Implications of Art, Creativity, & Object in a Capitalistic Society

by Christina Ondrus


What is the importance of art in a capitalistic society? Initial thoughts may come to mind of market values, cultural preservation, and rarification, elitism and class-distinction by means of object ownership. But these ideas relate to what is only a surface equation—a line drawn from object to seller, to buyer to profit to worth. Is there a deeper relationship and furthermore, importance to the sustainability of art in a capitalistic society?

It has long been argued that art and the creation thereof is a luxury. A paradigm has been instilled in many that there are three essential needs: food/water, shelter and clothing. It is proposed that only after these three crucial needs are met, that any other “expression“ or creation may take place. Granted, these needs are elemental for a reason. In most circumstances, one would not sacrifice any of them wholly for the sake of creative endeavor. However, the crux of this idea is an instillation in the young that art is not a necessity, that creativity is not the essential function of mankind, that his goals and existence relate more profoundly to the need to fulfill these survival tactics.

The frequently overlooked idea is that man, in his most elemental form, is a creative being. Even the word creature denotes that one has been created, formed, come into being, and suggests a connection to revisit this source. It is inherent in the nature of humans to bring into being: both oneself and others. This is true for survival and propagation of the species, but also on a more individualistic and personal level. Each person works throughout his/her life to cultivate sustenance on a variety of levels, all of which are daily acts of creation. Moreover, even the meeting of such basic needs is in itself an act of creation, and a unique enterprise waged by each person. The finesse that develops along with an ability to uniquely utilize information transforms such base acts into something more like art. In relation to humans, base survival is art.

Furthermore, it is the inclination of the universe to create and grow. Energy is in constant flux of birth and decay. The paradox is that this unending cycle does not shrink, overflow, or stagnate, but like the current, it ebbs and flows as part of a greater extending existence which has its own force. Man is part and participant in this ever-changing cycle. It does not make sense on a universal level for man not to create or be part of this creation. The cosmological implications for man to be degenerative instead of creative are not evinced in the observed mechanics of our universe, thus far.

So, how do all these seemingly abstract concepts relate back to object oriented works, specifically a capitalistic society? In a society obsessed with object, the object manifests on varied significant and complex levels. It is important to be conscious of the mutability of objects and their potential, in order to understand our relations with them. This can be illustrated using a relatively common item of canned food. The creative manifestations of a can of food include: nourishment, convenience, security (of both the product and the aforementioned properties), status (of whatever rank, depending what the specified food, be it rarified or commonplace), reliance, profit, industry, commodities exchange, monetary value and so forth, blown all the way up to the rarified art incarnation of Warhol’s Campbell Soup Cans. But what all of these manifestations are illustrating is an incarnation of creative desire. That is to say, depending on your vantage point and situation, a can of food is an object of creation that may give you any one of the many named properties. It becomes a tool of empowerment. You give it its creative designation and allotment of power and potential. Then there are other rings of systems built around that object, which glorify, enhance or endanger it (advertising, supply/demand, rarity, etc.) It may literally feed you, it may be traded for other goods, it may stabilize you in a time of distress, etc. And anything else is invented, created by people. Systems of commerce, marketing, tools, and nearly every object has once been a dream on the sleepy mind of man.

The relevance of examining an object from this viewpoint of potential creative manifestations is to gain a greater understanding of why our current culture is so fixated on objects. They emanate power and promises beyond materiality and cultural connections. Overwhelmingly, the sense of security arises as a core desire. But moreover, I propose that much of the fervent clamor for material objects lies in the void of unrealized potential creativity. The is to say that the mechanization of society, the mass production of material, food an products has left a creative space empty within many individuals, and furthermore, removed the creative presence from individual crafted items.

The essential desire to create is frequently unmatched or completely unrecognized in contemporary society. Efficiency and conveniences have injected our culture with a need for the immediate and pre-made, yet have not dealt with the human desire to bring into being. One observation is the prevalence of compulsive shopping. It is commonplace to hear of people who shop to alleviate their stress, worries or feelings of emptiness by shopping, making a purchase, or splurging on something special. The tales of the weekend shopper who found “just what I was looking for!” are commonplace. The desire for a bargain too, drives many shoppers on a creative mission to fulfill. Though there may be a multitude of personal reasons for these situations, the frequency this happens in our society makes one question the cases. Why did Mayor Guilliani urge the people of New York City to shop after 9/11? I suspect it was more than gross economics. Do Americans have to shop to feel empowered? Is that the only muscle we can flex in our proto-democracy?

Perhaps it is the very sense of disconnect with our creative selves, which urges us on the marketplace. The urge to shop after 9/11 was an appeal to the people to take back their streets in the manner they best know how—to create the vibrant city that is a treasured source of commerce and recreation. Essentially, it was a plea to keep living. In a capitalistic society, it seems that the lust for the object serves as a means to express our self and life experiences. It becomes an overloaded circuit of desire and expression, but furthermore, a material expression of the inexpressible. It becomes Art.

The current disconnect with owning the power of creativity is further propagated by the belief that only the few have the power or ability to be creative. Furthermore, many people believe that only certain chosen means are acceptable expressions---that art is possible only as a painting or marble sculpture or opera. But this very same sense of disconnect and inability to be creative is comforted with the marketing claim that “everyone can find exactly what he or she needs in ___ product ” Everyone can express his or her human nature and existence with the appropriate cache of possessions.

This fallacy stunts the potential for untold contributions. It gives rise not only to elitism, but also has relegated many crafts into the mechanized production, bypassing the individual altogether. Each person has an integrity, which is channeled though and into his or her creative acts. Furthermore, this integrity (or sometimes lack thereof) is inexplicably sensed in the presence of the object. It may be debatable whether this value is channeled directly into the object, or it is an assigned value present with the concept of a one-of-a-kind work. Either way, the fact remains that in a mass-produced culture present today, filled with mass-produced objects, a lack of value in materials and a sense of disposability permeates. There is a void in human connection to objects.

Plastics are a prime example as their source being synthesized chemicals in a labratory, injected into machine produced molds. There is no step that seems to connect to the sensorial world in which people live and understand. The whole process seems somewhat nebulous. And yet this is the Modern way. This is sterilized, safe, and cost-effective. But at what price?

I suppose my quandary is what all these ideas conspire to create, and whether any of what people are all clamoring for can be bought and sold. It seems to me that the rarity of a great work of art lies not necessarily in its material, monetary value or even appearance; it is in that inexplicable essence of creativity that gives it unique life. It is a sensation that escapes description, yet is inherently sensed---a sort of euphoria of peaceful surround. Furthermore, it is attentiveness to this essence that may be observed in any manifestation, be it object or experience.

We must be open to the experience the presence of art and objects offer to us. Moreover, we may attune ourselves to this relationship through creative acts. An intangible experience is exchanged during this time, when criticality and conceptual games are suspended. A moment emerges where the object, the self, and the experience exist. It may be described as a moment of clarity, reflection, a sense of slowed time, or a moment where the actual weight of an idea moves from being understood, to being known within. These moments of transference may be increasingly difficult to find in a fast-paced, short attention environment. But many people still unwittingly seek out these experiences—waiting for an object to beckon to them, a pair of shoes to speak, a picture to grab their eye. Part of the consumer drive is a quest for the momement, for the sense of completion that object-human interaction may evoke.