Last month’s column focused on the deep biological roots of the arts. Early parent/child interactions activate innate brain processes that enhance our definitive social and motor capabilities, our search for meaning in what we do, and our consequent technological and aesthetic elaborations of objects and events we consider important. The arts are an important by-product of all this activity.
The large audience at last night’s Oregon Bach Festival concert responded appreciatively to Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony (Pastorale) and Penderecki’s Flute Concerto. Almost 200 years separated the composition of the two dissimilar works, but the audience related to the time span and compositional differences as easily as folks do when they walk from the ancient to the modern art galleries in a museum. Creativity takes many forms that we can appreciate.
Most already knew the simple story line of the melodic Sixth Symphony—from a family’s pleasant arrival at a bucolic setting to the thunderstorm to the resultant wet but cleansed environment. Conversely, the sharp dissonance and wild melodies of the flute concerto sparked and spread a multitude of responses through the audience. Beethoven foreshadowed the story that emerged in my mind, and so I imagined the sharp cries and frantic scrambling of a frightened child lost during a family forest outing. The concert thus helped me recall happy and fearful events at family outings. It was a mix of biological and psychological bonding, movement, meaning, and elaboration—the heart of the arts that nurture the soul.
I was comforted by the melodic familiarity of the Sixth Symphony, but I was stimulated by the risks the flautist took during the flute concerto. The arts embody both, as in the choreographed and improvisational movements of a ballet. Was it necessary for us to purchase tickets to experience such feelings (and with two thousand others)?
The noted economist and urban theorist Richard Florida argues that it’s important that we could. In The Rise of the Creative Class (2004), Florida reports that most people want to live where a variety of cultural experiences are available, and that the presence of such people in a culturally rich and diverse community further increases its livability and desirability.
But who has the freedom to live where they want to live, and not where a job requires them to live? Florida’s research suggests that the US working population can currently be grouped into a Creative Class that creates new ideas, technologies, and content; a Working Class that constructs, produces, transports, and repairs things; and a Service Class that cleans, clerks, sells, prepares food, cares for the sick, etc. The service and working classes carry out assigned tasks in specific settings, while the creative class tends to operate more autonomously in how, where, and when it works.
In effect, the creative class is typically paid to create something new, and not to execute something predetermined. A scientist’s discovery and an artist’s design may end up as manufactured medication and merchandise, but it’s intellectual property and not real estate that defines them and the rest of the creative class. Bottom line, their creativity adds economic value to the community (including working and service class jobs).
When I entered the workforce halfway through the 20th century, people tended to enter a vocation, get a job, and stay put for an extended period—perhaps an entire career. Patterns have changed. Only 15% were in the creative class then compared to 30% now. 30% were in the service class then compared to 43% now. 42% were in the working class then compared to 27% now. The creative and service classes have thus increased, and the working class has been reduced by a third (perhaps due to technological advances that have simplified and automated manufacturing, construction, and transportation).
The manufacture and movement of objects dominated much of the 20th century. The 21st century will focus more on the creation and movement of ideas. The computer replaces the factory; the Internet replaces the Interstate. Manufacturing requires the presence of workers at assigned machines. Creativity can occur anywhere, and is now easily transported electronically.
The 21st century already confronts a staggering array of vocational, cultural, economic, and political issues that are emerging out of new developments in science, technology, and our mass society. We don’t have decades of experience to help us with such issues as stem cells and cloning, computer viruses and spam—or with terrorists who are willing to die during their terrorist acts.
We’ve outsourced and automated much that the working and service classes do, and we’re now focusing more on trying to understand and respond to new kinds of challenges—and so creative thought is essential to our country’s growth.
What creative people need is an environment in which it’s easy to think outside the box, when confronting complex novel challenges. A community with a franchise mentality embraces familiarity and stability. A community replete with independent businesses embraces challenge and risk. Florida’s research indicates that the creative class tends to move to communities that value and promote individuality, meritocracy, openness, and diversity.
Creative people are interested in exploring new ways of doing things, without ingrained institutional constraints. They want to be judged on the basis of their own work. They see a community that welcomes demographic diversity and risk-taking as one that will also be open to creative solutions to problems. Risky proposals tend to elicit vigorous responses, which tend to lead to better solutions. The corporate thought processes of a creative community thus parallel the individual thought process of a creative person.
Since the arts promote individuality, meritocracy, and diversity, arts-oriented communities provide the cultural nurturing the creative class seeks. A community commitment to the arts is thus a beacon that draws the creative class. They prime the cultural pump, and everyone else in the community benefits.
The large working class that fueled the manufacturing, transportation, and construction boom of much of the 20th century assumed responsibility for enhancing their own welfare. They developed powerful labor unions that moved many workers into middle class incomes and lifestyles that enhanced our nation.
The 38 million people in the creative class now have the same responsibility. Since they have discovered that a diverse arts-oriented community enhances their creative productivity, they owe it to our society to use their creativity and political strength to promote arts education programs and a social climate that accepts and profits from openness and diversity. If they don’t assume the responsibility, who will?