Creativity is defined as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something new. Most people used to associate creativity with the fields of art and literature–where originality is considered to be a sufficient condition for creativity. Lately, there is some sort of myth going around about creativity being the solution for almost everything: solving a problem in an unexpected way, changing your perspective, doing something different, etc. I’m asking artist Marko Lulić if he thinks that our obsession with creativity is as harmless and idealistic as we think.
Marko lives and works in Vienna, Austria. His work addresses themes such as architecture, monuments, public spaces, and the legacy of Modernism in Eastern and Western Europe on various levels including relying on references, (false) translations, and transfers. He investigates cultural, social, historical and political aspects of objects and places and charges them with new meanings through shifts in materiality or conceptually.
How do you understand creativity? Or, what does being creative mean to you?
I could never relate to this term, since it is so language and culture specific. As far as I remember, and see it, the German word kreativ was more or less taboo in the art scene until a few years ago. Actually, it was associated with amateur and hobby artists. That is at least how the art scene in the German-speaking region, or to be more precise, the critical part of the contemporary art scene, understood that term. Things started to change when as a part of the neoliberal ideology this term “creativity” suddenly boomed. A lot of politicians, cultural managers and people like them where the ones who were feeding that development.
I tend to say often—to provoke people who believe in that term—that I didn’t become an artist to be creative. For me art is about knowledge, about a kind of spirit or stance. Art has to do with being able to recognize references and relations within the arts and beyond, even if we take the historical example of the American Abstract Expressionists whose work is often associated with absolute self-expression, and hence, total creativity. They were not only dealing with their inner-self and how to “express” it on the canvas, but were also very aware or even obsessed with references to preceding movements like the Surrealists. So their art, although being marketed as spontaneous and original, was, of course, mainly about knowledge.
In other words I don’t believe either in the term creativity nor the term self-expression, they are like a conceptual pair to me.
So do you mean that the Anglo-Saxon concept of creativity seems to become increasingly important, also abroad?
I wouldn’t say Anglo-Saxon, but probably American. In the US, to go back to the historic example of the Abstract Expressionists, it was quickly realized after the Second World War that an amalgam of the terms creativity, self-expression and freedom could work as a perfect symbol of capitalism. That kind of art was used politically—as we know from the book that Serge Guilbaut wrote about this topic.* These terms were associated with Modern Art, Modern Art with freedom, freedom with the US and capitalism. It was then clear, at least in the logic of those who created that kind of propaganda, that the others, meaning everybody in the Eastern Bloc, had no freedom, no self-expression, no beautiful colorful abstract paintings, but just un-freedom and grey depression.
But this book How New York Stole The Idea Of Modern Art–Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War, by Serge Guilbaut is quite controversial, isn’t it?
I don’t know—to me it makes total sense. The Abstract Expressionists are not the only ones that were used for creating this image, of course areas like design were heavily instrumentalized in that propaganda machinery, as well. Glimpses of the USA (1959) by Charles and Ray Eames was commissioned by the United States Information Agency for a presentation in Moscow could be named as an example here.
Do you think that political instrumentalization is currently challenging or even threatening intellectual and artistic production?
Nowadays, it looks at first glance as if we artists are not serving the political agenda of governments or bigger political entities like political blocs, but we are willingly or unconsciously, of course. We are now all creative; everybody has to be creative everywhere around the globe. The character of Cheyenne played by Sean Penn in the movie This Must Be The Place at some point says something like: “…today nobody is working anymore, everybody is just creative…” I think that sums it up pretty well. Of course, this is probably just the next step in the evolution of the post-industrial societies. Does it threaten artistic production? Probably, it does—as every inflation leads to an implosion or explosion at some point. I mean, no one knows how the system will develop exactly, but I think that we are just at the beginning of this so-called globalization, although we have been using this term extensively for the last twenty years.
*”How New York Stole The Idea Of Modern Art–Abstract Expressionism, Freedom, and the Cold War.” By Serge Guilbaut. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer. Illustrated. 277 pp. Illinois: The University of Chicago Press.
Worked with Marko before on the Seminar Getting Lost.
Image: Marko Lulić, photo: © Till Budde.