Dario Martinelli: Creative Industries Should Escape the Ordinary Market Rules

Leisure | 2015-11-24

“Metrosexual clothes, post-it’s all over the place, take-away coffee mugs and those horribly uncomfortable pouf armchairs… Every epoch has its fashions, and its ways of being a bit pathetic”, Dario Martinelli Head of the KTU’s International Semiotics Institute ironically comments on the stereotypical “creative” work space. On the other hand, according to Martinelli, although creativity of often separated from other “non-creative” industries, when it is not, it makes “a hell of a difference”.

Thursday 26 November, Talent Garden Kaunas will host an event on creative industries with Dario Martinelli. KTU’s professor of semiotics will give a talk on Beatles: Music Can Change the World.

“The Beatles influence can be seen in virtually all fields related to creative industries, but is not limited to them. The Beatles’ heritage was and is always there, following the changes in society; they even emancipated the male figure from the macho approach of the 1950’s”, says Martinelli in the interview below.

Why did you choose Beatles as an example for a representative of creative industry?

On the one hand, I am a huge fan of them, so that means I know their career inside-out, including the business aspects, social impact, etc. Also, while working at Helsinki University, I gave a few courses in Beatles Studies, which – by now – is a subject that one can find in several universities (not to mention that, in Liverpool, one can actually get a whole degree on the subject).

On the other hand, there is this famous statement by Steve Jobs: “My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other kind of negative tendencies in check. They balanced each other and the total was greater than the sum of the parts. That’s how I see business: great things in business are never done by one person, they’re done by a team of people.” I thought this was an interesting concept that can be brought even a bit further, by analysing the various impacts (social, economic, political, etc.) that The Beatles had on our culture.

You mentioned that The Beatles represent an eclectic model of creative industry. What do you mean by that?

To begin with, The Beatles were an eclectic “unit”. By that, I mean that they were the first group of musicians, in popular music, who managed to be at the same time performers, composers, producers, arrangers, actors (in the movies and videos they made), public personalities, opinion leaders, businessmen, trendsetters, and a lot more. They virtually covered every role one can take in a creative industry process. And, moreover, they were the first band to be known as distinct individuals: for the first time, people came to learn the names of all the members in a band (not only the singer!), and they could pick their favourite: they could be for the “cute Beatle” (Paul), the “quiet Beatle” (George), the “witty Beatle” (John) or the “funny Beatle” (Ringo).

Also, they were an eclectic model in a chronological sense. The early Beatles had a certain profile (concert activity, Beatlemania, they all dressed the same…), the late Beatles had another one (studio activity, more intellectual approach, the psychedelic/hippie period…). Then they went solo, and they developed even more profiles (the political Lennon, the spiritual Harrison, etc.). And finally, The Beatles’ heritage was and is always there, following the changes in society, and yet maintaining the same success: whatever anthology or repackaging of their material still sells enormously, the modern bands still take them as models (not to mention when entire genres, such as Britpop, take them as models), and so forth.

And finally they had an eclectic “impact”, since basically, there is no single area in popular culture that wasn’t influenced by them in some form.

What impact did Beatles have on other parts of cultural life, except music?

A big one. A very big one. That’s what I meant by “eclectic impact” in your previous question. Their influence can be seen in virtually all fields related to creative industries: music of course (they defined the music of 20th century, possibly more than anybody else); but also audiovisual culture (they were precursors of the music video, they helped reforming the “musical” genre with A Hard Day’s Night, the “rockumentary” genre with Let It Be, they left some iconic visual performances that became real topoi of rock – think about the concert on the roof – etc.); visual culture (only think about their album covers, which are the most imitated: how many people try to reproduce the four guys crossing the street in Abbey Road? How many people make album covers of one single color, after The White Album? Etc.); fashion (we still use nowadays the expression “à la Beatles” for items like collarless jackets, or bright-colored uniforms in Sgt. Pepper style, and so forth)… They also created a “style” of communication that various groups and artists tried to copy, at some point. For instance, the idea of keeping an ironic and self-ironic tone in interviews. And it goes even deeper than that. They emancipated the male figure from the macho approach of the 1950’s. Now you didn’t need anymore to be handsome like Elvis or tough like John Wayne. Now you could be like Ringo, short, thin, with a big nose and a melancholic gaze; or you could be like John, nerd-looking with granny glasses and sharp features… And you didn’t need to be middle-class or posh anymore: you could be very cool also if you were from the working class. That was very important.

Should a successful example from creative industry always have broad cultural influence and influence society?

Not necessarily, in my humble opinion. I think there are different types. A concept I literally adore in economy is that of “appropriate technologies” (it was first formulated by Gandhi, and then developed by economists like Ernst Schumacher). Appropriate technology means that every strategy, enterprise, project should be measured in accordance to the context, the needs and (very importantly, to my mind) the ethical implications. Some forms of creative industry make sense only at a very local, “small”, level. Some others need a global impact, in order to work. Let me provide two Lithuanian musical examples: something like the “singing poetry” tradition cannot make too much sense outside Lithuania, because it is very bound to the use of Lithuanian language. On the other hand, something like “Sutartinės” have particular (and very remarkable, I shall add) musical qualities that are suitable for more international spreading, particularly when we keep in mind that there are some specific connections with Ukrainian, Balkan and African cultures, where similar musical solutions appeared.

In different discussions of the topic we came up to the conclusion that creative industries made it possible to emerge a different stereotype of an artist. What would be your comment on that?

There are many aspects that can be emphasized in this respect: one that I find particularly interesting is that the modern artist, in order to survive in a very competitive and (most of all) information-overloaded world, has to be a very multifunctional figure. And, among the many roles s/he needs to cover, there are also some that are traditionally opposite to the old stereotype (which, generalizing a bit, is that of the head-in-a-cloud and spiritual Romantic genius): for instance, s/he has to be a good manager of his/her own business, which is the opposite of spirituality. In Lithuania there are many artists who have their own agency or company, and try to build their business from there.

In what way creative industries are different from “normal” industries?

In principle they are different, in practice not so much. The product they deliver – in an ideal world – should be different from other products. Creativity aims to produce beauty and welfare in people, but that kind of welfare that generates cultural, moral and intellectual values. When we listen to a song like “Hey Jude”, we get of course a nicely-packaged work, with great production and great performance, but it goes beyond that. We get an injection of self-confidence, a trust in the future, an encouragement to “take a sad song and make it better”, not to “carry the world on our shoulders”. And we get a singalong finale that lifts up the spirit and unites people. We get, in other words, some intangible values that have to do with the way we live in, experience, and enjoy reality. In that ideal world, this is something that a society should not only sell, but protect too. So, in that sense “creative industries” should be different, because they should escape the ordinary market rules and become social heritage. But of course, in practice, they tend to get treated like any other product, and this possibly explains why musical enterprises are less and less public and more and more private. Even classical music, which should be considered public cultural heritage, are now increasingly managed by privates. So, the question arises: that particular concert that is organized in our philharmonic hall, is it organized because there are certain intangible values that will be generated, or because that is the artist who “sells more” at the moment?

How is working in creative industries different from working in “normal” industries?

Again: different in theory and much more similar in practice. For sure, the old image (or, indeed, stereotype) of the creative person exists only in movies, by now. I mean, the bohemian guy who wakes up in the night because he is hit by the divine inspiration, and writes his ideas on an old notebook with a nearly-consumed pencil… that is a bit of a myth (if it ever existed: I always had this suspicion that artists who give that image of themselves are kind of cheating a bit, and they are much more cynical and rational that they want us to believe). Once more, what we see today is a bigger emphasis on the managerial side of the job: the “divine inspiration” occurs between 9 am and 5 pm, the notebook is an Apple laptop, and so on.

Having said that, there are more creative environments and less creative ones. Working in creative industries, trivially enough, is still more of a creative environment, and perhaps the rules of working and cooperation are of a different sort, and get measured with different meters (which, most of the times, are more pleasant rules and meters, at least from my point of view).

And then again, from the bohemian artist cliché, these environments managed to create another cliché, which is equally corny: metrosexual clothes, post-it’s all over the place, take-away coffee mugs and those horribly uncomfortable pouf armchairs… But of course, every epoch has its fashions, and its ways of being a bit pathetic.

On the other hand: can creativity be separated from other industries?

I think the main point is that we anyway live in an age where differences get blurred, boundaries get crossed, and whatever “sacredness” belongs to whatever field tends to get violated. Let us take some world-leading company of nowadays (and one that represents very well the nowadays’ world): Google. Does Google belong to creative industries or not? It’s not a rhetorical question: I am really asking. We get indications for both options: it is a place mostly run by engineers, whom however need plenty of creativity. Google likes hiring humanists and artists because they know that they can make a difference. There is that famous example of Damon Horowitz, director of engineering at Google. During the Stanford University’s 2011 BiblioTech conference on “Human Experience”, he famously delivered a talk entitled “Why you should quit your technology job and get a Ph.D. in the humanities”. There is a passage I learned by heart because I am quoting it in my next book. It goes like this: “In learning the limits of my technologist worldview, I didn’t just get a few handy ideas about how to build better AI systems. My studies opened up a new outlook on the world. I would unapologetically characterize it as a personal intellectual transformation: a renewed appreciation for the elements of life that are not scientifically understood or technologically engineered.In other words: I became a humanist. And having a more humanistic sensibility has made me a much better technologist than I was before”.

When we hear endorsements of this kind we understand that, at the same time, creativity is often separated from other industries, but when it is not, it can make a hell of a difference, and become an absolute added value.