Ποιειν Και Πραττειν - create and do

From productivity to creativity - the cultural economy in the making by Hatto Fischer


Headline: EU Wakes Up to Culture - resume

ArtForum, December 18 2006

"A European Union commission will put down a set of proposals for a common cultural policy by June 2007. As APA and Der Standard report, it is the first time that the EU has undertaken such an initiative since the Maastricht Treaty of 1992 made culture a part of the EU agenda. . . . According to a financial study commissioned by the agency, culture employs 5.8 million (3.1 percent of employed EU citizens) and accounts for 2.6 percent of gross GNP, more than the chemical industry (2.3 percent) and real estate (2.1 percent). Cultural profits—in 2003, estimated at €654 billion ($866.8 billion)—outdo the auto industry (€271 billion [$359.2 billion]), as well as information and communication technologies (€541 billion [$717 billion]).

In view of such findings, the question can be asked if a cultural economy is in the making, and if yes, how will creativity and productivity be combined?



Hatto Fischer, Athens 2007      Photo: Kostas Kartelias

The ECCM Symposium “Productivity of Culture” was intended to respond to the study published by the European Commission about the growing importance of culture to the economy. [1] Indeed, the designation of a city to become European Capital of Culture for one year can be evaluated whether it has changed the relationship between culture and economy.

Already in the 1990’s concepts like creative clusters and cultural industries indicated a transformation of the industrial society. Still, how much the economy i.e. the free market relies on culture to take things forward, is often obscured by confusing paraphrases about reality. Not surprisingly Veronika Ratzenboek, director of Kulturdokumentation in Vienna, observes that cities have difficulties in recognizing the value of the arts and culture. [2] Equally A.J. Wiesand from the research centre Ericarts warned in discussions leading up to the EU Conference ‘Culture empowers Europe’ held under the German Presidency in Berlin, June 2007 that the contribution by the cultural sector to the economy should not be overestimated. [3] Consequently this brief reflection intends to probe whether or not there is a cultural economy in the making?

To start with, obviously nowadays the concepts of productivity and creativity have to be understood quite differently compared to when Marx wrote his criticism about Capitalism or Adam Smith talked about ‘division of labor’ as key to productivity. Until recently it seems that productivity has been achieved by altering the labor/capital relationship while it is argued that the introduction of technology has enhanced and increased the productivity of people employed. To this has to be added efficiency in terms of both management and organization. Already Cornelius Castoriadis pointed out it means a growing dependency upon technology being no longer just a tool, but representing a new logic of organization and by implication a ‘theory of society’.

There is a need for a new ‘economic theory’ in the age of globalization. Yet what could replace the Milton Friedman notion of consumer behavior being based solely on life time income?  What could be a convincing ‘economic theory’ which includes culture? Theory of economy has been discussed from Michael Polanyi to Louis Baeck in terms of an alternative to the exchange principle with money as the most sophisticated decision carrier. [4] Here Michael D. Higgins would give a progressive cultural policy a chance to convince governments that they need to do more than to just regulate the circulation of money. Indeed such articulated political responsibility relates to cultural governance and a cultural economy in the making.

In such a context it becomes crucial to understand why increasing emphasis is being put upon ‘innovation and creativity’. [5] So far innovation meant faster adaptation of new ideas to become new products. At governmental policy it meant to give support to research and within the EU the promotion of cultural adaptation of products to culturally defined markets.

Once creativity is added, however, policy implications are in store. Given government policy being subjugated to an economy only driven viewpoint, culture is at risk to be sidelined despite efforts in recent years to alter the EU agenda. Moreover it can be easily overlooked the need of culture to ensure that creativity remains linked to efforts by mankind to attain human self-consciousness. That can be derived from the arts and culture only once they free themselves from mere commercial interests. Michel Angelo did his final two art works independent from any payment; he stepped out of contractual obligations to free himself. Michael D. Higgins reminded rightly so in this Symposium that culture is much wider in scope than the economy.

Oversights and shortcomings in policy and research are incurred when leaving out the need for cultural investments. The latter follow new approaches which bring together, for instance, poets and planners as was done by the ‘Myth of the City’ conference in Crete to discuss living conditions in cities. By freeing both the poets and planners from their specialized fields, they develop a common language. [6]

Moreover cultural investments are made due to long term visions. As every parent knows a child will mature only over time. Thus in a cultural economy innovation has to work itself through all phases, in order to attain consistency over time. Then things can take on ‘quality knowledge’. That has cultural value and marks the cultural economy. To this belongs a life long learning process for culturally based knowledge requires above all that people are not merely productive, but creative as well. Such an ability to find new and novel solutions includes a readiness by parents to take the time to tell their child a story before going to bed rather than just saying go to sleep. Impatience and short-cuts have never given time for creativity to find good solutions. A creative life is equally a poetic one with human emotions being expressed, not subdued. Here Adorno and Horkheimer pointed out already the division of pleasure and work has to be overcome. [7]

How odd then the economic term of innovation! It entails cutting down the time it takes to implement a new idea. No wonder when economic deficiencies are linked to long delays and decision making processes of centralized, highly bureaucratic governments blamed for taking too much time. Such impatience meant doing away with regulations therefore also with political accountability. It has produced a growing financial crisis with no one sure anymore about the purchasing power of money. Sartre pointed out it leads to the production of unemployment in order to give back to money some of the lost purchasing power. Still innovation remains linked to efficiency in time. It is based on the assumption the faster the implementation process the better it is for the economy.

By contrast innovation in a cultural sense is linked to the ability to give time for a process to work itself through. A child growing up needs time to find own solutions. It means people need to be trusted and given the confidence that they can free themselves from strictly hierarchical organizational structures. For only then are people free to act rather than be forced permanently to react to the given. Once human self consciousness is added to the negotiation under which conditions people will have to work and to live, the principle of equality will be observed.

A wise government policy would let the innovative process work itself through until the cultural scope of the economy is understood by all people. It requires a cultural adaptation to a mediation process between past, present and future needs. Agenda 21 was only then successful when the administration was decentralized to let people participate in the reform process. Sustainability means after all what people can uphold if need to be with their own hands. Above all they need to understand what the government wishes to implement. Any cultural self-understanding of the economy has to be lived in real time and place if rational politics is to be upheld.

If a cultural economy is to attain sustainable development, economic and environmental criteria have to be enriched by including cultural and institutional ones. People can only adapt to changes if they have the cultural tools. Bernd Fesel stressed that this involves a collective learning process. It is something to be experienced currently in the Ruhr region undergoing a tremendous transition towards the new creative economy. The collective learning process includes new methods of perception. [8] Such ‘cognitive development’ needs to be promoted if the economy is to face the challenges of globalization and of world wide competition. It would be impossible if cultural developments were excluded. Artistic expressions are essential parts of this overall adaptation process to the new economy.

Qualification for the new work is made possible not merely by formal processes; cultural adaptation is brought about as well by initiating informal learning processes. Once children, youth and adults can enter collaborative work processes, they experience that cultural actions can become community based participations. Such actions as exemplified by the Kids’ Guernica movement (see the exhibition which accompanied this ECCM Symposium) underline the need for bottom-up actions and which have become success stories over time. For instance, dialogue between cultures as part of bottom-up diplomacy begins with children starting the peace process at an early age. They do so by trusting and understanding each other and thereby create friendships for life. [9]

Since creativity is linked to finding new solutions in reality, it goes beyond the mere given. Here freedom of the imagination and empathy for other people are prerequisites. Still it is important to heed what Bart Verschaffel stressed at the Symposium, namely that creativity is exceptional and cannot be planned. To this may be added something Andre Breton, author of the Surrealist Manifesto, said about Picasso, namely as the one artist who does not need to observe the Surrealist Manifest since he would ‘follow his own morality of creativity’. This deeper insight into what path an artist takes (and such a path differs from what careers are pursued within respective companies, international institutions or think tanks) should at the very least make evident that creativity is no magic fluke, but comes about due to some very clear ethical insights. It can begin with a clear description of the problem i.e. how to draw the hands as did Albrecht Duerer and does not end with Picasso painting Guernica by going beyond mere enemy pictures. The latter are usually reproduced to denounce the perpetrators but are unable to reach out to human pain as did Picasso.

Creativity is a highly moral task since mankind has to answer to challenges of life in a very humane way. Hence every creative act entails the possibility of becoming more humane. Above all creativity has to do with freedom from violence and coercion. Here philosophy recognizes intuition as the only logic which fulfills that ethical prerequisite. Of interest is, therefore, what George Krimpas said at the outset of this ECCM session on ‘culture and economy’. He linked the concept of economy to ‘the art to set limits’. [10] For instance, artists can become very creative, if the curator gives to all the freedom to express themselves, but sets one simple constraint: all expressions have to be made out of wood.

For people to come together, the language they use becomes crucial. Karl Marx stated in the introduction to his dissertation that people need to address each other in such a language that they can attain thereby human self-consciousness. That is only possible, so Marx, if language contains categories of both productivity and creativity. In brief, a humane language is a critical prerequisite for the cultural economy in the making. With it goes the freedom for people to work together free from hierarchical structures. They need to redefine success. Clearly any elitist concept of culture is incompatible with this presupposition. Still Ernst Bloch stressed hierarchy has remained for philosophy an unresolved problem till now.

By bringing together categories of productivity and creativity to form the language of the cultural economy, human resources are respected, not abused and people are free to work together. Without culture this would be inconceivable. At the same time, the original sense of economy should not be forgotten, namely how to use scarce resources to achieve maximum output at lowest costs? A cultural economy is not mere consumption, i.e. not based on waste or on risking people’s lives, in order to attain value or an extra high prize (Bataille).

Given external relationships to the world any cultural economy in the making has to sustain intercultural dialogue, if to be successful. But as Abdelaziz Kacem from Tunesia cautioned, the dialogue between cultures might no longer be possible in a world beset by permanent war. This impact of the ‘war against terrorism’ at global level has to be taken very serious. It has lead to a condition that people feel to be surrounded only by violence. As Abdelaziz Kacem describes it global violence has led to various cultural tributes no longer feeding the great stream of humanity; it leaves human language at great risk to dry out. Add to this the fact that no matter what story is told, people enter constantly a minefield of misunderstandings and are hurt in the process. Consequently people tend to silence each other rather than learn to resolve their conflicts by participating in an open ended communication process. [11]

Although the European Commission has declared 2008 as year of intercultural dialogue and 2009 to ‘innovation and creativity’, Europe has not attained anywhere close social and economic cohesion. The impact of the global economy has been most negative on how people view governments and politics. In many cases, loss of human language indicates that equality and justice do not prevail in society. Culture should ensure solidarity between people willing to talk about problems. Instead too many people withdraw their support from intercultural dialogues and end up giving merely explanations as to what is taking place anyhow on the ground. They no longer engage themselves in dialogues nor search for solutions. Once resigned, they can no longer anticipate things to come. They simply fail to respond in time to looming dangers. Certainly one of the greatest failures of culture has been lack of anticipation. In Ancient Greece, Athenians entered the war with Sparta despite being warned; they never foresaw this would contribute to their own downfall.

The ECCM Symposium has touched upon many important issues, but they need to be developed further. For instance, understanding the relationship between culture and economy would require an inspirational logic to take things to another level of quality. It would be crucial to let people enter a creative process of their own making if they are to tackle problems of the economy linked to both waste by over consumption and loss of values and identity due to over commercialization.

So far the European Commission has only capitalized on the success story of European Cultural Capital Cities by promoting and profiting from a growing competitiveness between cities eager to attain the designation. That is mere Capitalism in reverse. In reality, it means little or no investments but instigations to set off a mechanism of competition. Also cities receiving such designation need to deliver the proof that the program they adopted for the one year proved to be a most successful one. Yet all evaluations point to the same problem: a lack of sustainability. Also it is not clear what impact this one year had upon the relationship between economy and culture. Thus there is a lack of learning from experience. Here the European Commission is called upon to improve upon the understanding of culture each city may demonstrate when the European Capital of Culture. Such cities need to be made responsible as to what is happening to Europe’s cultures.

To keep the economy going, use and distribution of resources need a constant cultural refinement. Without that economic policy would have no orientation for the future. A culture of democracy would ensure that all voices are heard when discussing possible options. To that belong open ended identity building processes and novel perceptions of human reality. As to identity, it should be freely formed but according to how Descartes defined economy, namely to the least number of rules. He believed a spontaneous ‘I’ can be linked at the moment of formation to the collectivity of people. Such understanding of rationality would further the human stream.

Business people and investors complain always about bureaucratization hindering investments, but no one seems to address the issue of over complication by numerous rules when it comes to identity formations. There is inherent in the system a great deal of inefficiency but which many exploit to survive. No wonder then when no one has a real interest to resolve the core problems e.g. in Greece the entire private education system profits of the inefficiency of the public one. In a cultural economy that would change. Efficiency would require giving perspectives to future generations and not abusing them by exploiting the fear of parents about their children’s future.

The European Union has been looked upon as bringing more efficiency. But here Bart Verschaffel reminds that Europe is a mere fiction and no single culture is good if it means exclusion of others. Louis Baeck would add to this another caution, namely as long as only one set of references is used i.e. the Western viewpoint, then the Islamic view of globalization shall not be understood. [12]

Indeed a debate about the cultural economy in the making would benefit by altering the crucial references to start a dialogue between culture and economy. It would have to ensure human self consciousness and set cultural terms as part of an intelligible reality. Overall, creativity would have to be brought about by setting such horizons which give people a sense of time and place in order to find solutions. They find them if they experience a truly fulfilled life. It has to be based on happiness, trust and openness. Only then such productivity of culture would bring about a peace process otherwise at risk to be overstated as ‘productivity of diplomacy’ (Guy de la Croix [13]) despite countless diplomatic failures. Peace has to be based on bottom-up success stories. They tell best how people can stay human, in touch with their own lived reality, and show how they can respond with reason despite all possible challenges and even wars. The latter can never be legitimized but do happen due to all cultural failures to anticipate things to come. Since it is never an easy task to bring about a peaceful and just society, the cultural economy has here to work out such measures which can mediate between utopian wishes and reality.


[1] KEA Study: The Economy of the culture, published by the EU Commission 2007: http://ec.europa.eu/culture/key-documents/doc873_en.htm

[2] http://www.kulturdokumentation.org/eversion/indexframe.html

[3] A. J. Wiesand in cooperation with M. Söndermann: "The 'Creative Sector' – An Engine for Diversity, Growth and Jobs in Europe" (2005) http://www.kultur-macht-europa.de/126.html?L=1

[4] See contributions of workshop 5 to the Fifth Seminar, Cultural Actions for Europe, organised by Hatto Fischer in Athens 1995: http://poieinkaiprattein.org/cultural-actions-for-europe/the-workshops/workshop-5-culture-driven-economy/

[5] The European Union will make 2009 the year of innovation and creativity.

[6] It was organized by a run up of a group of poets and planners who constituted later the Non Profit Urban Society ‘Poiein Kai Prattein’ in Athens, Greece. See www.poieinkaiprattein.org

[7] Adorno and Horkheim (1944) ‘Dialectic of the Enlightenment’. Frankfurt a. Main: Suhrkamp.

[8] http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/a-z/bernd-fesel/#cv

[9] http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/discussions/

[10] http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/a-z/george-krimpas/#a

[11] http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/a-z/abdelaziz-kacem/#a

[12] For writings by Louis Baeck see http://perswww.kuleuven.be/~u0004464/

[13] http://productivityofculture.org/symposium/a-z/guy-feaux-de-la-croix/

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