Tag Archives: creators

Scarcity and problematic creators

I think there’s a scarcity narrative around creativity. The idea that genius is rare, and that as a consequence we must put up with the brilliant people who are also terrible people. We must separate the art from the artist’s shortcomings as a person.

Over the last twenty years or so I’ve spent a lot of time as a reader, reviewer, and editor of indie creations and have spent a lot of time working for small publishing houses. The scarcity story is a lie. We are not short of brilliance and originality. I feel confident in saying that for every problematic high profile creator, there are dozens, if not hundreds of equally or more talented people who haven’t done terrible things.

What would happen if we didn’t keep high profile, disreputable people in their jobs? Would creative industries suffer? Or would we open up space for nicer people? Might we even get an increase in talent and delight as a consequence? I think we would. I would like to see more people given a chance to break through, and I feel really comfortable about doing that at the expense of people who don’t play nicely.

It’s become popular to criticise ‘cancel culture’ on grounds of free speech. But, bear in mind, every time you ‘cancel’ some high profile individual who maybe doesn’t deserve the attention, you open up space for someone else.  It’s not cancelling culture, it’s changing culture. It’s also worth noting that industries are driven by the desire for profit and if they drop an individual it is primarily because they do not think this person is going to make them enough money. If we aren’t so interested in the art of bigots and abusers, there’s less market for it, so companies interested in profits won’t try to sell that to us.  Controversy can sell, but if it doesn’t sell as well as other things, it won’t be a driving force.

For every high profile creator whose attitude stinks, there are many less famous creators with wonderful work whose outlook might also suit you better. It only makes sense to have to forgive creators for crapiness if you think creativity is in short supply. It isn’t. Wealth and fame are in short supply, opportunities and privilege are in short supply, but step outside of the narrow mainstream and there is so much good stuff to be found.

All art is political

All art is political. If you can’t see the political dimension of a piece of art this is because it aligns neatly with your own world view and requires no effort on your part. If you are cis, white and male and you’re used to it being normal for the main character to be cis, white and male, then you won’t see anything remotely political about this representation. This happens at the unpleasant end of comics reading rather a lot. To introduce diversity is political, to carry on with this – from the perspective of those who support it – isn’t.

Anything that upholds the current system and gives us what we expect can be misread in this way. However, given the many problems and failings of western colonial culture, to present it unchallenged is to be political. We are killing our planet, ourselves and each other with pollution, climate change, loss of resources and over-consumption. To ignore that is political. Art that doesn’t mention these issues is political.

Equally, art that has no room for vast swathes of diversity and experience, is political. If there is no room in your story for queers, if disabled people don’t exist, and poor people are just cannon fodder and BAME people don’t get speaking parts, or are just there to be exotic eye candy… then the art is political.

All creators exist in a political context. All creators are impacted by the laws and financial realities of the time and place in which they create. Some creators have massive privilege – family wealth, education, support, nepotism, opportunities… some creators do not. Publishing is not good at diversity. Getting an arts education is a lot easier if you can afford one, and doors open for people who know people who work in the right places. It is impossible to make art that is not political. If you find it easy to make and sell your work and give no thought to the context that makes it easy for you, your art still has a political dimension.

If you can ignore the political context in which you create or consume art, that’s political. It means you are safe, and have privilege and can choose whether to engage or not. Marginalised people don’t have the luxury of that choice. If politics are done to you, then you don’t get to choose whether you engage or not, and the political dimension in which your art occurs is there whether you wanted it in the mix or not.

Then there’s the politics of how we think about it. Whether we see an art item or a craft item is a political issue. The way in which beautifully made and decorated items with utility are hived off as craft is a political decision that impacts on how the arts of working people are understood.

So, next time you see someone complaining about an artist bringing politics to their work, bear this in mind. Some creators don’t get a choice, because who they are means that their work will always be viewed in political terms even if they don’t really want it to be. Art only seems not to be political if it expresses and reinforces your world view, and that’s a very politically loaded thing to have happening unquestioned.