The Production of Creative Norms: The Integrative Process, Structural Forms and Culture

This text is a methodological outline linking categories of the Technopolitics research project with the PhD research project on "Moves in Media Art - Paradigm changes in art and technology". While mainly sketching out a work program for the coming months, the notion of "creative norms" is proposed here for the first time in an English text. It therefore would be nice to get some feedback on this.

This text was:

The development of analytical categories to describe a paradigm brought up the meta-category of the "integrative process". This category describes those processes which help to embed the political economy in the actual lived reality. While the critique of the political economy necessarily focuses on terms and contradictions considered "central" to the way political economies work, such as capital and labour, the social relationships contained in those forms remain abstract. The introduction of the category "integrative process" poses the question, "how are the abstract properties of the categories of the political economy translated into the everyday reality of lived life?" How, for instance, does the "contradiction" between labour and capital actually play out? On the layer of the political economy this leads to the analysis of economic factors such as fixed capital investment, the level of productivity and its development over time, the remuneration of labour and the amount of surplus value appropriated by capital. Posing the same question on the layer of the integrative process we become aware of a set of different questions. How, for instance, is the level of payment negotiated between labour and capital. And, how is "effective demand" actually realised? - only to give two examples of such questions. Effective demand cannot be a function merely of the amount of "freed up" money available for spending beyond the most basic needs for survival. The "needs" of wage earners are shaped by various influences such as traditional cultural values or new orientations inspired by advertising or other emerging social trends. The realisation of effective demand depends on 'consumption norms'.

Aglietta (1979)1 states that the era of Fordism developed specific "structural forms" to negotiate the relationships between capital and labour and describes "collective bargaining" as one such structural form of the highest significance for this period (postwar era from roughly 1945 - 1975 with variations depending on country). Structural forms therefore can be described as the specific expressions of the integrative process in relation to corresponding categories of the productive process within a respective techno-economic paradigm. Building on this notion it is suggested that a) institutions, culture and media are key factors that shape the integrative process and that b) it is methodologically fruitful to look for further "structural forms" which link the political economy with the everyday. [it would be necessary to define the categories used "institutions", "culture" and "media" but this task is skipped for now and left to a further date]. What particularly interests us is if there are "structural forms" in the domains of culture and media which contribute to the integrative process in particular ways?

To give an example, it could be proposed that during the era of Fordism in many European countries, among them England and Austria, state funding of the arts through semi-independent funding bodies was a structural form that was of great influence on artistic production and consumption. In England, this was done through the Arts Council of England, chaired by John Maynard Keynes in the immedeate postwar years. In Austria, a similar role was taken by the Federal Ministry of Arts, Culture and Education, albeit with some delay (only after 1955 with formal independence and end of occupation). Without now going into detail about differences (for instance, the Arts Council was famously based on an "arms-length" principle while the Austrian Ministry is directly part of government administration), we can say that it is productive to look how this structural form changed in the transition from Fordism to Postfordism. We need to add that throughout the same period in the countries in question there existed also an art market whereby it is yet unlcear if the market is yet another structural form or more adequately described as an institution. In this regard we also need to take note of the fact that change can have different meanings. Not only can it mean change of the overall structural form - i.e. a transition from the state funded arts to more markte dominated forms of art production - but also a change from within whereby the structural form on the outside is maintained but it continues within a different organisational logic and with different goals and priorities.

The key new thesis which is proposed here is that in advanced capitalist societies one of the functions of the arts is the creative production of consumption norms - in short 'creative norming'. This has a double meaning. Creative norms can be models or prototypes which are turned into designs for industrial production. They can also be the creative norms which people have internalized as tastes and desirable images. Arts and culture play a key role in shaping the subjectivities of people and make them acquire those tastes and desires which will determine their decisions as consumers. Creative norms are the social norms of consumption according to age, gender, "class" or profession and other social stratifications. This connection is most obvious in product design, an issue pointed out by Michel Aglietta (1979: 160-61):

But in order for this logic of consumption to be compatible with a labour process oriented towards relative surplus value, the total of use values had to be adapted to capitalist mass production. This meant the creation of a functional aesthetic ('design'), which acquired fundamental social importance. This aesthetic had firstly to respect the constraints of engineering, and consequently to conceive use-value as an assembly of standardized components capable of long production runs. It also had to introduce planned obsolescence, and establish a functional link between use-values to create the need for their complementarity. In this way, consumption activity could be rendered uniform and fully subjected to the constraints of its items of equipment. Finally, this functional aesthetic duplicated the real relationship between individuals and objects with an imaginary relationship. Not content to create a space of objects of daily life, as supports of a capitalist commodity universe, it provided an image of this space by advertisment techniques. This image was presented as an objectification of consumption status which individuals could perceive outside themselves. The process of social recognition was externalized and fetishized. Individuals were not initially interpellated as subjects by one another, in accordance with their social position: they were interpellated by an external power, diffusing a robot portrait of the 'consumer'. Consumption habits were thus already calculated and controlled socially.

Whereas in design the relationship between the functional aesthetic produced by designers and the imaginary produced by advertisement is a very close one, it is much less so in the case of fine arts. The viewpoint proposed here is that works of contemporary art produced by avant-gardes have a time-delayed influence on the production of creative norms. This influence is not only played out on the layer of different aesthetics but also on the layer of social values. It would be a grave reduction of art practices in the second half of the 20th century to reduce them to a specific aesthetics, as many artists and artistic movements strove to go beyond "styles" and aimed at, for instance, critical interrogations of social relationships and investigated changing understandings of fundamental categories of human existence such as time and space. While it is much more difficult to objectify the dispersion of new social meanings contained in avantgarde practices, it is still possible. It is clear that such a concept of arts involvement in the production of creative norms will raise a lot of objections. One key objections is that such a concept is much too functionalist. Artists follow many other motives rather than producing 'robot portraits of consumers' which will determine their consumption habits. As an important objection this is, it is beyond the point, as what matters is not what artists subjectively feel what their work is about but what social use is made of it.

[This text is only a methodological sketch and in this respect, for instance, Bourdieu's work on 'tastes' needs to be considered more.] Another objection is that some important artistic practices were openly hostile to capitalism and socially antagonistic. While this is certainly the case with Suationism, we can see how the time-delay and capitalisms capacity of 'recuperation' was capable of turning Situationist aesthetics and practices into commodities through Punk and New Wave music in the late 1970s and 1980s. Even more important to support this thesis is the development that interwar avantgarde movements have taken. Buchloh (FIXME: reference) hast pointed out that the Bauhaus aesthetic was turned into blueprints for US American design after WWII. This influence is not just speculative but can be directly followed via the role Bauhaus artists Laszlo Moholy Nagy and György Kepes played in postwar art and design education in the US. We can generalise this to the claim that avantgarde positions developed in the early decades of the 20th century became hegemonic during the era of Fordism, albeit stripped off their social revolutionary character. This did not just happen automatically but was a result of the structural form of state funding for the arts.

A key role in this regard was played by major exhibitions which presented avantgarde positions from before the war to new mass audiences. In the name of the democratisation of the arts nation states funded museums and exhibition halls which presented artistic positions which previously had only been known to tiny minorities to much larger audiences. In some cases this had an ideological function to demonstrate the superiority of democratic market societies, namely the USA, as opposed to the restrictions that totalitarian systems put on the arts. In other cases the idea was both ideological as well as educative. Exhibitions such as documenta in Germany were created to demonstrate to the German population the values of an open society which not just tolerated but actively supported critical art practices that contradicted traditional tastes. The funding practices of public art funding bodies and the modern art 'exhibition' as a format are an important expression of the structural form of state involvement in the arts.

With regard to the development of the thesis "Moves in Media Art" this has several consequences, as it opens a specific analytical perspective on the exhibitions which serve as case studies in this thesis. For instance, in which ways was the development of cybernetic art and early computer art in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s influenced by the existence of the ACE and state funded institutions such as the ICA. It also forces us to ask which structural forms were used in Yugoslavia where the New Tendencies project happened and which role the structural form played in the establishment of the Austrian Ars Electronica festival in 1979 and its subsequent development till today. We can also investigate the tensions between the aspirations of the artists and curators and the creative norms which arose from their work. In which ways did 'media art before the name' contribute to the development of creative norms that would become hegemonic with the rise of the information society? How did during the rise from the age of Fordism to Postfordism the structural form of the organisation of the arts change and how did that influence the shape of exhibitions and the dissemination of creative norms? For instance, we need to look at the possible relationships between the development of the productive forces and the integrative process in Fordism as it peaked and reached a crisis, and the artistic sensibilities relating to changes in perception of time, space and the emergence of the open artwork and participation in the 1950s and 1960s. As a sort of a subthesis we could say that artists strove to overcome the rigidities of Fordism long before the structural crisis of Fordism became apparent on the economic plane and that their practices and manifestos, while marginal at the time, prepared the ground for the resurgence of those practices once social conditions and new technologies were more conducive to them. Another area to be investigated is the function of new media in this context. This concerns on one hand the function of advertisement and related fields such as market research and PR - as a complex of issues surrounding 'feedback' - and on the other hand the rise of media technologies as consumer goods. While in market driven economies a key role of media is the transmission of consumption norms, media technologies themselves become commodities that can be afforded by consumers and which are getting integrated into the everyday in various ways, be it amateur creativity, fan creativity, youth- and sub-cultures.


Creative norms?

Armin, I find this a damn interesting avenue because you are getting really precise and going into territory that has not really been dealt with before, certainly not by the Regulation Approach as far as I know anyway. The basic idea of looking at socially funded arts production as a structural form serving at least partially for the generation of consumption norms appears very solid to me. It will be fascinating to see how that works out and what kind of research results you can get from it!

I am less sure about the term "creative norms" and maybe it just needs a clarification. In the 1950s and 60s there is clearly a lot of cross-over between modernist art and industrial design, and that was explicitly sought by many people, so there you would have a specific range of consumption norms which could be pretty easily designated as having to do with art or creativity. Later on, in the information age (and maybe it is this you are really thinking of) it seems to me there emerges a broadly generalized "creative norm" concerning prosumer products such as recording devices and computers, where the consumer is expected to use them as a tool and produce something "creative" with them. Equally important in our time our interactive environments, designed with the idea that people are going to misuse them or use them "creatively." If that is what you're thinking of, then for sure the cybernetic art of the 60s is in advance of the norm, it's an early experimental form that prepares the way for the full-fledged interactivity of our time. There you could say that the structural form of arts funding is laying the groundwork for an entirely new kind of design, interaction design which is now such a well-established field.

So, in short, I am not sure whether your proposal is meant as a new meta-category that would apply in specific forms to any period, or whether it is a specific category for the current period. In that latter case, the phrase "creative norms" or even "creative norm" seems perfect. In the former one I am not so sure. You might just have to explain it better!

ciao, Brian