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ausgabe #85/86. essay. lidija krienzer radojević

Problems with Creative Work 


It is commonly known that we live in a ‘cultural’ age, a ‘creative’ age. This time is marked by a work of artistic innovators, knowledge entrepreneurs, e-gurus, fashion conceptualists, music-makers, digital hawkers, traders and image-makers. Since the 1970s there has been a rapid expansion of activity and employment in cultural sector that have now come to be (right or wrong) known collectively as the ‘cultural and creative industries’ (CCIs). Although definitions of the CCIs vary across countries and often within regions and nations themselves, it is unequivocally that they are becoming more important to the competitive offer of post-industrial cities and regions. Moreover, governments that have enthusiastically embraced the CCIs as a solution to the systemic crises of deindustrialization, promote the virtues of cultural production and invest substantial resources in ensuring that individuals and institutions are able to meet the challenges of this new ‘creative age’. 

What constitutes CCIs production is a complex, but in general it refers on the production of ‘aesthetic’ or ‘symbolic’ goods and services; that is, commodities whose core value is derived from their function as carriers of meaning in the form of images, symbols, signs and sounds. The growing contribution of CCIs to national economies and the sector’s potential for creating new jobs have led to a situation, in which working conditions are no longer questioned. Moreover, the notion that cultural work is actually work (that is, an economic activity for which one receives payment) appears to have largely escaped the attention of politicians as well as critical thinkers. Instead, governments and other policymakers automatically assume cultural work to be an intrinsically progressive type of labour. Therefore it is important to scrutinize: what type of labour, broadly characterized as ‘creative’, ‘cultural’ or ‘artistic’, is involved in CCIs production and what kind of working lives create those symbolic commodities that are judged to be essential components of the transition to a ‘post-industrial’, ‘creative’ or ‘knowledge’ based economy? 

In order to de-emphasise the connotations of ‘individual genius’ and ‘higher calling’ associated with the term ‘artist’ I prefer to use the term ‘creative or cultural worker’. Additionally, this naming signals that cultural work is a socially situated and purposeful process of work. Cultural work is an internally complex form of labour and creates a variety of labour identities and social effects. A popular discourse underpinned with widespread images of self-obsessed ‘trendies’, ‘yuppies’, ‘bourgeois bohemians’, routinely identifies cultural workers as lazy, shallow and inauthentic. On the other side, compared with the predominantly ‘uncreative’ and alienating work of the industrial era, creative and performative modes of work are presented as a key means to personal freedom. Here creative worker appears free to utilize its intellectual and artistic talents and exerts enhanced control over the labour process. This utopian presentation implies that here the reason for work is “self-fulfilment” rather than a material necessity. Simultaneously, it predisposes that cultural workers must pursue self-employment and entrepreneurship in a spirit of self-exploration and self-fulfilment. Both these astray images prevent to view creative work as a profession or career option that involves as many of the same (political) issues as other kinds of work. 

Commercially focused creativity could be appropriately stimulated, but even more exploited. Since the creative workers (aka the ‘artist’, the ‘designer’, the ‘director’, the ‘writer’ and the ‘musician’) are very much at the centre of the CCIs labour process1 and therefore the primary source of the distinctive value produced by the specific industries, they are facing the same exploitative and precarious nature of work process as other workers do. In contrary to the industry hype, that glorifies creative work as a self-expressive, autonomous and self-actualizing pleasure, many creative workers are involved in relations of dependency with larger, corporate or multinational enterprises that strongly determine conditions of ‘independent’ production. They are neither ‘stars’, nor are they rich or even particularly successful. Furthermore, the majority of them toil in relatively anonymous enterprises or cultural initiatives, carry the burden of 'self-employed' status and either live off the erratic incomes from ‘projects’ or more conventionally on low or subsistence-level wages. An oversupply of labour to the CCIs additionally increase the competition among creative ‘independents’. 

 Since the collective bargaining in the interests of fair pay and conditions was abandoned under the ideological precept that, in an individualized ‘creative’ or ‘knowledge’ economy, it is no longer appropriate to serve individual interests through collective means, self-employment and freelancing became dominant modes of work. The proliferation and normalization of ‘enterprise’ discourses now encourages workers to not only conform to corporate values but also view the uptake of such values as crucial to their own personal development and self-interest. This doubleedged character of ‘self-enterprise’ reinforces discourses of ‘self-blaming’ amongst ‘failing’ entrepreneurs and workers, and potentially disaggregates collective forms of organizing and representation amongst cultural workers. All together blur the fact that it is a systemic impossibility for everyone to succeed in a market system, and that work is itself always subject to the caprices and whims of managers, market shifts and exigencies of capital. The individualizing discourses of ‘talent’ and ‘creativity’ and the promise of future fame or consecration is just another tool for reinforcement of capital interests in the eternal struggle with united labour. 


For dummies :)

The most obvious reasons why in debate about creative work success proves to be elusive and talent goes unrealized: 

Creative work is project-based and irregular job. Contracts tend to be short-term, and there is little job protection. There is a predominance of self-employed or freelance workers that more than half time of work spend for administration. Career prospects are uncertain and earnings are usually slim and unequally distributed. Additionally, because of an oversupply of labour to the creative industries, much of creatives work for free or on subsistence wages. Since insurance, health protection and pension benefits are limited, creatives are mostly younger than other workers, and tend to hold second or multiple jobs.


Lidija Krienzer-Radojević


Hier geht es zur Übersetzung.



[1]          CCIs production involve also other kinds of labour too – notably manufacturing, service and technical labour. For every creative worker there are many more manual, clerical, administrative, technical and managerial staff making vital contributions to the production– and they should not be ignored. These workers are positioned within a more conventional (and well-researched) division of labour at least compared with their more creative colleagues.


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