I can’t count the times I’ve been working with a publication or artistic project that claimed to have “edginess” as their goal but then completely rejected anything out of the ordinary. There have been several publications I’ve written for, which will go unnamed, that wanted to be edgy but then edited anything out of my writing that didn’t fit their formula. People say they want creativity, but they don’t. People say they want something unique and risky, but they’d rather play it safe.
One of the problems with the art industry these days is exactly that: It’s an industry. With more and more creative endeavors ending up in people’s hands for free and with websites pretty much only being able to make their money on ad revenue, people are afraid of taking risks. “How would my advertiser feel about this post?” they ask. A risk can have a high reward, but it can also tank your business. There are some that break this habit, and I’ll call them “venture ideologists,” but too few are willing to do so.
A book titled Creative Action in Organizations: Ivory Tower Visions and Real World Voices by a researcher at the University of California, Berkley named Barry M. Staw outlines why people reject creativity:
“Most people do not follow a life pattern similar to that of the creative, nor would they want to. The average person may become intrigued when the glories of successful creativity are hailed by the media. But when confronted with the bald truth that most scientists never come up with any earthshaking findings, most new businesses end in failure, and most whistle-blowers get demoted or fired, it is not surprising that people generally opt for a safer, more normal life than that followed by the creative.”
[“Creativity” graphic by Benjie Escobar. Learn more about it on “Behind the Shirt” here.]
Instead of starting a business in a new market, people often opt for the established industry. Instead of letting a creative person try something that has never been done before, those in charge often boil it down to the lowest common denominator. Instead of choosing the kinds of unusual ideas they claimed they were looking for, many take the safer route and try to dress it up as if it’s interesting.
Why do we let these people lead? Many of us tend to choose people that lead this way as our leaders. We, too, have an aversion to creativity. A Cornell study that was published in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology explains that 300 hundred people who were asked to rate possible problem-solving ideas on the creativity of the idea and the leadership potential shown by the creativity of the idea tended to see less creative ideas as the ones that showed leadership potential. We’re building our own fucking cubicles.
I once went to my philosophy professor when I was participating in my short stint in college and told him I was considering dropping out. “Everyone is just doing what they know will get them the grade, and they don’t actually care about the class,” I said. “They’re not actually learning anything.” I couldn’t reconcile the difference between how I actively tried to challenge myself and was downgraded, as compared to the person that studied for the test and forgot about it after they turned it in. My philosophy teacher tried to tell me not to compare myself to them, to not “be sucked into their apathy,” but I realized that these were the very people I would end up competing with in the real world, and I didn’t want to follow their path. Thus, I dropped out and lived in Puerto Rico for a year, biking around to art shows, beaches and beautiful women. I recommend it. (My rent was $180 a month.)
Say what you will about the art culture we’re living in, but we have to find a way to truly accept edginess. The Hundreds and a handful of others are the only places that would even consider letting me take the risk of writing an article like this. Reevaluate how you’re judging things, remember that your unfamiliarity with someone does not reflect their ability and don’t be so goddamn boring. You’ll enjoy things a little more. Cheers to that.
Inspiration for and some sources for this article are credited to this Slate article.