[-empyre-] Creativity as a social ontology

Simon Biggs s.biggs at eca.ac.uk
Sun Aug 1 02:21:31 EST 2010

So, we come to the end of the month of July and to the end of our discussion
on the theme of creativity as a social ontology. During August empyre will
take a break and return with a new theme in September. Of course, that
doesn't mean the list is turned off and I hope my inbox will continue to
receive interesting emails throughout the month.

To remind us again of where we began:
Creativity is often perceived as a product of individual, or group, creative
activity. However, it might also be considered an emergent phenomenon of
communities, driving change and facilitating individual and ensemble
creativity. Expanded concepts of agency allow us to question who, or what,
can be an active participant in creative social interactions, providing
diverse models for authorship. How might we understand creativity as
interaction, as sets of discursive relations? Creativity can be a
performative activity released when engaged through and by a community. In
this context the model of the solitary artist, who produces artefacts which
embody creativity, can be questioned as an ideal for achieving creative
outcomes. Creativity can be proposed as an activity of exchange that enables
(creates) people and communities. This suggests it is possible to conceive
of creativity as emergent from and innate to the interactions of people.
Such an understanding functions to combat instrumentalist views of
creativity that demand it have social (e.g.: "economic") value. Creativity
need not be valued as satisfying a perceived need nor need it be
romantically situated as a supply-side "blue skies" ideal. An alternate
model can be proposed where creativity is considered an emergent property of
community; an ontology.

Over the past month our invited guests and members of empyre have addressed
these questions from a range of perspectives. I am not going to try to
summarise the various viewpoints here as to do so would, I fear, lead to a
very long email. The empyre archive is always accessible. I would, however,
like to reflect on the tensions identified in the discussion about
collaborative, distributed and collective modes of authorship.

The original theme was carefully proposed not to be exclusivist. The first
and second sentences of the introductory statement did not present an
either/or situation. To quote, "it (creativity) might also be considered an
emergent phenomenon of communities". The adverb "also" is an important word
here as it permits creativity as something that can be a property,
condition, phenomena or activity that might be associated with individuals,
groups or as emergent from general human interaction. Clearly our discussion
has focused on the latter of these three possibilities but not to the
exclusion of other conceptions.

I fear at times that some of the protagonists in our debate have understood
this argument as equivalent to the democratisation of creativity and the
culture wars around high and low culture. However, that is a different
argument concerning what can be considered creative outcomes of subsequent
social value permitting them to be accepted as canonical. It is an argument
about who can participate in cultural production and in what manner.

At other points in the discussion there have been spirited arguments why
creativity is (in some instances, apparently, must be) the outcome of
individually internalised processes and activities. As an artist I have huge
sympathy for this position. Most artists live their lives in fear that many
people will not only not "get" their work but will actually be hostile to it
and to the entire field in which they work. In such a context it is natural
to go on the defensive and seek internalised value in what you do. At the
very least you will always have one member of your fan club - yourself. If
you are lucky you will carve out a niche for yourself in a small club of
like minded practitioners. Scott's last post reflected on such aspects of
the artist's condition, considering the career options open (or closed) to
them and the price that will be paid to to concentrate on what you really
want to do. It was sobering.

However, neither the high/low culture debate or a fear of philistines are
likely to facilitate the development of the theme originally proposed for
this months discussion. To focus on either of these approaches, whilst
generally valid, is to misconceive how creativity was being posited in the
original outline of the theme. Nowhere in the statement was the word "art"
employed. The word "artist" was used once, to distinguish between what they
do as practice and the outcomes of that practice and where value is
subsequently inscribed. It was used to differentiate what the word
creativity meant in this context.

The word "creativity" was then employed to indicate social interaction as a
form of distributed agency (involving numerous agents, not all of them
human). The outcome of this creative process was posited as "people", which
is to say not just people as individuated social beings amongst other beings
but also people as instances of social interaction, as process.

How can this idea of people as instances of interaction otherwise be
described? Perhaps the suggestion here is that people can be considered as
"in-between". I would interpret this as an "always becoming"; that people
exist in a process of constant becoming, a process that involves numerous
relationships - relationships not founded on a self/other dualism, where
self is individuated through difference, but something more akin to
Deleuze's "rhizome" or Ingold's "meshwork", where self emerges as manifold,
motile and de-centred.

The term "dark matter" was used to describe how creativity might be
conceived of as a determining force. Sean seized on this and acutely
observed that we were once again speaking of mediation and media. However,
another buzz word from physics might usefully be evoked here - quanta.
Traditionally this word was used to denote the smallest things from which
other things might be made. The meaning of the term has since evolved so
that in quantum mechanics it can denote something that is in more than one
(possibly a plural) state. In this cosmology the things from which all other
things are made are always in-between, both one thing and another and then
neither, all at the same time. Here self and other become each other and
also another.

I don't think there is any conclusion that can be suggested at this point in
the discussion. Perhaps, like our image of "quantum creativity", this is a
discussion that will always be becoming, never reaching sufficient clarity
to be one thing or another, escaping definition as the subject again morphs
into something else.

Nevertheless, I would like to thank everybody that contributed to this
months discussion. I would like to thank our guests Helen Varley Jamieson,
Eugenio Tisselli, Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli, James Leach, Ruth Catlow, Magnus
Lawrie and Scott Rettberg, all of whom gave generously of their time to post
provocative and inspiring texts. I would like to thank Tim Murray and Renate
Ferro for inviting me to host the month. I would also like to thank all
those members of empyre who contributed to the discussion, some making
several timely and thoughtful interventions, and also all those members who
participated silently, each of whom "read" us (and empyre as a collective
phenomena) into "being" at each reading. With list members all over the
world it ensures we are all well travelled.



Simon Biggs
s.biggs at eca.ac.uk  simon at littlepig.org.uk
Skype: simonbiggsuk

Research Professor  edinburgh college of art
Creative Interdisciplinary Research into CoLlaborative Environments
Electronic Literature as a Model of Creativity and Innovation in Practice
Centre for Film, Performance and Media Arts

Edinburgh College of Art (eca) is a charity registered in Scotland, number SC009201

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