It seems that the gods of contemporary parlance have co-opted a perfectly nice adjective, “creative”, and are attempting to turn it into a noun referring to artists, designers, illustrators, photographers and other such persons who professionally practice what used to be referred to as “the Arts”. I would hereby like to object to this new term.
My initial objection comes, naturally, from the gut – the use of “creative” as a noun smacks of marketing, of insincerity, of hyperbole, of things that are modern and shallow and fake. This upsets me primarily because the Arts, ultimately, are about honesty – honest self-criticism, honest expression, honest love of beauty, an honest and fervent (futile?) hope of making the world a little more sophisticated, a little more thoughtful, a little less ugly. One testament to this is how often practitioners of the Arts work in their spare time – for free! – on their own projects. I’m guessing CFOs and Directors of Marketing don’t do their jobs gratis on the weekends, but I’d be happy to be proven wrong.
The origins of “creative” as a noun can be traced to the contemporary corporate phenomenon that might be called “title creep” (which is, incidentally, hardly unique to jobs in the Arts). For example, it used to be that in the graphic design world, the hierarchy of titles went something like:
Junior Designer – Designer – Senior Designer – Associate Art Director – Art Director
Art Director was as high as you could go! All of these titles meant something. It used to be that even a Junior Designer had some serious chops and at least a BA in Graphic Design. This is no longer necessarily true.
Now, at the high end (naturally!), the Corporate World has added:
Senior Art Director – Associate Design Director – Design Director – Senior Design Director – Associate Creative Director – Creative Director – Senior Creative Director, Junior Vice President of Creative Services, etc.
All of these newish (fake!) titles seem to aim to (falsely) confer corporate status in lieu of, most likely, money. They also dilute the significance of ALL of the titles in the hierarchy. The first sign that this regrettable shift was happening was when the suits decided to call their Art Departments “Creative Services” sometime in the Nineties, evidently in hopes of persuading the unknowing and innocent that their in-house staffs were equivalent to expensive design agencies. Accounting probably put them up to it to increase art charges.
“Creative” as a noun further dilutes the significance of practitioners of the Arts, precisely because it’s so vague. It’s a catchy catch-all for people that can’t be bothered to understand what we do. “Designer? Photographer, I don’t really get it, so I’m going to call you a “Creative”, OK? And can I have that catalog? I have a presentation in 45 minutes.”
Additionally, the old, straightforward titles, besides having descriptive meaning, had venerable and honorable connotations. Is there anything better in the entire world than being an illustrator, a painter, a writer, a harpsichordist, a chef, an art director? Those grand professions don’t require hyperbolic names the way that “Senior UX Consultant, Customer Experience” seems to indicate that the corporate world feels that they do. There’s not a goddamned thing wrong with just being a plain old “designer”. There’s no need to inflate or apologize. What title would they have given Leonardo?
I would like to submit that we practitioners of the Arts have the right, just like practitioners of any skill, to call ourselves what we like, and not what the corporate and marketing worlds find it convenient to call us. Honest, descriptive and simple would be refreshing places to start.
I am a freelancer, a graphic designer, an illustrator, a painter, a weirdo. But I am not a “creative”, because there’s no such thing as that.
“Creative” is an adjective.