Sarah Brouillette, Literature and the Creative Economy.

Citation: Brouillette, Sarah. Literature and the Creative Economy. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014.

Brouillette writes, “We risk overlooking observable economic and cultural change if we treat the creative economy as little more than a fantastical projection of political will” (2).  The “creative economy discourse dovetails importantly with neoliberalism” (2).  Britain’s New Labour promoted the relationship of “culture and the arts to securing individual and collective interests” (4), including policies for a creative economy, trading on the notion that creative workers are ideal self-managers and self-directed. “Creative work tends to be figured contradictorily by creative-economy rhetoric, as at once newly valuable to capitalism and romantically honorable and free” (4).  Brouillette “troubles this model,” identifying the creative worker as “historically produced, highly contested, and contingent (4-5), takes issue with the worker as “sufficient to itself” (5), and traces the “evolving relationship between cultural commerce and artistic autonomy” (5).

Redefining artists as doing work that is social is no easy task. “The idea that artists should be involved not only in their own career development as sole authors but also in forwarding of social goals is one that neoliberal government have tended to embrace” (15).

There is an idea that “serious [artists] will be motivated by internal directives to which profit is irrelevant” (5), which pairs with the neoliberal self-driven individual. “With a welcome embrace of ceaseless change, creativity would also be the privileged parker of one’s personal evolution toward a reflexive capitalist modernity” (6).  Challenging the “flexible personality […] is part of the collective work of imagining new ideals of autonomy and authenticity to counter the old critique of massification, whose demand for liberation of a limitless human potential from all social constraint proved so useful to management discourse” (7). Instead, “we can challenge the model of the asocial or antisocial flexible individualist by stressing that she is produced by the same social circumstances she is supposed to disavow” (8).

How do artists deal with “contradictions: between the traditional veneration of artistic autonomy and the reality of conscription into proliferating state and corporate initiatives, and between the social production of culture and the lionization of the individual creator” (8)? Especially given the creative economy’s “troubling psychological effects, its alienating impact, and its reliance on a precarious underclass” (9). This seems like a crucial point for thinking about the recognition of Inuit art in Canada, given Annie Pootoogoo’s death, where an upgrade of her work’s recognition seemed to stand in for recognition of social inequity.

Today, when “art is asked to do much but appears to change little, the writer’s task is to enumerate and scrutinize the substantial barriers to his medium’s own effectiveness” (12).  Post WWII, the “therapeutic imperative was encouraging people to imagine themselves as constantly pursuing better versions of themselves” (13). Brouillette is interested in the conditions that make creators and consumers of culture reject material goals in favour of “immaterial goals like self-knowledge, authenticity, originality, and happiness” (14). Of particular interest is the “art-commerce dialectic” (17) that Bourdieu elaborates. In neoliberal governance, and the thought-systems that it encourages, culture is seen as “economically viable and socially consequential” (32). Compellingly, she notes that the “cultural economy” “accommodate critique” (14) but it is unclear how it does so.

Regarding Richard Florida’s book – what it is and what it does – she notes that cashing in the creative “object” for the very significance of market circulation “is, by its own light, its originality or creative genius spark; thus, the very definition of innovation becomes inseparable from marketability, which is proven by widespread dissemination” (23). “Florida’s definition of creativity” – really a metonym for creative-economy policy and discourse – “makes the language of the market and the language of individual expressivity inextricable” (23).

So the creative economy is used to transfer state responsibilities, like social support, while excessive government regulation is construed as hampering creative potential (the unseen hand of the creative economy?) as in David Cameron’s response to the 2008 economic crisis, in which he blamed excessive regulation for stifling creativity (30). The idea that culture is internal, and thus “anathema to bureaucracy” has currency, in many definitions of the word (31). She notes the irony of the state weaving the tale of its own non-existence (32).

Points of Importance/Interest:

  • Recognition of Inuit art works through a lens of reflexive capitalist modernity, but there are other things at stake in terms of constituting colonial identities and shaping what sorts of futures appear possible.
  • She does not dispel the sense that there is some authentic creativity that is lost, such as her claim that “an authentically edgy urban milieu develop[s] spontaneously” (23).
  • The idea that culture is internal and thus “anathema to bureaucracy” is important for Indigenous studies, particularly given the salience of the rhetoric of personal worth and authentic culture versus government reliance.
  • Clear links to The Expediency of Culture.



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