Creativity in society and the arts

Cate Blanchett and Julianne Schultz are the co-chairs of the Creative Australia stream at the rapidly looming 2020 Summit, and they have an interesting column today in the SMH that gives some indication as to what we can expect from the summit in this stream. The key link that Blanchett and Schultz seem keen to emphasise is that between the arts and creativity, with creativity being viewed as intrinsically necessary for a society to be prosperous and successful:

Think back to any significant time in the past and the chances are that it is the creative output of the time that comes to mind — from rock art in remote caves to the pyramids of Egypt, Michelangelo’s sculptures, Shakespeare’s plays, Beethoven’s symphonies, the beat of Elvis and the list goes on.

The lasting value and evidence of a civilisation are its artistic output and the ingenuity that comes from applying creativity to the whole range of human endeavour.

While the lasting evidence of a civilisation past does quite often happen to be the artistic output of that civilisation, I think its drawing a long bow to attribute the lasting value of a civilisation to its artistic output. Michaelangelo’s sculptures are timeless and lasting works of art, but surely some of the philosophical and scientific achievements and advancements made by Renaissance-era Italy have been significantly more important for us in the context of the development of modern society.

Aside from that, can we really say that a creative society is necessarily a successful society? I don’t think this is necessarily the case, but one would have to think that the more effective societies across the world, however you want to measure “effective”, have found efficient ways of exploiting the creativity of their people for the collective benefit of the nation. I suppose that is a fairly ruthless way of looking at creativity, but conceptually speaking Australia has a pool of creative talent at its disposal, and we need to consider the optimal path for maximising creativity in circumstances where it serves to in some way better the nation. It’s hard not to see how this can be done without taking some risks and taking punts on people and ideas that might not necessarily work out.

It will be interesting indeed to see how Blanchett and Schultz steer debate in this stream, and to what extent calls for greater public funding of the arts dominate the debate. One of the key challenges for the stream would seem to be to effectively “be creative” on the topic of arts funding; or rather to develop a few ideas for creating greater incentives for artists that don’t necessarily mean redirecting public money from other areas to the arts. Personally I am an advocate of greater arts funding, but one does have to consider whether a grant to a budding scientific researcher or indeed tax incentives for low income earners are likely, on balance, to be of greater benefit to society than a grant to a budding artist with a brilliant idea that may or may not come to fruition for the collective benefit of the country. It’s tough.