The recent Salon series documenting the decline of the creative class has been circulating in the Twitterverse. As with many a punchy slogan, it enfolds a truth within a misconception.
Scott Timberg claims that the Internet promised to bring fortune to those in “creative” fields, such as journalism, music, publishing. And yet, record retailers have closed, newspapers have shrunk, publishers have downsized. Traditional employers of apprentices of the “creative” fields have shriveled, forcing some creative types to leave unaffordable Manhattan or lower their sights to the field of advertising.
I leave it to Mike Masnick to point out the obvious flaw here: the decline of legacy media and legacy supply chains, while a direct outcome of the internet, has actually increased opportunities for actual creative work. Yes, the legacy distributors are suffering, but as they should. The bottleneck control of top-down media and gatekeepers like radio or retailers or publishers is over; long live the creative arts. Thanks to the internet, artists of all types have far more distribution opportunities and may actually keep more of the proceeds for themselves.
Timberg’s lament that those who start out in the creative fields get pushed out actually reflects an old story, not the story of the disruption caused by the internet. Of all my fellow graduates of Fine Arts from the early 1980s, how many of us are still pursuing careers in creative fields? A minority. Many are called, but few survive the competitive, demanding, and financially punishing path of creative careers.
That’s a good thing. It takes maturity to realize you aren’t Ernest Hemingway, or Martha Graham, or Steven Spielberg. And this is where I agree with Timberg: the creative class is a lie, if millions of young people are being convinced they are each so creative they all deserve a place in the pantheon of genius. Making a living being “creative” is still an endeavor limited to a few who enjoy a combination of talent, luck, connections, assertiveness, or persistence. Always has been, and always will be. No one has ever been entitled to a creative career.
The failure of the rest of us to achieve self-actualization through creative work FOR PAY is not a true failure.
The internet allows the rest of us, through its infinite distribution capacity, to fully embrace the creed of the AMATEUR: create because you love to.
And pay the rent doing other things. Your soul will not be destroyed, and your broken romanticist heart will heal.