Why “Creative” Is Not A Noun

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.


I am astoundingly fortunate. 

I have an amazing twenty-six year relationship with my best friend, Allison. We are more deeply in love than we ever have been, and I enjoy spending time with her more than anything else in the world. Without her, I would be alone, confused, shunned – nowhere.

I live in San Francisco, a beautiful city that’s too expensive and may be lacking in the “Great Museums” and “Weather” departments, but is otherwise nearly perfect. It has treated me well, as have its people. I am especially grateful that they allow me to keep my ridiculous haircut and beard with hardly any fuss at all.

I have wonderful, smart friends who are kind enough to let me into their lives and teach me about things I never even knew I was interested in. Some of them have taught me to drink, some have taught me about such diverse subjects as politics, cooking, law, finance, surfing and extemporaneous joy. I have even learned, shockingly enough, that sometimes kids really aren’t so bad after all. In other words, my friends have opened my eyes, they’ve taught me about life. I doubt that I teach them anything much, except maybe an occasional obscure anecdote from ancient history or some useless piece of vocabulary. At least I’m funny.

I have a great career developing, designing and illustrating for clients that I am privileged to have in my portfolio. If you had ever told me when I was twenty that I would have The Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson, Metallica, Black Sabbath, Slayer and LucasFilm on my resume, I would have called you crazy.

I am fatter than I should be, but I am otherwise healthy enough to do everything I care about doing. So far.

I have two nice cats and avoided having children, which I’m still convinced was the way to go. I travel a few times a year to places that stimulate my imagination and allow me to relax and be more fully myself.

Yet somehow, at the very core of who I am, there’s a void. Not in a bad way, not in an empty way, but I just can’t ignore how it gnaws at me. And it gnaws every day, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot more. Lately, I’ve decided that I need to pay more attention to this void.

The void is self-expression. My artistic voice got muffled for awhile. I did it on purpose. It was the right decision at the time. That voice has never been fully silent – I’ve always worked on my weird paintings and drawings.

But I’ve been too reserved, too calculating, too polite. Maybe too smart, even.

It’s time to get a little unhinged.