Creativity as Commodity

The incomparable Chas Clifton posted a link to an article at Salon called “TED Talks are lying to you” by Thomas Frank.  I read Frank’s article and, as a creative person trying to break into the ‘creative class,’ I found it profoundly disturbing.

“[F]or all its reverential talk about the rebel and the box breaker, society had no interest in new ideas at all unless they reinforced favorite theories or could be monetized in some obvious way.”

Quoting the book “Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention” (1996) by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Frank says,

“[Van Gogh’s] creativity came into being when a sufficient number of art experts felt that his paintings had something important to contribute to the domain of art.” Innovation, that is, exists only when the correctly credentialed hivemind agrees that it does…What determines “creativity,” in other words, is the very faction it’s supposedly rebelling against: established expertise.”

Speaking of self-help books about fostering creativity, he adds,

“Creativity is what they [brilliant people] bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.”

As a fan of popular success guru Tim Ferriss, I immediately saw that Ferriss’ material might be an attempt to short circuit the cycle.  That is to say, Ferriss wants us to be creative but not give it away to the hive-mind.  The essence of the Four Hour Work Week is that one leverages his or her creativity and keeps all the dough.  At the same time however, Ferriss is turning his creative advice into a commodity, topping the NYT Bestseller List like a madman and tangoing to the bank with ADD-fueled glee.

Frank forced some self-analysis.  Am I, as a writer searching for success, merely trying to get noticed by, and ultimately become a member of, a privileged creative elite?

I don’t think so.  I don’t want to get rich.  I don’t yearn to get a book on the NYTBSL.  In the long run, I’m shooting for 5,000 fans who’ll download the one or two novels I put out each year so that I can pay the bills doing what I love.

In the short term, I just want to write some excellent books that people actually read.

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