Thursday, September 25, 2008

What price creativity?

For those paying attention while around us, markets crash and companies fail, much of London has been busy with groovy-looking people assembling at events, workshops and exhibitions. The London Design Festival (which just finished) and London Fashion Week make September in London visually and intellectually stimulating and provide evidence that the creative economy is still highly dependent on social capital, not to mention the other sort.

During the London Design Festival, a panel discussion entitled "Can you teach it?" organized by the Financial Times brought together people involved in different ways in education and creativity: Michael Craig-Martin (artist and former tutor in fine art at Goldsmiths College), Ilse Crawford, interior designer and professor at the Design Academy in Eindhovern, Mat Hunter of IDEO, and Nick Leon, director of Design London. The event was chaired by Peter Aspden, arts correspondent at the FT, whose opening remarks pointed out the coincidence of Damien Hirst's paradigm-shifting sale of artworks by auction (raising £111m) during the same week that major financial institutions such as Lehman Brothers were failing.

The speakers, despite their differing backgrounds and working contexts, seemed to agree with each other on many of the points they discussed. These were (in no particular order) that:
- you can't teach 'creativity' as such but you can create possibilities for creativity to be freed
- the possibilities for creativity are linked to early years and secondary education
- changes in UK education resulting in an emphasis on assessment may stifle creativity in students
- creativity is a social process
- creativity requires constraints.
Nick Leon helpfully drew distinctions between some of the terms being used - creativity, design and innovation. His argument that what are needed now are Renaissance teams, not Renaissance individuals, makes sense to anyone who sees design as a multi-disciplinary effort.

But creativity is hard to think about out of context. The focus in this event, during this particular festival, was about the creativity, especially visual creativity, we associate with artists and designers, and the commercial and social value we give it. We should not forget the creativity involved in creating novel forms of financial instrument that make it almost impossible for financial regulators, or even managers in the same industry, to work out how much an asset is worth. That creativity - shorn from an ethical set of practices - is one that is going to shape the world for the next few years at least.

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