I am starting to dislike the word creative. Actual creativity is a pretty good thing; it's just the word that has become ugly. I never hear artists use it. Only corporations. And the consultants of corporations: the TED-talking gurus, the tech-start-up guys who retired at 45 and also invented synergy and disrupt. It's the word urbanist Richard Florida uses to describe gentrification. One is more likely to hear the word creative used in a sentence with content, brand, entrepreneur and disrupt than in a sentence with lithograph, arpeggio, lipogram or cantilever. When you are talking about actual creativity, strangely the word itself evaporates. Conversely, when people in business talk about creativity, they are unlikely to use the word art – they say content instead.
This in part explains my fundamental skepticism of a gorgeous new glossy magazine from the United States called Creativ, which is filled with colour pictures of pretty artwork – paintings, photos, fashion – and interviews with young people who have done impressive things, such as climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with no arms or legs. It comes out of Scottsdale, Ariz. Who in Scottsdale has money to invest in the moribund medium of print these days? Especially on such a lavish, square-bound scale? People who are promoting a website, that's who.
Creativ.com is a clever idea: It's an online community where anyone can share artwork of any kind and join clubs to discuss specific genres and themes (clubs include photo manipulation, jewellery design and even baking). It is free to join. It resembles a much older site called Deviantart, which has been around since 2000 but has a narrower focus: Deviantart assembles nothing but images, and has come to specialize in fantasy and anime illustration. Creativ offers space, in principle, for architects and poets as well (although it is distinctly non-literary so far). Most of it is, like its print counterpart, very slick and decorative images.
There's a weird inspirational-slogan side to it, too: Its participants like to share uplifting stories about how being creative has improved them personally, and that which "inspires" tends to be the most popular. There's a Pollyanna feeling about the whole thing. Lars von Trier and Michel Houellebecq would not feel at home there.
The print magazine is made up of profiles of popular artists and personalities on the site. There is no unifying theme to each issue – just profiles of people who are good at something (and nothing too troubling). The magazine is for sale for $10 in Barnes & Noble stores, but clearly its function is to drive people to the website. If you share your art there, you might be chosen by the editors for a profile.
One subject in particular intrigued me. A Web designer from Victoria, named Paul Jarvis, made explicit the distinction between "creative" and "artist": "Artists create in a vacuum, whereas creatives create with purpose," he wrote. Yikes.
Look, I honestly wish sometimes I could be as optimistic and positive about the symbiotic relationship of art and commerce – as American, basically – as these social-media people. My thinking on art is always going to be basically European and anti-social. Maybe I just need to spend more time in sunny Arizona.
I know a guy, an intellectual, who is a professor of creativity. His name is Brandon McFarlane and he used to teach Canadian literature at the University of Toronto; now he teaches in a certificate program in "creative thinking" at Sheridan College. His students are a mix of arty types, such as theatre designers and business students. I asked him whether he was teaching art or commerce. He proudly stood up for a mix of both.
McFarlane admits that "creativity is a bit of a buzzword in the economy." But he points out that the days of complete federal funding for the arts are long gone, in this country at least, and that private-public partnerships are increasingly the only way to bring large art projects to fruition. The City of Toronto, like others, has folded its cultural portfolio into its economic development portfolio, and this is symbolic of a larger change of thinking.
McFarlane is not unsympathetic to my fears of the corporatization of the creative. He admits that there hasn't been much of a critique of this kind of economically oriented creativity "from a humanities perspective." He wonders if Dadaism would have been considered creative by a corporate sponsor. But he suspects that the trend is, in general, beneficial to the arts. "For some artists, this is liberating because they can now see themselves as professionals. Their skill is recognized and monetized." One of the things he teaches his students is how to get their creative ideas into markets, and that's not a bad thing, even for the most sullen of anti-establishment artists.
Of the venture-capital experiment that is Creativ.com, McFarlane says diplomatically, "Well, one of the flaws of social enterprise is that it tends to be more enterprise than social."
So far, all the press about Creativ.com and its new magazine has been from the tech media, about the risks and possibilities of such a venture from a business perspective. And Creativ's own press releases explode with Silicon Valley-speak about branding and content. The art press has been completely silent, I suspect because they are totally unaware of it. Beautiful fashion photographs are a dime a dozen and so not often on their radar.
The same thing happened when Wattpad launched a similar platform for free amateur literature: It was seen for a year at least solely as a clever new app, not as a branch of publishing. It's harder than entrepreneurs think to bridge the gap between app-making and the snobbish, erudite and contrarian world of art. Especially if the goal of the enterprise is obviously and unabashedly to make its owners lots of money. I suspect a lot of artists are going to prefer to keep their art on their own websites. That would be quite creative.