"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Creativity
March 9, 2012

Where Creativity Doesn’t Come From

I’m often asked about the differences between Hong Kong and Singapore. While there are many things that separate the two cities there is, sadly, one thing they have in common. In both places far too many “creative” types complain that the government doesn’t do enough to promote their industries, that the government should be more […]

I’m often asked about the differences between Hong Kong and Singapore. While there are many things that separate the two cities there is, sadly, one thing they have in common. In both places far too many “creative” types complain that the government doesn’t do enough to promote their industries, that the government should be more actively involved in promoting the best work and that many of the problems they face require government led solutions.

I don’t buy it.

Anyone who expects governments, especially governments in Asia, to foster creativity would do well to read the recent New York Times piece on Zhou Youguang 106, the year old inventor of PinYin (a language that transliterates symbols based chinese into phonic “western” forms).

“Inventions are flowers that grow out of the soil of freedom. Innovation and invention don’t grow out of the government’s orders.”

What Governments Can Do

That’s not to say governments can’t do things. Good education policies are important. Making it easier for creative types to start business and get business-friendly bank accounts is also important. And, of course, the general good-for-society issues, like reliable transport, mail, affordable utilities and affordable rent will also play their part. Finally, governments can make visa processes, both short and one term, easier for the creative industries.

Why We Shouldn’t Wait For Help

We open ourselves up to a dangerously dis-empowering mindset when we lay the blame for personal setbacks on a lack of government initiatives. If you want to be a songwriter, then, on the most important level, all you need is a guitar (or keyboard) and a notepad. That’s it.

As much as I believe in education, the case for growing a creative industry through vocational training is exaggerated. My high school had almost no music programme. We got six months of music in grade 7 and that was it. Music was not offered again in any other grade. My daughter had, by the end of her grade 2, been exposed to more art history and major art works than my fellow students saw in all our 13 years of compulsory schooling.

That didn’t stop my friends from going out and starting bands and writing songs. We made our own t-shirts, printed our own posters, recorded our own demos, booked our own gigs, loaded and repaired our own gear and created our own buzz. The more successful musicians, in our scene and in other towns were doing the same.

And, get this: All that stuff is cheaper and easier now.

The Logic Of The Crowd

Back in the dark ages we always talked about getting “a crowd.” Everyone knew that your new band, or act had to be able to draw a small and loyal following before bigger opportunities came along. Once you had a small crowd you could think about selling tapes, trying to get bigger gigs and attracting local (community) radio airtime.

This wasn’t rocket science. You didn’t need a course to teach you that. You knew it from hanging around music stores, doing fill-in gigs and listening to older guys talk.

Although things have changed now, the principles are still the same. We are doing word of mouth online now and you have access to a whole world of resources for every step of the creative process. You don’t need government support to do it. The tools are, literally, at your fingertips.

The Brutal Truth

I recall one bad gigging experience. This guy had been bugging me for some time to join his blues band. He could certainly talk the talk. I said yes to one gig. We were second on a bill of three bands. The room was 2/3rds full at the start of our set and 9/10ths empty by the end of our third song. This guy simply didn’t have what it took to lead a band, either as a singer or as a personality. The crowd voted and I (soon to be followed by the rest of his band) walked.

With the internet, the idea of a super-talented artist toiling away in obscurity is gone. If your stuff is in any way good, original or just different and you put even a small effort into pimping your work, you will attract a crowd online.

Every hour you spend wishing the government (or the industry, or your parents) had supported you more is an hour you’ve taken away from doing your work and telling people about your work.

Responses
Jeff Shattuck 10 years ago

Great post, totally agree. Here is the States people fret constantly over NEA funding, as though public money is the only way for arts to flourish. Well, if you ask me, there is no way I want a bunch of bureaucrats curating art!

    Fernando Gros 10 years ago

    Jeff – I agree. For some forms of expensive art (like Opera) or for preserving historically significant art forms, things are a little different. But, for everything else…

HKP 10 years ago

I’m with you on that. I suppose one could make a case that, say, Pollock and deKooning both benefited from WPA support at a point in their careers, and this kept them off the streets. But seriously, the Great Depression was an extraordinary circumstance — in this day and age there are few things more unseemly than artist-types whinging about lack of government support.

John Flynne 10 years ago

Fernanado, I almost agree with you for once but you seem as muddled as ever “get business-friendly bank accounts” you have not given a reason for this subsidy.
“affordable rent will also play their part. Finally, governments can make visa processes, both short and one term, easier for the creative industries” Where is your reasoning or moral basis for this?
Are creative industries deserving of a privilege that others can not have ?
How do you determine creative industries?
Is a pharmaceutical company a creative industry for the benefits they give?
You have not clearly established your case.

    Fernando Gros 10 years ago

    John – thanks for your comment. It’s good to understand different viewpoints.

    In the last two cities I’ve lived in, Hong Kong & Singapore, there is a very public drive to attract foreign talent to start creative industries. That is, to a large extent, the context for this piece. The proposals you quoted are practical ideas in this context, so they don’t require a moral basis. I’m suggesting every country needs to adopt them.

    For example, in Hong Kong I found it very easy to open a business bank account, but the kinds of accounts I was offered were a bit behind the times, in terms of ecommerce. Here in Singapore, the services are a bit better in that regard. I don’t see that as a subsidy. It’s a business culture issue.

    There has been a lot of research into what conditions help creative industries to grow and the things societies can do to foster that. Perhaps the most well known writer in this field in Richard Florida. My posts on this topic are based on the intersections between that body of work and my own experience.

    I can perhaps answer your final set of questions by suggesting that there are three fields of industry that are based on the exploration of ideas and that while they hugely important for societies, don’t always give economic benefits in the short term. Those three are Science, Education and Culture. I use creative industries to talk about the last one, since there is a blurring of the lines between the arts and business, when we get into photography, music, visual design and film.

    I believe those three industries are equally important and require their own kinds of special attention and support.

John Flynne 10 years ago

Fern,
No mention of the poor,starving.Which is more important?

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