The Value of Creativity in the Mediterranean Cauldron

Editor’s note: This article first ran on the website of Ettijahat—Independent Culture, a Syrian nonprofit cultural organization currently based in Lebanon. It appears here with Ettijahat’s permission.

Creativity is quite fashionable. From economic reports to the edicts from many public institutions, professionals and scholars consider it a powerful driver for growth. A question that has been raised, a controversial one, is that often creativity is used as a label, associated with dynamic (and currently aggressive) sectors such as fashion, design and enogastronomy (food and wine tourism). This brings us to the second step of creativity, which is the conviction that whatever amount of money spent on creative activities multiplies its value. The final conclusion is simple: It is economically convenient, ethically right, and politically virtuous to invest in creativity, art and culture.

The risk of such a simplistic view is manifold: Public expenditure is not aimed at generating monetary returns, but at making essential services evenly accessible. Creativity is not an object but an action, which implies that, just as not every painting is an artwork, not every bottle of wine or dress or sofa is creative. The issue becomes quite labyrinthic. How can we define creativity and focus upon its value in the Mediterranean framework? Of course, a framework is not necessarily a geographical area, but mainly a philosophy, a methodological approach, a pair of spectacles that only we Mediterranean people wear and use to interpret life and the world.

During the decline of the industrial era we should consider some crucial facts. Eurocentrism, along with its colonial bias, has convinced too many people that the competitive industrial paradigm was the best possible system, and that finally the economy and society had attained their golden age. This is totally false. The material accumulation of goods, services and money can be helpful to meet our desires and needs, but does not grant happiness, and makes the quest for it hard and complicated. Systems

Eurocentrism, along with its colonial bias, has convinced too many people that thecompetitive industrial paradigm was the best possible system, and that finally the economy and society had attained their golden age. This is totally false.”

other than Eurocentrism have been stupidly considered wrong or, even worse, inefficient. Actually, what we need is an effective society. (Efficiency is only a textbook metric.)

The Mediterranean cauldron can give us many ideas: (a) fertility comes from diversity; (b) creativity comes from the ability to do something that we do not know how to do; (c) space and time should not be interpreted as protective (and constrictive) grids, but as loose landscapes where and when we can draw our trails with an empiricist approach; (d) the three sides of the Mediterranean can teach us a lot, combining the syntactic and the paratactic approaches, combining abstract and concrete views, associating the representation of the self with the desire of contemplation. We did this for centuries, and it often worked, despite the (too) many attempts to reduce everything to a struggle over private property.

The Courtyard of Artisans

In such a respect, we should be careful and delicate when some area experiences troubles and contradictions: Our long tradition based on connections and exchanges is being dangerously affected by a stupid fight for land, borders and walls. Whatever area may suffer from these wounds—as it happens, in Syria and in Libya in our time—not only ends up draining our ability to generate shared values and common strengths, but also starts a sort of collective resignation, allowing external (and normally colonial) powers to intrude into our unique rhythm of cooperation, hybridization and cross-fertilization. It is, dramatically, a vain return to an invented past fed by the illusion of being protected. But it goes in the opposite direction to the flow of present civilization.

The most eloquent example of how the emerging society (and economy) works is the courtyard of artisans, where experience, relationship and proximity generate value in actions and objects that may seem similar but are unique, since they reflect an indefinite dialogue between the creative artisan and the customer, and incorporate the informal exchange of know-how that trusted craftspeople accept and facilitate, aware that creativity is a value when it is processed, just like food whose value is generated by the chef. This could help us to emphasize our similarities and common views, and it could help weak nations, conflict areas, uncertain people. Creativity will rescue us from stupidity.

Michele Trimarchi, Ph.D., studied law and economics. He teaches public economics (at Catanzaro), cultural economics (in Bologna), and lateral thinking (at Istituto Europeo di Design in Venice and Rome). He is a member of the editorial board of Creative Industries Journal and president of Tools for Culture, a nonprofit organization active in the area of strategic cultural projects and training for art professionals.


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