The Fallacy of the Creative Economy

Singer, 6th Street Bar - Austin, Texas

Singer, 6th Street Bar – Austin, Texas

Creating, performing, and putting yourself out there can be scary and lonely.

The experts assure us that when the robots, automation, and AIs inherit the earth, life will be better because it will give us all time to be creatives. We will all be promoting our personal brands and building an audience around the world. Good luck with that. At least it’ll give people something to strive for when millions have to look for a new way to pay the bills and occupy their time.

I can tell you from experience that being a creative is a lot of work and the returns are low. Not only financially but along many other measurements. Elsewhere, on social media, people scramble for attention and collect “Likes” that have no value beyond a tiny spritz of dopamine. Odds are, things will only get worse, especially if people don’t have worthwhile things to do.

I made this picture at a bar on 6th Street. It’s an all too common scene in Austin. Too many musicians chasing a limited and distracted audience. How hard is it to sing your heart out in front of a few people who probably aren’t even listening? It’s a proxy for creatives around the world. Not only musicians but writers, artists, photographers, podcasters, YouTubers, and yes, bloggers. The audience has too little time and too many choices.

Millions of new creatives are not going to improve the situation. Like most things in the world, in an increasing winner takes all world, a disproportionately small number of people will control the narrative.

So why do I blog? It’s complicated. I’ve been trying to figure that out for nine years. Of course, I get to interact with people around the world, mostly virtually but sometimes even in person. The daily blogging schedule challenges me to create new content, write stories, and craft narratives. That’s on top of making decent images on a continuous basis. Exercising the creative right side of my brain has ultimately changed the way I look at the world. Better balancing my analytical left side with the creative right. That’s the trick. You need to derive more benefits than the challenges you endure. That’s the only way you can continue.

Let’s hope the millions of would-be creatives find their own worthwhile benefits. Just don’t expect it to pay the bills.

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4 thoughts on “The Fallacy of the Creative Economy

  1. I still chuckle every time I see or hear “creative” used as a noun. 🙂 It has become quite the thing in recent years, an evolution of language driven by human desire to find identity and neatly label it, I suppose. At first I thought it was a Millennial thing. I did some research and found that noun uses date back much further than I thought, which surprised me.

    In any event, while I consider it disingenuous to label myself a “creative”, if there truly is such a thing, I’ve been known to perform on stages and snap a few photos. Sometimes I might accidentally do something that someone might consider creative and I feel like I can relate to true artists (my preferred term for “creatives”) on some level. I agree that pursuing creative activities with the goal of financial gain is a recipe for disappointment. My own efforts to monetize my photography did little to bolster my economic situation and had a huge detrimental effect on my passion for the art.

    As technology continues to evolve, outsmarting and outperforming humanity, many people are left with the “Now what?” question. Still have to earn a living even if the machines are doing the work. Hanging out a “Creative” shingle is one of the worst ways I can think of to try and make a living. It might work for a very select few. Buy a few lottery tickets while you’re at it and see which approach works better.

    Even if you are fortunate enough to find a way to make a living outside of creative art, you are left with the fact that the Internet has democratized content creation and distribution. Everyone has a voice, whether they are a “creative” or not. The problem is almost nobody is listening any more. I’ve been on stages playing to empty seats more times than I’d like to admit. While the Internet’s stage might be bigger, watching eyes and listening ears aren’t necessarily any more numerous. It’s hard to cut through the cacophony and it will only get worse.

    Sorry for rambling on your blog. Again. 😉 It’s an interesting topic. Maybe I’ll explore further over in my little corner of the jungle.

    1. Mike, I completely agree with you. Creating art for one’s self is fine. Just don’t expect much more.

      I don’t find it comfortable calling myself an artist, a photographer and blogger, yes. But, I find it okay to generically call myself a creative. Though I do agree that the term does have a touch of “bogusness” to it.

      And, feel free to ramble. Great to get other people’s opinions on these topics. I think your comment is as long as my post.

      I think there are a lot of experts out there that throw out opinions and solutions and have no idea what what they are talking about. It’s a brave new world and they are stabbing at the dark like the rest of us.

  2. People seem to think that the few “rock bands” that make it are in some way indicative of some kind of creative reality, just as they assume that authors with best-selling books are rich. Most rockers don’t make it and even authors with many best-selling books aren’t rich and many of them need a second job to pay the bills. A VERY few are well to do — and most of then kept second jobs — teaching, programming, finance, etc. for many long years until finally someone bought their book for a movie (which is where the money is because it certainly isn’t in self-publishing or the deals you get from whatever publishers are left … and very few people make enough money painting or playing music to pay the bills.

    I don’t even want to think what this world will be like in another 20 much less 40 years. Too depressing to contemplate. Fortunately, I’m pretty sure I’ll be dead by then, so others can worry about it.

    1. I guess, in reality, that’s the way it aways was for artists. It’s a lifestyle, a calling, and not a way to make money. In the past, the successful ones had rich sponsors that supported them.

      What happens in the future when artists no longer have the option for viable 2nd jobs. Yes, the world is changing rapidly and we haven’t seen anything yet.

      Technology changes at a exponential rate. The disruptions we see now are nothing compared to the near future and, as you mentioned, 20 to 40 years for now. I’ll probably be okay. But, I wonder and worry for my kids.

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