The Open University hosted Professor Stephanie Taylor’s inaugural lecture on 14 June 2022.
In her lecture, Professor Stephanie Taylor discussed the associations of creativity, its contradictions and how we can understand the experience of being creative.
She discussed how creativity carries contradictory associations. It supposedly drives the unworldly artist who turns away from practical concerns in pursuit of creative fulfilment, and also the hard-headed entrepreneur and the supremely rational scientist. Creativity is thought of as the special gift that marks off a minority of ‘great’ people, and a capacity that all of us possess and should exercise, for our mental health. These contradictions co-exist in psychology and to some extent originated there.
Academic psychologists have discussed the creativity of exceptional people, developed tests for creativity, modelled creative processes, and proposed that creativity is a basic human potential often inhibited by society. In the late 20th century, psychology contributed to the identification and naming of the creative industries as a significant sector in contemporary economies. Critics have suggested that the sector is exploitative because it uses the romantic promise of creativity that derives from the arts in order to attract workers and induce them to accept bad employment. Professor Taylor questioned if there is another way to understand the continuing commitment of the workers, even after the sector was badly hit by the pandemic.
Watch the recording of Professor Stephanie Taylor’s inaugural lecture:
Good evening everybody. Thanks ever so much for joining us for a hybrid Inaugural Lecture. It's great to have people here in the Berrill Theatre and I know we're also being joined on YouTube Live by an audience as well. I think Inaugural Lectures are always one of my favourite events at the University because they're a real opportunity to celebrate an important stage in someone's career, but also to learn a little bit more about them. So we're really looking forward to Stephanie's presentation today. The Inaugural Lectures are invited by the Vice-Chancellor and over the course of a year they build into I think a really powerful celebration of academic excellence and the careers that we all enjoy here at The Open University. So this evening Stephanie Taylor who is Professor in Social Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counselling is going to tell us about her experiences in the areas of being creative. We're going to have Questions and Answers so if you're in the audience here please do get your questions ready for afterwards. Helene who is in the corner there is going to be our monitor of what's happening online and hopefully we'll also get some questions from the audience that are joining us through YouTube. If you're on Twitter please do feel free and we encourage you to tweet as you're hearing from Stephanie and if you can tag it with @OpenUniversity so that we can let as many people as possible know about this evening's event.
So a little bit about Stephanie who as I say is Professor in Social Psychology. She was a student at The Open University. It is great to see someone come right the way through from being a student and returned as an academic here in 1998. She is active in teaching in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, including contributions to Introductory Social Science Research Methods and Postgraduate Psychology modules. As I'm sure we'll hear this evening, her research centres on the critical analysis of common-sense knowledge that shapes our understanding of ourselves and of our social worlds. For some years she's researched and written about the experience of contemporary creative practitioners. Amongst her output she has books entitled Contemporary Identities of Creativity and Creative Work, which was co- authored with Karen Littleton. Narratives of Identity and Place and What is Discourse Analysis? So it's a huge pleasure for me to welcome Stephanie here to give her Inaugural Lecture.
Thanks for coming everyone. It's just great that you're here. Well, creativity is one of those words that initially seems to have an obvious meaning and then it becomes more complicated on a closer examination. Being creative is associated with being innovative with making something that's new and original. So we might think of scientists, entrepreneurs and writers, but the ultimate image of the creative person is probably that of the artist. The image or the cliche of the artist is of someone who's gifted, who's inspired, driven, a non-conformist who doesn't care about the values of polite society, suffering in a garret and pursuing art for art's sake and we might add that in the image the artist is usually a man and usually a white European or Anglo-American man at that. To quote a couple of critical descriptions from academics “The image of the artist is of a bohemian character who adopts a disdainful attitude towards a conventional way of life” and “The making of art requires special talents, gifts or abilities which few have. People with such gifts cannot be subjected to the constraints imposed on other members of society. We must allow them to violate rules of decorum, propriety and common sense.” Now of course neither of these is intended to be an accurate description. The second one is from the sociologist Howard S. Becker and he called it “A romantic myth”. Art historians could probably tell us something about the origins of that myth including as a kind of marketing device that was developed by the agents of European painters in the late 19th century, but that's not my area. As a social psychologist I want to consider the myth as part of a common-sense understanding of creativity. The myth is also implicated with academic psychology which has in turn influenced common-sense understandings. So it becomes a rather complicated story. I'll be approaching all this through the lens of critical discursive psychology, the area that I work in, and my additional focus will be on how that approach captures some of the feelings and the emotions, the affect that is attached to creativity. These points are of course additionally interesting because we do live in a time in which creativity is very widely celebrated, including in relation to a whole global economic sector, the creative industries. But first let me go back to the psychology discipline.
There are arguments that the myth of the artist has impacted on the academic field of psychology influencing research and theories. For instance in the mid-20th century the President of the American Psychological Association, J.P. Guilford, suggested that psychologists should pay more attention to the study of creativity because the US economy was in need of new ideas and creative people. Guilford’s call has been identified as a prompt for the development of the whole field of the psychology of creativity, which of course is now very large. In his address Guilford criticised the mass education of the time for promoting conformity apparently accepting that implication of the myth that creativity and non-conformity are linked. Similarly the psychologist who's probably best known for studying creativity, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi wrote about how psychologists were called on by the US Air Force to develop a test for creativity. Why? Well, the Air Force had found that overly conformist pilots who went by the book weren't able to deal with sudden emergencies. So the solution was seen to be to recruit more creative people to become pilots. So it seems that psychology and the US Air Force took from the myth of the artist the idea that creativity and non-conformity are connected. As one writer summarises it “Since the early 1950s influential psychologists and management theorists have tended to present the study of artists as straightforward evidence that the social is a form of constraint to be transcended by the effective working self.” So creativity was linked to effectiveness and anti-social individuality.
But in addition to apparently accepting that myth of the artist the academic discipline of psychology has also contributed some different ideas that contradict the myth and those ideas have themselves become part of the common-sense understanding of creativity. There's that idea that creativity should be valued because it's useful. It contributes to safe flying and also the national economy. Now, of course, art has always been utilised for many purposes to support many interests including national interests. But the point here is the contrast with the myth of the artist who pursues art for art's sake. Instead, creativity is presented as something to be valued for its practical applications and uses or utility.
Another idea from the psychology discipline is that creativity isn't limited to a few exceptional people with extraordinary gifts like famous artists. Instead Guilford suggested that almost anyone can be creative provided that they aren't being inhibited by mass education methods or by society more generally. In 1958 he wrote a paper titled, “Can creativity be developed?” and his answer was definitely affirmative. He suggested that 20th century America had lost the creative thinking that had been stimulated in early settlers by the challenges of their lives and he called for Yankee ingenuity to be reclaimed. So further implication here is that creativity arises out of nurture rather than nature. It's a capacity that can be cultivated in everybody. We could say that psychology challenged the elite art associations of creativity and democratised it. Another psychologist, Abraham Maslow, made a distinction between what he called ‘special talent creativeness’ used for example in painting, writing poetry, composing music and ‘self-actualising creativeness’ which he associates with a free and positive approach to life and to almost any activity he mentions, for example homemaking and social care. He was less interested in the elite art activities than this self-actualising creativeness in ordinary life. He refers to self-actualising creativeness as “that more widespread kind of creativeness which is the universal heritage of every human being that is born.” He linked it to psychological health and to freedom and the experience of happy and secure children. He described it as “a fundamental characteristic inherent in human nature, a potentiality given to all or most human beings at birth, which most often is lost or buried or inhibited as the person gets enculturated”. So yet again we see the parallels with the idea of the creative person needing to be freed from social rules. Of course all those ideas have contributed to the contemporary assumption that people should exercise their creativity, that to do so is beneficial including for mental health, whether or not that's as part of a formal art therapy or a personal activity and we can see a claim about that in a report from a UK Parliamentary Working Group that said, “The act of creation and our appreciation of it provides an individual experience that can have positive effects on our physical and mental health and wellbeing.”
But despite the common threads and the arguments that I have sketched so far psychologists don't always agree about creativity. For instance, although Guilford and Maslow suggested that there was a potential conflict between creativity and the demands of society, other psychologists have proposed that creative processes are social not individual. For instance, Csikszentmihalyi emphasised that a creative person functions within a wider social context and a community or social network. If we extend his systems theory to an artist we might point out that the artist’s work will come out of a tradition of previous work or several traditions so it's being influenced by the existing knowledge within the context. Whether or not any new work becomes accepted as good art or even at all noticed as art, that will depend on people within a network or what Howard Becker called ‘an art world’, people like critics or experts. So Csikszentmihalyi’s point is that any investigation of creativity has to consider the whole system not just an individual. He said that studying individuals to determine how creative they are is like listening to one hand clapping.
To give a few other examples of psychologists emphasising the social aspects of creativity, Teresa Amabile modelled a complex componential framework of personal, cognitive and social factors that influence creative behaviour. In sociocultural psychology Vera John-Steiner argued that artists and scientists and other significant creative people are always working with partners and co-contributors whether or not that's acknowledged. So the creative unit is always a collaborative relationship not a lone individual. Keith Sawyer suggested that there's a model for that collaborative creativity in the ways that jazz musicians or actors improvise together. Sawyer also related these ideas back to the kind of utility celebrated by Guilford proposing that industry can benefit from group genius to produce innovations.
So within the various accounts we can see some different and sometimes conflicting characterisations of creativity most of which have now become part of common-sense. It's the gift of just a few special people or it's a universal capacity, we all possess it, we can all use it. Relatedly creativity is a gift from nature, you have it or you don't. Or it's a potential that can be taught or nurtured in anyone, for instance through the right kind of education and social environment. It's located within an individual or it's developed and recognised in the interactions between people in wider social networks and contexts. Creativity should be pursued as an end in itself. So that's art for art's sake again, or because it has practical applications including therapeutic uses for mental health. Those different characterisations to some extent co-exist in psychology usually with the contradictions going on unacknowledged, and in common-sense. It's noticeable that psychology researchers on creativity tend to begin their articles with references to acclaimed creative individuals. Playing golf is a particular favourite, even if the research then adopts a social approach. But my particular interest is that psychological knowledge has entered common-sense. It's contributed to general understandings of creativity with those contradictions.
One site in which the various characterisations and the contradictions have appeared relatively recently is in the creative industries and this is a sector of the economy that was initially identified in the late 20th and early 21st century both by policymakers and academics. It's been widely celebrated around the world for its economic success and social potential. Definitions of the sector vary including with some overlap, for instance with the cultural industries, the creative economy, and so on. The key features of the creative industries are that they centre on the conventional territory of the arts, design, the arts market, the performing arts. But they also extend beyond that territory to encompass many other occupations and activities including new kinds of work. So for example the online gaming industry. Many of the workers in the sector pursue individual career paths, they're self-employed or they run small businesses, what Susan Luckman calls ‘micro enterprises’. The sector is associated also with new kinds of work often linked to digital technologies. There's a lot of use for example of digital shopfronts for selling things that people have made. The creative industries supposedly demonstrate the economic importance of creativity and innovation. UK policymakers have claimed that in the creative industries wealth for the nation will be generated by individual workers using their creative talents. So we're back to the claim made by Guilford. One of the original claims that was made for the creative industries was that the creative workers themselves would achieve a better quality of life than in other sectors. They’d achieve self-actualisation through following their own creative interests in creative projects. You can see the echo of Maslow. They'd also escape the constraints of the 9 to 5 routine and that sort of secure but boring job for life that's variously been associated with work under Fordism, or modernism, or in the UK with the post-war Keynesian welfare state. So again the echo of that opposition between creativity and conformity.
In most countries the creative industries were hit very hard by the 2008 global financial crisis and then again by the austerity policies that followed, particularly in the UK, and then again by the pandemic. But some of the previous positive claims about the industries have been reiterated recently in relation to the pandemic. In the UK journalists and other commentators have called for support for the creative industries as a vital sector of the UK economy and some of them have suggested that creative people will be particularly important to help build a post-pandemic economy and there has been recovery within the sector. At the end of 2021 government figures located nearly 7% of UK employment in the creative industries. On another level there were also many recommendations during the pandemic, as I'm sure you'll remember, for us all to embrace creative practices in order to protect our mental health and maintain our wellbeing. So in both those sets of claims we can see the utility of creativity being invoked again.
On the other hand the association with the elite arts was also used to suggest that the time of the creative industries was over. People now need to be less romantic, more hard-headed about work and you may remember a poster produced by Rishi Sunak’s office that showed a ballet dancer with a caption that suggested it was time for her to find a new career in IT. So it was a sort of ‘get real’ statement elegantly presented presumably by a creative designer. As a more general criticism not just related to the post-pandemic economy, critics of the sector have argued strongly that the initial promise attached to work in the creative industries is seldom fulfilled. Creative work is likely to be poorly paid, short term and insecure. Workers in the sector often find that their experience and qualifications aren't rewarded. Career pathways are uncertain and all the worst employment inequalities of other sectors are perpetuated and even exacerbated. What success there is in the sector is heavily weighted towards white men from relatively privileged backgrounds.
Now the central point of those criticisms is that the positive associations of creativity that I've been discussing blind workers to the difficulties. The promise of self-actualisation provides a greater motivation than financial reward or secure employment. That image of the artist pursuing fulfilment supposedly encourages workers to tolerate the difficulties. For example to put in long hours over a long period and to let the boundaries between work and the rest of life get blurred. Angela McRobbie has argued that the romance of creativity is promulgated through university courses and mentoring schemes and reports and TV programmes that target young people and particularly young women. George Morgan and Pariece Nelligan refer to the ‘creativity hoax’ suggesting that mundane occupations are torqued up as creative with the ultimate effect that young people are being forced to do bad work to serve the interests of the neoliberal economy. A number of writers have also noted that the promises attached to creative work, like doing a job that you love, and achieving fulfilment, and the freedom of pursuing your own interests, that all of those are increasingly being attached more generally to other kinds of work as well without any apparent connection to the arts as if the exploitation of creativity is being extended. A further criticism is that as creative workers pursue individual projects and it’s that individual responsibility, they're abandoning the more collective culture of old style work, perhaps unrealisingly they’re relinquishing hard won employment protections as they accept and sacrifice themselves to the competitive market-driven ideology of enterprise culture and neoliberalism.
To consider these criticisms and the experience of creative practitioners more generally I want to turn to the particular area of psychology that I work in - critical discursive psychology. Like most academic areas this has developed over time so there are different versions. My interest is broadly in how our understandings of the world and of ourselves are shaped by our social environments. Now that's not to say of course that people follow conventions without any choice or without challenging them so that we're all the same, of course not. Or on the other hand that we're fickle and ever-changing so that we become somebody entirely different in every new situation. No, the premise is that we live within already existing cultural and social context. But these are multiple and not static and allow change. Social life is dynamic. People follow established ways of doing things and they innovate. They take ideas and conventions for granted, they operate from given perspectives and they also challenge them and sometimes confront the contradictions. So the approach assumes that existing ideas, including many that have come from academic psychology, provide our starting points for making sense of the world. We take them up selectively in our ongoing interactions and in the more extended project of constructing a personal identity, a sense of who I am, that's been shaped over time by the ideas that are in circulation in our social context. The personal is also social. Critical discursive psychology doesn't attempt to tidy away the multiple associations of creativity or the contradictions that I've set out. Instead these are all analysed as part of people's shared understanding or common sense. My research, including with Karen Littleton and Marie Paludan has analysed interviews with creative practitioners mostly in the UK - creative workers, aspiring creative workers, art college students, people who pursue their own creative projects alongside more conventional employment. In their talk, yes, we found the mix of ideas about creativity that I’ve already talked about. We also analyse their talk as a practice in itself. So when they talk about being creative, about engaging in creative work, the participants are doing things. They're presenting themselves as certain kinds of people, perhaps as unusual or special. Or they're justifying not pursuing a more conventional career. Or they’re simply justifying the time they spend on their creative practice. Many of them refer to it as something that other people might see as selfish. In doing all these things in their talk the practitioner will be both repeating and innovating. They'll be talking appropriately for a new situation, like a research interview, but they'll be taking up and reusing and reshaping ideas.
Well unsurprisingly we found that the practitioners interpret what they do much more positively than the critics would. They emphasise that they love what they do and that claim of loving it has been found in many research projects over an extended period. They emphasise the associations with the elite arts. For instance, they'll cite famous artists as influences on what they do. They present their own creative practice as special because art is special so that image of the elite artist, But more in line with the ideas from psychology that I've mentioned, the practitioners also characterise what they do as having practical applications or utility. It isn't just art for art's sake, it can make money. Most of them don't make much but some people do make a lot. For others the utility lies in escaping capitalism and its values, pursuing a larger political or moral project. Mark Banks has written about how many creative workers link what they do to social and political causes, like the promotion of social justice or environmental protection and we found that too. A different form of utility relates to the assumed therapeutic value of creativity, so echoing the claims in that report that I cited the practitioners emphasise that their practice is good for their own mental health and they also say that it's good for other people's mental health. They might run creative workshops, for example, and say that the people who come to them learn to exercise their own creativity and better manage their own stress and life difficulties.
So in the talk of these research participants we can detect the ideas about creativity that I've mentioned, not only the specialness and the association with the arts but also the idea of utility and the assumption that everyone is creative and will benefit from engaging in a creative practice. Critics of critical discursive psychology might dismiss all this as too much about words and ideas. Where's the territory that goes beyond a language game as a kind of rational intellectual exercise? Can research based on the analysis of language capture the feelings and emotions? Or in a now widely-used, sorry Paul, the ‘affect’ attached to creativity. The answer from critical discursive psychologists is that the analysis of language use can tell us about the affect attached to creativity. Language isn't neatly separable from other meanings that circulate in a social context or from feelings. To speak or to communicate in other ways isn't an exercise in dry rationalising. It's a complex play around emotions and feelings because words and ideas are coloured with values and with associations from other life situations and practices. The affect attached to creativity appears not simply in that claim to love the work but in more complex ways. For example, to take an experience that many people will recognise, I've referred to the association of creativity with elite art and in turn this tends to carry for many people further meanings of some significant communication that you should be able to recognise so that the practice of viewing art and visiting an art gallery carries an expectation of an emotional response and that can become an uncomfortable pressure. People experience uncertainty. What am I supposed to be feeling here? Am I responding correctly? If not, am I failing in some way? What does that indicate about the kind of person I am? All those feelings are linked to the meanings and associations of art. Now of course those aren't the only possible feelings. The experience of visiting a gallery might be linked to many other things, to escaping the mundane, engaging with the concerns that artists have shared over long periods of time, recognising extraordinary technical skills. But what critical discursive psychology can offer is an insight into how the meanings and associations, the life practices and the affect, the feelings and emotions are entangled. Now that of course challenges another common-sense image which is that each of us is a kind of bubbling container of mental and emotional activity full of internal thoughts and feelings that we subsequently express, send out to the external world. Critical discursive psychology challenges that individual container view of the person. I won't go into the arguments here I'll just summarise the main claim.
Aspects of experience that might be considered individual, emotional experiences, feelings, are socially mediated. It is as a consequence of social context that affect becomes recognisable and able to be named as a particular feeling and experience. Margaret Wetherell the founder of critical discursive psychology argues that effective practice is a form of social practice and she says, ‘Very complicated and mostly seamless feedbacks occur between accounts, interpretations, bodies, dates, further interpretations, further body states, in recognisable flowing and changing episodes.’ If we take this back to the wider celebration of the creative sector we might see the sector as a whole and any specific creative practice like say painting or sculpture, we might see those as sites where these feedbacks are reinforced where meaning, doing and feeling are being connected and reconnected and some of those connections between meanings, feelings and forms of doing were indicated in the interviews with the creative practitioners whose talk I've analysed. For instance, one pattern in the practitioner’s talk was that engaging in a creative practice was presented as highly personal, something that the practitioners own, something that comes out of their history and who I am. So being creative is linked to an experience of a personal affirmation.
Another pattern was that engaging in a creative practice was talked about as an escape, an escape from mundanity, from routines, from the claims of other people and we might think of the image of the artist's studio as invoking that experience of escaping into solitude and focused working in a dedicated space. Though not everyone can attain it. Alison Bane has written how women’s challenges to studios tend to be challenged. In addition there was a pattern in the participants talk of references to a trail of encounters that for each of them contributed additional associations and feelings linked to the creative activity. For example, practitioners who'd had bad academic experiences at school would talk about how the supposedly non-academic art classes were the only ones where they hadn't felt like failures. So the feeling of success that they got there was then carried through to their later creative practice. For others the creative practice was linked positively to a long term position as someone different, as an outsider, so we're back to that image of the artist again, so that the feeling of not belonging acquired a more positive emotional colouring through creative practices. More generally there was a pattern of references to pleasant childhood memories, often very unremarkable activities that were shared by other people like doing paintings at primary school or watching people in your family sewing or doing woodwork or other creative practices. The emotional colouring of those early experiences is reclaimed in the practitioner’s accounts of their current creative work and cited as an explanation for their current interest.
Viewed on a wider scale this becomes a moving picture of ongoing change. For example Susan Luckman and I have been looking at participants accounts of an Australian arts mentoring programme. The participants in the programme are practitioners who engage in a very wide range of specialisms and activities. Their participation in the programme Working With Mentors can be seen as a process through which the activities and the feeling experiences around those activities those are together confirmed to carry meanings as creative and positive meanings. So engagement in the programme not only reinforces a participant’s self-identity as an artist or a creative practitioner, it also reinforces a complex experience of doing and feeling as linked to that identification. ‘I am an artist and this is what doing art feels like.’ Now of course the extended entanglement of doing and feeling and naming isn't guaranteed by the programme or by any other situation, there are always potential obstacles and complexities to be researched. But the programme is a window on change, on new connections between meanings and feelings and forms of doing so that art worlds expand to incorporate new practices and new people and the new practices are all imbued with the effective colours of being creative.
Well to conclude, where does all this leave creativity? The claims about exploitation in the creative industries, the undeniable difficulties that are faced by many creative workers can't be ignored, the problems of short term contracts, low earnings, persistent inequalities. If the celebration of creativity is only a mask for exploitation it might seem that a logical response is to destroy the illusion, to abandon the concept of creativity entirely, and return to more conventional ideas about work like restating the benefits of working in more moderate terms, the satisfaction of making an effort and using skills and achieving results and being of service. On the other hand we might point out that the criticisms of the creative industries are now very well established. New creative workers and practitioners will be under no illusions about the difficulties that they face and that is confirmed in the research.
Of course unfortunately another relevant point is that the negatives of work and employment in the creative sector, precarious employment, poor pay, those aren't new and they aren't confined to that sector. Too many people are working too hard for too little reward and for most of them there won't be a neat choice between an insecure creative job and an unexploitative secure, non-creative job. The arguments from critical discursive psychology that I have presented indicate that the celebration of creativity isn't just about words but it's part of a more complex phenomenon, reinforcing links between meanings, activities and affective experience. Creativity is an umbrella for a rich aggregate of words, ideas, associations, practices and feelings that does offer experiences that are important. In addition creative practices, creative work are linked to a personal identification, the linking of creativity to the self. That in itself has a renewed importance in uncertain times. This personal identification can provide what Bourdieu has called ‘the generative principle of a life narrative’. The creative identification can become a source of continuity for workers who are on a stop-start pathway of uncertain employment. The creative identification can substitute for the continuity of the older ideal of secure employment or a predictable career pathway. In a kind of paradox this alternative continuity of creativity also accommodates stops and starts. The creative self can emerge and retreat. We all know that it's difficult to make a living as a creative practitioner but if someone has to take on some drudge work as a day job just to make ends meet, the creative self isn't being mobilised, sure, but it isn't erased or invalidated either. The creative career is always there and it doesn't necessarily start at a specified age and life point, like leaving school, or proceed steadily and stick with the passing of time and the stages of conventional family life up to retirement. It goes on separately to a linear narrative of biological aging or a conventional career. Now, of course, that detachment of the creative pathway from the biological narrative is linked to one of the noted problems that's encountered by creative workers that their working lives don't easily accommodate family life responsibilities. But again, unfortunately, those problems aren't limited to creative occupations. The positive corollary of a creative identification is that the personal career pathway can be joined or resumed at many life points. The creative self remains available, as for example in the situation of people who've spent many years looking after children or doing other kinds of dutiful work who then reclaim their creativity and a change of life and work arrangements. Being creative isn't linked to a particular age or a particular life stage. Its possibilities and the emotions and feelings that are linked to it continue undiminished. Thank you.
Stephanie thank you for a wonderful talk. We are going to head over to the comfy chairs. We’ve got time to have a discussion. So if anybody's got any questions just raise your hand. Whilst you're getting ready I've got a lot of things to ask you but I'll limit myself to one initially. So I'm interested in the opportunities that arise in the future. So if you look at books like A World Without Work by Daniel Susskind which is proposing that some of the drudgery work that you've been discussing could disappear over the next 20 or 30 years. That potentially has been put forward as a way of opening up opportunities for people to do things more for the fun of it. Do you think there are opportunities there for people to be able to spend more of their lives in creative roles?
I'm not good at prediction, I think we have to be careful about utopian generalisations. I heard Jill Rubery once give a very convincing lecture about how the promise of technology taking over from the jobs that people don't want to do that this had been kind of coming back and back and back and back and that it never quite manifested itself in a sort of egalitarian utopia that one might hope for. But I suppose also we are kind of on a moving train. I remember once talking to some younger people in a context in which there was a lot of talk about the threats to workers’ rights and so on and it didn't exactly not make sense to them but I think they almost felt as if they were being invited to go back to the past which wasn't their life. They didn't have the option of going back to an earlier working situation. So I suppose I'm saying I'm trying to claim something positive in a complicated and always unequal changing context.
I enjoyed that very much. Thank you very much indeed for that lecture, it gave me some insights. My name is Paul Burns. I'm Emeritus Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Bedfordshire which means I retired about 10 years ago. Also one time Visiting Professor here at The Business School that was about 20 years ago. Anyway, I had a book published early this year on entrepreneurship, of course. One of the chapters is on the entrepreneurial mindset and that chapter is based around a number of interviews with entrepreneurs and a psychometric test that they all took. So the discussions were around the elements of that psychometric test. When the book came out earlier this year the publisher decided to put on the cover to make it attractive a little ceramic pot by a well-known famous and successful ceramicist. I knew this was coming out so on an impulse I got her to take the same entrepreneurial test that these entrepreneurs had taken and guess what, she came out better than any of the other entrepreneurs. She was exceedingly good at entrepreneurship. The test itself doesn't necessarily tell you whether you're going to be successful. It tells you whether you're going to be comfortable doing these things. But when I started interviewing her about why she was comfortable doing these things, what it meant to her, she started talking about why she was successful and what she was saying to me was many of the things that good management people would say but she was using a completely different set of languages, words, constructs, but they meant the same thing. She had developed a brand, for example, around her name in certain ways,and it was all good management practice. Now at the time it surprised me. Thinking about it more during your lecture for example, I was thinking it shouldn't surprise me because many of the traits you were talking about that artists have are very similar indeed to entrepreneurs and I'm certain they get the same satisfaction from developing and growing their business as the artist does from being successful. I wonder what your comments about that are. Is that a surprise to you?
The thing is I could comment at such length that we couldn’t go through it all but a couple of points I'd make. I am not a person who works with tests and I am somewhat sceptical of them. Perhaps all I have really time to say is that are we talking about differences between people or are we talking about language that's been mobilised for certain purposes including in terms of self-presentation that belongs to certain fields? I think I might leave it there with a question back. As I say I think it's too big for me to unravel because we are coming from some very different places here.
That’s a safe answer but you are right, I use the tests really as a discussion point rather than anything that's highly predictive. It's just the result I got from her surprised me at the time. After all many creative artists are self-employed and this overlap between entrepreneurship and artistic endeavour, creativity is part of an entrepreneur's soul if you like, being innovative, being creative, certainly the successful ones. I wonder whether this overlap is something that could be exploited, for example in training and education.
A lot of questions.
Thank you very much for that, fascinating comments and questions.
Thank you Steph, that was great. It was really good to hear that summary of your work. This is a question that I think is perhaps much more in your wheelhouse because we're both interested in narratives and counter-narratives and I was interested to know whether you ever got counter-narratives from your creative people that were all about ‘It's not about the creativity, I just want to earn lots of money’, or ‘I just want to be famous’, what were the stories about being creative that you thought were counter-narratives, were going against the general trend of what people say?
That's interesting. I'm thinking about several bodies of interview material with a lot of differences. I think perhaps one is the emphasis on skills and it's interesting that in different fields, all of which obviously involve their own skills, to some people the technical skills and the claim to improve in their expertise in particular skills area is something that they would hold on very hard to, that it's not simply a matter of your creativity, it's that I've learned how to do this, say working with glass for example and that is an inescapable aspect of what I’m doing.
Thanks for that. I wonder if I could ask some questions around COVID and the pandemic, I'm sorry we always end up talking about COVID and the pandemic these days. I've had the interesting experience of joining the OU right in the middle and my experience has been dominated by having online meetings with people. In fact Jean and Rosa here tonight, it's the first time I've actually met them even though we must have been on a 100 Teams calls. You talked in your talk about group creativity, I'm just wondering whether you're seeing any real challenges in the way we're currently working in getting that group creativity to really work. My starting position for that would be online is great for powering through a list of things you want to do, but actually in being creative it is so much better being in the room with people, reading body language, sparking off each other. So I don't know if you've got any thoughts about how creativity is affected by the way we're living our lives now.
Well it's not my particular area of research but there are other people in the room who know quite a lot about the issues of working in online environments and about different kinds of interactions, in person, virtual and so on. I think we can't ignore context. Teams is a context, we all know Teams, we all know Zoom, these are contexts which have their own sets of rules and ways of operating so it is different. So putting aside the issue of creativity I would just say that those experiences are different in a way that's not just about what people do, but it's also about the meanings that are attached to them and so on and the possibilities and so I think that you can't say that they just substitute one for the other.
Absolutely, yes. It’s interesting isn’t it, online some people are quite comfortable in the chat space making suggestions and new ideas, actually probably more comfortable doing that than actually doing it in person. So there are ups and downs in the different experiences that we're having.
Certainly discursive researchers who focus on the different nature of different interactions would be pointing out how completely different those interactions are.
Thank you, that was great. Naturally I want to ask you more about affect and what you found in the interviews because towards the end of the talk it felt very positive, whereas you started it with a precarity and the expressions of the issues around the industry and the exploitativeness and the way people seemed to feel or talk themselves back into it in what I felt expressed as a kind of like a blues hope almost. So it's pointless but we must go on. So towards the end I felt we lost the thread a bit of the precarity and what's driving people forward. So I wanted you to talk a bit more about the idea of affect and the emergence of things vis-à-vis the sociocultural context in which this happens and how people talked about that because it's also a thing obviously in academia where you have been to an online conference last week where there was a whole session on the precarity of work in academia. I know you might not believe it but the UK is one of the more comfortable countries to work with our career paths. So you can get on the ladder and that ladder actually gets you somewhere. Lots of colleagues work in countries where you're in your late 50s and you're still on two year contracts and things like that. But people carry on and more people want to do research and you think what’s going on there.
Yes, really good points. So there were several threads. One is that in a lot of discussion, I mean I started the book called ‘The Creativity Hoax’, it's as if any phenomenon disappears beyond the cultural dupe argument. This is profoundly unsatisfactory because people are engaging in a lot of activities with their eyes wide open. As I say a lot of the problems that were initially associated with the creative industries actually had an implication, it was almost as if people were living in two times again, as if they could go back to an ideal of 1950s/60s working which itself not many people had. It was the secure factory job where you could work your way up the ladder and so on. So it was trying to understand what was going on. Also in the fluidity of these activities because as soon as you look at art worlds or creative fields and so on you're just in this continuous change. In the Australian arts mentoring programme the practices were so varied and so innovative and they crossed new technologies and old influences and it was fantastic. At the same time, yes there is another story running alongside that of problems, though not everyone has problems and sometimes I think it gets a little bit over emphasised, not everyone has problems, I felt that Wetherell’s idea of effective practice gave some insight into how these multiple aspects come together in something that isn't purely illusory, and isn't static either and is simultaneously personal and yet it's recognised within art worlds and so on. Slightly incoherent answer but I was trying to capture some of the complexity really.
I wanted to ask you a question. I was just thinking about the gendered Etsy-fication of art and craft and if you had had any views on that. I read an article recently that there’s a mass resignation. There's been a mass load of women just leaving Etsy because it's just destroyed their love of what they were doing. I was just wondering if you'd come across that at all in your work this kind of idea that people started this Etsy business, and how that was experientially for them and how they talk about that. I don't know if that's come up in your research at all.
Susan Luckman did this really interesting research on Etsy which was a little bit the converse of how it was very much about selling, not just something that you made, that might be a printed fabric or jewellery or something, but selling a whole self-image which was very, very heavily tied to the kind of thing that would make Betty Friedan scream, these beautiful houses and these beautiful children, this dog, and it was all just part of the whole thing and that this was promoted through lifestyle photographs and so on. So that's one aspect then you've got another whole aspect of loads of research which basically says that women, people of colour and so on tend to be pushed into the least satisfactory forms of work within a creative context, the lowest earning positions, the fewest possibilities. I don't think I can bring them together but again it’s a complex picture.
Thank you Steph, that was so interesting as always. I really found very intriguing the connection you made between creativity and precarity. I think this speaks to the politics attached to the notion of creativity, the creative industries, or what do artists do and so on and so forth. I wonder whether creativity as a context and as a concept has become a kind of tool for oppression in a way. It sounds a bit much perhaps the way I put it but precarity seems to be part of what we understand as creativity. You're free, you change jobs, you do a bit of barista on the side, pub barista jobs, and then in the evenings you do your crafts or whatever, you go to the festivals and you sell them. Some of the other questions raised similar issues, particularly for women artists. So I wonder if you agree and I wonder if you see a way out. It seems to me that maybe we should resist creativity and maybe find new concepts, new visions of what it means to be a productive society or a society that makes, that creates, that does. I wonder if creativity has been completely hijacked by this.
You're sitting next to the person who wrote the definitive article on the political implications for creativity and that's Rosalind Gill and we've been responding to it ever since. I suppose I was trying to go over those possibilities. Ideas don't disappear. They’re certainly being mobilised. There is certainly a place as Angela McRobbie says to draw people's attention to the implications. I think there's also a place to tell other stories, that there are other possibilities. If I just take an example. Lenny Henry has been pushing very hard for better opportunities for challenging race inequalities within sectors which are very much recognised as creative - TV and theatre. You could say that a point of what he's doing is to say it's not just about creativity, it is about conditions. There can be more certainty than just accepting precarity. We can actually take action. We can legislate, we can have coaches, we can do all sorts of things. We can challenge our own recruitment procedures. So I suppose I keep coming back to the fact that the ideas have become linked. That can be mobilised to somebody's advantage, you know, ‘well if you want to do this, you’re going to have to accept not having secure employment’. But it can also be challenged and I don't think that creativity kind of disappears in these discussions, complex as they are.
Next up we're going to take two more very short questions. We just got one online which I'm really keen to take if that's okay.
Thank you. So this is from YouTube Live, it's from Jordan Taylor. If you can make a small commentary on the broader field of psychology. Why is there a tension regarding the nature of creativity and why must it reduce to either an individual or a social phenomenon?
Hi Jordan in Philadelphia. I think I've given an overview which makes it reduce, it sounds a bit reductive in the overview. In fact the field of sociocultural psychology has attempted very much to explore creativity as being somewhere between the individual and the social, not going to the one or the other. I don't think that dichotomy needs to be there. As I say, there is some of the research which I've referred to fairly briefly it embraces the implications of both.
We’re going to take one more, we're just going to overrun just by a minute.
I'm an ethnomusicologist, a creative, I'm a singer, and I work for RES. So my question comes from an interdisciplinary perspective. Within the arts, humanities, and social sciences we have a lot of talk about virtuosity. Your interviewees talked a lot about the links between high art or high creative outputs, as well as some of the things they may do which may be more day to day. An ethnomusicologist would argue creativity is everywhere, virtuosity is not. So my question from a social psychology perspective to you as an ethnomusicologist is, are there any studies in social psychology that look at the differences between virtuosity and creativity and what are the differences between those people? Because it kind of ties in with the question asked online in terms of the link between the individual and the social, and how are we different humans. I hang out with a lot of people in music psychology at Goldsmiths College so we have these conversations about universal assertions combined with what in social context can we actually say about these things when it comes to creativity? So your thoughts on that much appreciated.
I don't know if I'm the right person to answer this really. Perhaps I'll move slightly sideways and say that somebody who's not a social psychologist and sociologist Mark Banks wrote a really interesting book about creative justice in which he explored the potential conflict between social explanations, social explorations, and the kind of, I want to use the word quality that's too crude but the specific aspects which somebody in an arts practitioner or art history area would recognise as distinctively making some good creative activity and some not. Whether it was good art, good music or whatever. In other words it's not simply a matter of ascribed labels. He was in a debate with Georgina Borne about this. It's a complex area, as somebody who is more or less tone deaf I feel particularly unable to comment on music. But I think I would be always looking back to the context, the use. We are not going to be able to find meanings that can be tied neatly to a word and then carried over into every other context. We're going to have to look at the particular debate, the particular issues, the particular interests and so on that arise around it. Not a very full answer I’m afraid.
Okay, thanks. Thanks ever so much. So we're up on time unfortunately, but can I just thank everyone in the audience for the excellent questions. So again, thanks ever so much to everybody online. Thanks to everyone who's come along to the talk and finally can you just join me in thanking Stephanie for an excellent Inaugural Lecture.
Stephanie Taylor is a Professor in Social Psychology in the School of Psychology and Counselling. She was a student at The Open University and returned as an academic in 1998. Her teaching for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences includes contributions to introductory social sciences, research methods and postgraduate psychology modules. Her research centres on the critical analysis of common sense knowledge that shapes our understandings of ourselves and our social worlds. For some years, she has researched and written about the experience of contemporary creative practitioners. Her books include Contemporary Identities of Creativity and Creative Work (with Karen Littleton), Narratives of Identity and Place and What is Discourse Analysis?