible production and informationalised management that typifies contemporary Western capitalism is now uniquely exploiting our neoteny. Post-Fordism (should we bite the bullet and call it Googlism?) deliberately accelerates this indeterminacy – the faculties that open us up to endemic flexiblity and openess – to make it the very fuel of the social and economic order: "The death of specialised instincts and the lack of a definite environment, which have been the same from the Cro-Magnons onwards, today appear as noteworthy economic resources". Virno moves through our natural faculties of potentiality, and lashes them methodically to the flexible personality required by informational capitalism.
Our biological non-specialisation? The grounding for the "universal flexibility" of labour services: "The only professional talent that really counts in post-Fordist production is the habit not to acquire lasting habits, that is the capacity to react promptly to the unusual". Our neotenic forever-youngness, always ready to learn and adapt? We are now subject to "permanent formation… what matters is not what is progressively learning (roles, techniques, etc) but the display of the pure power to learn". That fact that we are not determined by our environment, but make and construct our worlds? This is mirrored by the "permanent precarity of jobs", where we wander nomadically from one cloud in the nebulous world of labour markets to another.
With a sardonic gloominess worthy of Theodor Adorno, Virno denies that this intrinsically unstable system necessarily leads to unruliness – "far from it". In traditional societies with less pervasive markets (which one presumes includes Fordism), our deep ontological anxiety could be contained by "protective cultural niches". The "omnilateral potentiality" of flexible capitalism shakes those niches to fragments. Yet even though this disembeddedness allows for an "unlimited variability of rules", when those rules are applied, they are much more "tremendously rigid" than the Fordist workplace. Each productive instance is like the tight rules of a competitive game, easily entered into but severely binding when the play begins.
When commanded by our managements to respond to today's adhoc list of tasks and projects, in a world of frazzling openness and potentiality, we display "a compulsive reliance on stereotyped formulae". It is via these formulae that we "contain and dilute" the pervasive indeterminacy of the human condition. Virno characterises them as:
reaction-halting behaviours, obsessive tics, the drastic impoverishments of the ars combinatoria, the inflation of transient but harsh norms…Though on the one hand, permanent formation and the precarity of employments guarantee the full exposure to the world, on the other they instigate the latter's reduction to a spectral or mawkish dollhouse. Virno, 2009)
To return to our theme: if being "creatively Scottish", according to our public bodies and their optimistic political managers, is about maintaining our potentiating flexibility, about fuelling the plural energies of the playful self, this may not be – according to Virno – as progressive as it thinks it might be. To describe some products of our cultural industries as a "spectral or mawkish dollhouse" - in a UK regularly gripped by reality and talent shows that repeat some of the most enduring passivities of commercial culture - doesn't seem too far from the mark. And what might it profit a generation of media studies, liberal arts or cultural studies graduates to gain a full facility in the "ars combinatoria", yet deploy them in the "drastic impoverishments" of the reality tv show or the taste-marketing analytics consultancy?
Virno claims that the playfulness which has always been a touchstone for artistic practice from Romanticism onwards has now become the Achilles Heel of productive subjectivity - the point of susceptible engagement with processes of miasmic exploitation (or at least expropriation) of human creativity. How do we question the baroque mechanisms of psychological capture that Virno so mordantly describes, all their fine-grained capitalisation of our playful natures? Is there any escape from a vision of our post-Fordist cultural existence as "bigger cages, longer chains"?
Certainly, Virno's is not the only social-scientific reading of our wide-open, neotenic natures which is available. The education psychologist Brian Sutton-Smith identifies one evolutionary function of play as the continuation of "neonatal optimism" throughout the life-span (Sutton-Smith, 2009). The "unrealistic optimism, egocentricity and reactivity" of the growing child, all of them "guarantors of persistence in the face of adversity", characterise many of our adult play behaviours. Play brings a sense of joyful indefatigability and energetic resilience, which – like the pleasure of sex for procreation – is evolution's "salute" to the human animal for maintaining a "general liveliness", in the face of the challenges of existence.
Sutton-Smith sees play forms as an expression of reflective 'secondary' emotion, as ways to deal constructively with the 'primary' emotions located in the more reactive parts of the human brain. The amygdala that generates shock, anger, fear, disgust, sadness is mediated by a frontal-lobe that trades in pride, empathy, envy, embarrassment, guilt, and shame, with happiness as the emotion that operates across both brain areas. The 'secondary' emotions are much more 'rule-based' or 'situation-based' – our play, games and simulations operate as the medium whereby our basic emotions can be translated into manageable interpersonal and social phenomena.
Compared to Virno's 'potential human', fated to indecision in its very constititution, Sutton-Smith's 'adaptive potentiator' has a healthy dynamic in its use of play. For the latter, play is "a fortification against the disabilities of life. It transcends life’s distresses and boredoms and, in general, allows the individual or the group to substitute their own enjoyable, fun-filled, theatrics for other representations of reality in a tacit attempt to feel that life is worth living".
In the Sutton-Smith vision, play is not the soft spot whereby we are made into controllable "dividuals" by hyper-capitalism, but the resilient optimism out of which the very possibilities of societal difference are generated. Cultural policy, founded in this socio-biological vision, becomes a constructive exercise in building forms of simulation, combination, virtuosity and performance which exercise that deeply-rooted "neonatal optimism".
Yet isn't such a constitutive "optimism" just what the desiring-machines of Virno's info-capitalism most wishes to exploit? The answer returns power to the cultural policy-maker – but not via institutions which take their dominant character from an "industrial" age. Cultural institutions have to build those rich, public "grounds of play" in which the optimism of our species can flourish in a way which outflanks and surpasses any dominion that a powerfully calibrating control-society might assert.
In this, Dunlop and Galloway's distinction between "cultural" and "creative" becomes relevant again. How can distinctively cultural platforms enable, through artistic production, the kind of joyful, exhilarated freedom that surpasses the behaviour-calibration of the creative industries? For organisational inspiration, they could do worse that to attend to the peculiarly persistent linking of commons and dynamism that characterises the internet.
For neoteny's generation of play and playforms throughout the human life-span is one of the deeply constitutive processes shaping the design, functionality and culture of the internet. One epochal answer to our potentiating faculties that the internet could represent is that of an extension of the "ground of play" that we see across the higher complex mammals – that open but distantly monitored developmental zone of time, space and resource, where potentiating risks are taken by explorative, energetic organisms, in conditions where scarcity is held at bay.
Lion-cubs or chimps compelled to diversively play, risking injury and predation, but in a delimited zone with ultimate defenses; children in their local playground, enjoying their rough-and-tumble with solid equipment and open space, under some kind of municipal governance; all of us on the internet, improvising our sociality and extending our conviviality with powerful communication tools, resting on a complex but (so far) resilient infrastructure. All of these can be cast as complex-mammalian 'grounds of play', sharing three conditions – they are 1) loosely but robustly governed; 2) a surplus of time, space and materials is ensured; 3) failure, risk and mess is treated as necessary for development.
So the 'constitutive' power of play in humanity – that neoteny-driven potentiation that excites both autonomists and socio-biologists – seems to also require a 'constitutional' dimension: a protocol of governance securing certain material and emotional conditions, to enable a rich plurality of playforms. When Lessig speaks of the Net as an "innovation commons", the resonance with a socio-biological vision of the ground of play is clear. His idea that the internet represents an "architecture of value" is also homologous with these conditions for play: both are discernable zones of rough-and-tumble activity in which our social-ethical identities are forged. A cultural ecology where security and risk are in dynamic, mutually fruitful balance.
Of course, in the Scottish political context, the constitutional question is always a live issue. But a constitutional approach to the support of Scottish arts and culture, inspired organisationally by the Net, might begin to look beyond the very confines of cultural debate itself, and attend to those "material" and socio-economic conditions that would support a rich plurality of free expression.
Perhaps the best cultural policy for this doesn't lie at all with an arts body - but with housing, welfare, labour-market regulation and taxation. Cheap living rents, a creative enterprise allowance, a general nationwide policy of working hours reduction, and tax breaks for artists would generate the right balance of security and risk that supports healthy culture. Vibrant artistic scenes don't necessarily want a grant for their art - but they do want freedom to dispose of their time, talents and energies as they would choose to.
Those three conditions of a "ground of play" - loose but robust governance, an surplus of resources in time, space and materials, and an expectation that process is more important than outcome - maybe be more lastingly secured by a move towards a 21-hour week, as the New Economics Foundation proposes, than whatever a dedicated "arts, screen and creative industry" body could ever do (Coote, 2010). Helping to raise the floor of that basic social autonomy - not just for the creatives, but for their possible audiences and co-creators - may be the most effective measure to support the continuing development of Scottish culture.
Coote, A. (2010), 21 Hours: Why a shorter working week can help us all to flourish in the 21st century, London: New Economics Foundation, http://www.neweconomics.org/publications/21-hours
Damasio, A. (1994), Descartes' Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain, New York: G.P. Putman and Sons.
Galloway, S. and Dunlop, S. (2007), ‘A Critique of Definitions of the Cultural and Creative Industries in Public Policy’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, Vol. 13, No. 1.
Holloway, R. (2009), 'Creative Disobedience', Scottish Arts Council Position Paper, Edinburgh: Scottish Arts Council.
Roy, K. (2010), ‘A public body and SR’, Scottish Review, September 13th, http://www.scottishreview.net/KRoyspecial19.shtml
Sutton-Smith, B. (2008), ‘Play Theory: A Personal Journey and New Thoughts’, American Journal of Play, Vol. 1, No.1, 80-123.
Virno, P. (2009), 'Natural-Historical Diagrams: the 'New Global' Movement and the Biological Invariant’, in Chiesa, L. and Toscano, A., (eds), The Italian Difference Between Nihilism and Biopolitics, Re-Press, http://3.ly/virno.