We all want an interesting job
by which we mean
one that allows for a high degree of creativity.
There used to be quite a lot of creative jobs around.
But they’ve been disappearing
since at least the middle of the 19th century.
In that century,
the English art critic and social reformer John Ruskin
pointed out that the medieval building industry
had once left its builders—room for a huge amount of creativity.
Evident in the way that these craftsmen
had had fun carving gargoyles, grotesque animal or human faces
in distinctive shapes high up on cathedral roofs.
The stonemasons might have had to work to a fixed overall design
and their toil was not always easy.
But the gargoyle symbolized a fundamental freedom
seen in many kinds of pre-industrial work.
The freedom to place a personal creative stamp on one’s work.
Nowadays, there are some creative jobs around of course.
But the majority of those involved in making and selling
say phones or furniture or buildings
will have no opportunity to be creative themselves.
They belong instead to a highly anonymous army of labour,
working within vast companies and that executes
the creative designs of a lucky few.
Modern capitalism has radically reduced the number of jobs
which retain any component of creativity in them.
Take for example, the Eames chair,
designed by Charles and Ray Eames,
which went into production in 1956.
It is a highly distinctive creation
that deeply reflects the ideals and outlook of the couple who designed it.
If they’d been artisans operating their own small workshop,
they would perhaps have sold a few
dozen such chairs to their local customers in a lifetime.
Instead, because they worked under modern capitalism,
many hundreds of thousands of chairs have been and continue to be sold.
That’s wonderful in a sense.
But a side effect of this triumph has been that the demand,
for well-designed interesting chairs has been substantially cornered.
A new creative person
wanting to make a new kind of office chair nowadays
has to face the fact that
it’s already possible to buy a very nice example,
designed by two geniuses and available for rapid delivery
at a competitive price.
In other words,
you won’t stand too much chance of success.
We’re familiar with the idea
that the wealth of the world
is being ever more tightly concentrated
in the hands of a relatively small number of people-
the infamous 1%.
But capitalism doesn’t only concentrate money.
There’s a more poignant less familiar fact
that it’s only a small number of people
are sometimes overlapping but often different 1%,
who can have interesting.
That is creative work.
It’s telling that we are at this point in history
obsessed with the romance of individual creative geniuses.
Our society has developed a near fetishistic interest in stories of
brilliant startups, colorful fashion gurus and idiosyncratic filmmakers.
We might like to think
we’re turning to them for inspiration.
But it may be more the case
that we are using them to compensate us
for a painful gap in our own lives.
Just as it was in the 19th century,
during mass migration to cities
that novels and pictures about country life
achieved unprecedented popularity among newly urban audiences.
The many interviews and profiles of creative types
in the media at the moment,
mask the fact that for almost all of us, it will prove
almost impossible to compete against the forces of standardization.
Far more than because of anything we may ourselves have done,
most of us are highly likely to
find a considerable portion of our work,
free of opportunities to carve our own gargoyles
and therefore we will find it distinctly boring.
We are certainly richer now than we’ve ever been,
and than we ever were in a pre-industrial world.
But our work is arguably a lot less filled
with day to day opportunities to mark what we’re making
with a stamp of our own creative spark.
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