The creative industries sit at the bleeding edge of the destruction demanded by the system sustaining the late-capitalist period. New content is demanded to sustain the development of engagement with an audience ever connected to a fluid, mobile network. This demands a productive and near-constant exploration of the creative possibilities of the artist’s chosen medium. In a society that understands the concepts of brand identity and commodity exchange, the artist must burn brightest to sustain interest in a crowded landscape. This is not an activity that can be sustained by the simple replication of a given schema or the adoption of a risk-free approach provided by a strategic marketing plan. This is differentiation in a raw and blooded form, frequently embodied, and chasing constant arousal in the consumer.
This short paper seeks to explore the demand for a critical studies component in any creative industries degree course, in resistance to the current demand for purely vocational study, and highlighting the importance of the culture industry model as a synecdoche for capitalism.
The issues confronting the creative industries are not within the natural compass of the majority currently working within them. The processes of economic consolidation prominent in the culture industries since the 1980s onwards have accelerated in response to the influence of hypercapitalism and the near complete removal of any barriers to entry related to manufacture and distribution. The emergence of a maker community that fleetingly exploited the development of digital networks and integrated courier services to develop a route to market for small batch production has developed into a saturated marketplace, supported by platforms as diverse as eBay, Etsy and BandCamp.1 This generation of disruptor technology was able to copy from the eBay model as the leader in the removal of geographical limitations to the process of selling commodity products, and the differentiation found in Alibaba and other similar sites relates to the orientation to B2B or B2C customers and the gradual blurring of this distinction.
Risk, calculated and informed, is at the heart of any mode of creativity. In contemporary artistic practice, Transmedia experimentation has given way to fragmented polysemic expression, where the artist is able to sustain their “profile” through multiple collaborations. Going beyond the development of persona, Story-world creation constructed in a parallel universe enables the development of narratives that deny the limitations of physical reality. The emergence of a post-truth and post-digital culture undermines the demand for an artist to reflect the world beyond their own reality. This may be shaped by a niche, genre or circle of collaborators, but the narrative content is finally tested against the expectation of an audience who are deeply skilled in recognising authenticity and demanding genuine expression in their idols.
The challenge for the creative industries, and those institutes that currently train the people who will come next, is in the need to be able to assess risk in a manner that enables their work to flourish and avoids the cradle of procrastination. Risk is not skill-based, nor is it created within a fixed paradigm framed by the cultural moment. Rather, risk is an ability to anticipate and frame a narrative that will be appreciated by the people who come next along that path. Projecting the zeitgeist and not a response to it. This is a skill set that is enhanced by experience and experimentation, and is simply not available through the application of a pretest schema or by sustaining the status quo. If the existing and established industry could identify the next disruptor, there would be no disruption. The creative destruction of the culture industry and the history of seismic changes observable in any genre stand testament to this cyclic repetition.
The role of use value is identified and its connection to labour is clarified by Marx in Capital.
“If then we disregard the use-value of commodities, only one property remains, that of being products of labor” (Marx 1976: 128)2. Put briefly, then, the first phase of the argument goes something like this: (a) systematic exchange establishes a relation of “equality” across commodities; (b) this equality relation implies that there must exist “a common element of identical magnitude” in any two commodities; (c) this “common element” cannot involve any specific properties of the commodities as use values; and (d) abstracting from such properties, the only property that remains is that all commodities are products of human labor (Slack, 2021)3.
Where does this exist in an object where the cultural object/text/experience is created using AI?
The value of any creative industry commodity experience is identified in the identity associated with the labour of its creation. This acts as a signifier of the labour value embodied in the object/text/experience. This identity or persona acts as a sign of authenticity. The reality of any cultural expression is the domain of the author, the holder of the flame. The death of the author famously proclaimed and reviled was only a redrawing of the spheres of authorial agency. The value attributed to the ‘author’ is made apparent through the constant use of ghosts and copywriters, celebrity columns finessed from transcription or assembled from an email questionnaire. Journalism by survey and public statement has become a feature of the press to the extent that students are unwilling to meet with an interviewee and unable to comprehend the benefits of anonymity. The formation of a brand is broadly irrelevant to the arts as this is the application of identity to the object. It highlights the role of significance in marketing, and so the reflection of a brand for the person is like the renaming of an ear. As Klein argued, Brand theory is anthropomorphic, extending the personal and relational to a commodity to enhance its attractiveness to the consumer. 4 Brand value is a transient facility that falsely appropriates the potential of agency for a trade name. The audience, as any consumer, needs a persona to identify with and acknowledge the brilliance of. This aura is an attribute of the who by nature of any cultural artefact. This is not a manifestation of how.
Vocational studies are inherently conservational, offering an outcome-focused view of tertiary education. We retain the knowledge of how a glaze works in the kiln by learning to process of decorating the clay. The precise environmental conditions inside the kiln may vary from workshop to workshop. Each artisan is skilled in the use and maintenance of their own studio and its facility. This remains the case until the product/object/text/commodity of that artisan loses its audience/customers or specific use.
At an early stage in the preservation of the Pineapple House at Lost Gardens of Heligan, a discussion on the cut of the glass used in all the greenhouses in the gardens drew attention to the specific shape in which it was cut. The glass, rather than being presented to the frame as a regular square or rectangle, had a curved lower edge or beaver tail. This feature, marked as a selling point in catalogues of greenhouses of the period, is a design which offers two enhancements over the straight cut designed to maximise economic use of the glass. Namely, it allows the glass to lie flat over the sheet of glass below, and it forces the rainwater to run down the centre of the glass sheet. This second feature protected the softwood used for the construction of the roof. The rediscovery of this design feature was not the outcome of following an artisan path, as that path was lost. It was rediscovered using the skills of critique. How was the old glass being removed different to the new glass originally selected for the renovation of the glasshouse, and why was this shape so essential to the original design? Another example can be found in the scientific architecture of Kew5.
The skills to develop “the new thing” are not framed by the vocational, but by the imaginary. The creative labour that generates the text demands the attention of the audience and praise for the creativity the object embodies. In a digital or post-digital frame of reference, labour, affective and sentimental are everything. AI, with the removal of the creative, denies any traditional measure of value in agency and exposes the absence of value in other digital content. 6Streaming services, priced to reflect server and cloud costs fail to fully reflect the labour associated with the creation of this original material. This is a fundamental change to the environment of late-capitalism, threatening our ability to document and celebrate our existence through the removal of the agency of the artist in a manner unique in culture. This needs to be recognised and explored, documented and critiqued as the threat it represents. This cannot be achieved through the vocational teaching of existing practice, which is likely to ignore the trend to automation, in the same way as the frog is unable to discern the changing temperature of the pot water approaching a slow simmer.
Alakbarov (2021) 7 explains how the relation between capitalism and production is currently framed by labour and how this is removed through the development of AI. While this is frequently identified as an industrial or manufacturing advantage, the first forum affected by technological change is always cultural. The innovative practice of renewable tooling and the development of specialised services to sustain this equipment was developed with the emergence of print. This is the industrial wing of the Gutenberg Revolution, and with it the initiation of the Industrial Revolution (in mainland Europe and not middle England).
“Contrary to what has been stated in almost all literature, I argue that the proliferation of artificial intelligence in the long run will adversely affect economic growth. These practices aiming at economic growth will destroy economic growth.” (Alakbarov, 2021)
The removal of the human mind in economic judgement removes the spirit from the “spirit of capitalism”. The rationality assumed to be central to the reasoning processes that enable clusters of innovation to develop and attract capital, central to Weber’s model of capitalism, is proving to be absent and at best transient. The short-term gain in specialists required to utilise AI is likely to be eliminated through the developmental features of the AI itself, with the means of production truly automated. Regardless, this is a change that seeks to exploit the power associated with accelerated capitalism and the development of processes which are computational and algorithmic. This follows a model found in the global trading of currencies and securities from the 1990s onwards.
This is an issue identified by Marx and captured in Grundrisse (1973).
There appears here the universalizing tendency of capital, which distinguishes it from all previous stages of production and thus becomes the presupposition of a new mode of production, which is founded not on the development of the forces of production for the purpose of reproducing or at most expanding a given condition, but where the free, unobstructed, progressive and universal development of the forces of production is itself the presupposition of society and hence of its reproduction; where advance beyond the point of departure is the only presupposition. (P540)
This analysis is provided by Camatte (1973)8, who uses this to suggest that the processes which are likely to undermine capital as a mode of production are to challenge the existence of humanity. Without following the logic of this supposition, it is likely that the disruptions associated with the removal of labour from the equations of production fundamentally undermine the role of capital as the basis for the redistribution of goods and resources across society.
Value is associated with the processes and outcomes of labour, not simply production. AI and the tools currently being developed to isolate and remove the necessity for creative labour are likely to further undermine the reality of value currently available through the creation of various cultural artefacts that offer a decorative function. Transient and redundant, this is the cultural expression that is likely to become the target of automation, eradicating value and undermining the existing industry offering cultural content for this purpose.
This change will be felt first in the creative industries, and we need to be active in identifying the spaces where this will be most damaging.
Danaher (2019)9 identified four propositions for the potential development of a post-labour society where automation and artificial intelligence would provide a gateway to utopia. Proposition 2 is intended to define the role of automation and its application:
Proposition 2: The automation of life more generally (outside of work) is a less positive thing: there are important threats to human well-being, meaning, and flourishing that are posed by the use of automating technologies in everyday life. We need to carefully manage our relationship with technology to limit those threats.
There is a false dichotomy between student skills and knowledge.
Technology is generally framed through a series of potential opportunities, with the new application of science removing an experience or threat from the experience of the user. The experience of use was then a test for the viability of those expected benefits, and the individual frequency asserted their right to opt out of different societal advances (vaccines, the internet, etc.). Skills would be developed and assessed within a given technological frame, where a specific set of techniques would be applicable within the confines of a syllabus which was designed to enable the student to develop promised skills within a paradigm relevant to future use. The skills provide a goal, and the means of assessment. They are not necessarily directly applicable to a future activity, as they can become a measure of aptitude in the student. These skills frequently provide access for the student to skills associated with critical thinking. This may be by offering context for future learning or enabling different approaches to a previously studied problem. Think geometry to trigonometry, where the relationship represents the history and progress found in the field. Students should be given the opportunity to develop skills that allow them to build new fields of personal knowledge, with the skills of critique and study at the heart of all tertiary education.
Generative AI marks the emergence of a different articulation of the previous circuit of culture (du Gay, Hall et al. 1996)10. The role of regulation is challenged through the use of the technology each time it is used. The iterative development cycle and machine learning processes mean that every piece of data has additional value and can challenge regulatory control in a manner impossible with technology with no developmental or algorithmic facility. So, without a technical limitation engineered to inhibit the process under investigation, it will be impossible to avoid an AI developing the ability to circumvent any regulation where the regulation acts as a restriction in the performance of a task.
Once this is in place, the skills to decorate the clay are likely to be beyond us, or “the machine discipline acts to disintegrate the institutional heritage, of all degrees of antiquity and authenticity” (Veblen, 1904).
The role of any institution engaged with the support of future artists and creative people must engage with the roles that these people may be able to fulfil. Rosowsky (2023)11 highlights the significance in an article for Forbes:
The best faculty, the teacher-scholars, seamlessly weave their teaching and research efforts together, to their mutual benefit, and in a way that excites and engages their students. In this way, the next generation of scholars (academic or otherwise) is trained, research and discovery continue to advance inter-generationally, and the cycle is perpetuated.
This is the model for the development of knowledge central to the contemporary university. As a local example, this is the model used as an illustrated manifesto by the Sussex Humanities Lab
This circuit of creativity, framed by a form of research that incorporates creativity and reflection to extend the frame of reference for future students is a model we should emulate.
The opportunities provided for students by a faculty which is engaged with the development of knowledge through research are an enhancement of their experiences and the possibilities associated with this progress. The emergence of AI and new means of automated production are environmental factors which should make this case more pressing, not reduce the need for a diverse and research-focused university experience.
The Arts and Humanities, offering a frame of reference for research into the activity associated with the creative industries, and a method of critique founded in the Culture Industry, offers the pathway to interdisciplinary research into the impact of AI on creativity, expression and the freedoms usually found in expression. Agency is the key to understanding how the artist finds validity in expression and authenticity in the face of the audience. While this is an area of academia under threat of caps and limitations on funding, the role of humanities and interdisciplinary research in establishing the roles of AI in society can not be overstated. This is the crucial frame of reference, establishing the possibilities for the future development of society.
Sellar and Cole (2017)12 outline how the accelerated push of hyper-capitalism is manipulating time. The demand to speed up experience, shorten delivery periods and focus pedagogy to the vocational mirror the push for an extreme form of Taylorism that demands hyperspecialisation, while simultaneously rewarding the multi-skilled experts in a curious double bind that highlights the flexibility required for collaboration. We find ourselves in an environment where performance tutor access is privileged and demanded by performance students, while actual contact time is utilised by a narrow group of ambitious students who value face-to-face access over other forms of study. Similarly, these same students are demanding wider choices in topics to study and choosing multi-disciplinary degrees. This reflects the wider development that demands plurality in skills and demands multiple pathways to enable creative industry careers to become economically sustainable. This post-structuralist model of expertise follows the model of the digital nomad, where skills in network security, communications and general human resource management become core skills to enable the expert career skills that enable the independence demanded by the nomad. This digital minstrel model of creative career becomes the model for the autonomous social actor8.
The development of an interdisciplinary, cross-campus research centre will enable BIMM to develop a research focused extension to the current vocational outlook of many of the current degrees, enabling a student focus that is currently found in the Masters courses offered by BIMM. Following the path set by ‘traditional’ university studies, vocational studies can focus on research that becomes an enhancement for the next wave of teaching within the university. No single methodology or theoretical approach will provide the plurality of experiences that will support this extension from the current pedagogic frame of reference. The distributed campus should be emboldened in offering the plurality of contrasting views demanded to test comprehensively the conceptual models adopted to foster the creative environment each institute will require. The development of AI tools, driven primarily if not exclusively at the elimination of costs associated with the creation of unique cultural expression undermines the construction of value that has supported the capitalist era. While the challenge of designing an economic epoch to replace the late capitalist period is clearly beyond the resources available to the Creative University, the reality of the creative environment confronting our alumni demands we address the economic implications of this change.
- Gillespie, T., 2010. The politics of ‘platforms’. New Media & Society, 12(3), pp.347–364. https://doi.org/10.1177/1461444809342738. ↩︎
- Marx, K., 1976. Introduction to Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, volume 1, 11–86. London: Penguin. ↩︎
- Slack, G., 2021. Marx’s Argument for the Labor Theory of Value. Review of Radical Political Economics, 53(1), pp.143–156. https://doi.org/10.1177/0486613419895275. ↩︎
- Klein, N., 2010. No logo. Vintage Canada. ↩︎
- Henrik Schoenefeldt, “The Use of Scientific Experimentation in Developing the Glazing for the Palm House at Kew,” Construction History 26 (2011), 19–39 ↩︎
- https://www.wpp.com/en/news/2023/05/wpp-partners-with-nvidia-to-build-generative-ai-enabled-content-engine-for-digital-advertising ↩︎
- Alakbarov, N., (2021) Artificial Intelligence and the End of Capitalist System in Kahyaoglu, S.B. ed., 2021. The impact of artificial intelligence on governance, economics and finance. Volume 1. Accounting, finance, sustainability, governance & fraud: theory and application. Singapore: Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-336-811-8. ↩︎
- Camatte, J., 1995. This world we must leave: and other essays. Brooklyn, N.Y.: Autonomedia. ↩︎
- Danaher, J., 2019. Automation and utopia: human flourishing in a world without work. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press. ↩︎
- Du Gay, P. ed., 1997. Doing cultural studies: the story of the Sony Walkman. Culture, media and identities. London ; Thousand Oaks [Calif.]: Sage, in association with The Open University. ↩︎
- https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrosowsky/2022/03/02/the-role-of-research-at-universities-why-it-matters/ ↩︎
- Sellar, S. and Cole, D. R., (2017) Accelerationism:a timely provocation for the critical sociology of education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38(1).pp. 38-48. ↩︎