Don’t confuse autonomous art with creative industry

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Since the cuts from 2011, politicians have set the so-called ‘creative industry’ as an example for the arts. Industrial design, architecture, graphic design and the game industry: the creative have become ‘top sector’. This, I believe, is the root cause of the uneasiness expressed in this newspaper’s Culture Supplement: the increasing instrumentalization of art by politicians.

The piece ‘Why the magic of Studio Drift is hypocritical’ agitates against designers who ‘intrude’ into the domain of art. Hans den Hartog Jager’s criticism focuses mainly on the designer duo Studio Drift and the fact that the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum has bought one of their works (Drift donated two smaller works to the museum). The author accuses these designers of ‘eroding art’ by making clever use of concepts from autonomous visual art and translating them into ‘consumer kitsch’. According to him, this purchase legitimizes the National Museum of Contemporary Art’s ‘bite-sized humbug’.


In my view, the problem is not that cultural disciplines overlap and that mixtures are introduced. Of course, you may think that Studio Drift’s ‘starry sky’ created with illuminated drones is nothing more than ‘simple sensation’. The same discussion also unfolded about the exhibition of the designer Marcel Wanders in the Stedelijk and about the visual artist Jeff Koons, who calls himself ‘partly a cheater’.

Charlatan yes or no: art history has debated it since time immemorial. It is precisely the task of today’s presentation institutions to lead and nurture that debate. (Incidentally, the work from Studio Drift was bought by the curator of industrial design at the Stedelijk, so not financed from the art budget).


The real problem is that art is increasingly being directed to projects with ‘social impact’ via grants – also from equity funds. One example is the special programs at museums for Alzheimer’s patients.

Such involvement is meritorious, but there is a risk that special importance is attached derivative the value of art: it then functions as a means of providing a creative – and sometimes cheap – ‘solution’ to problems in society. A further problem is that for such functional uses of creativity, not primarily independent artists are suitable, but designers. They are trained to use techniques for task-related work. It is therefore they who are increasingly winning assignments for, for example, art in the public space – traditionally an important source of income for sculptors.


Where artistic freedom was previously at the center, the emphasis is now on usability. A well-known example of this is the sustainable and attractive lighting that Daan Roosegaarde, trained architect, designed for the Afsluitdijk. This change is particularly noticeable at the local level. The municipalities are the largest providers of cultural subsidies, but art funding is not a legal obligation for them. Because budget cuts have been carried out at the same time as the decentralization of the state’s tasks to lower levels of government, the municipalities are cutting back considerably on culture. So they can take care of their mandatory (youth) care tasks. By using arts budgets in healthcare, they kill two birds with one stone.

Artists or designers who hold workshops for the developmentally disabled are usually cheaper than specially trained social workers who work continuously with these people. It is also significant that more and more municipalities no longer appoint a separate councilor for culture: the arts have then moved to Care or Education. As a result, file knowledge and involvement in the arts is disappearing from the main art funder: the local government.

Earning Power

That the creative industry must now act as a role model has a clear message: Can’t art also develop into one for profit-sector?

It is efficiency thinking implemented in its most extreme form: the goal seems to be art that no longer needs subsidies. This political trend sends the wrong signal to politicians and the public. The so-called ‘earning capacity’ of autonomous art is, after all, fundamentally different from that of creative art industry.

Today, even within the art world itself, people talk in the same breath about ‘the cultural and creative sector’., recently in the council Art 2030 from the lobby organization Kunsten 92 to the minister.

With this adherence to this instrumental subsidy policy, the sector is shooting itself in the foot. It is precisely the art world that must continue to draw attention to the fact that art in itself has value for viewers and listeners. Its value lies precisely in the fact that a painting or a symphony is not always easy to understand, but rather wants to offer a different experience or perspective than we already know.

False comparison

It is not the ‘entertaining’ forms of art – or kitsch – that pose the greatest threat. The danger lies in the assumption that artists can ‘keep their pants down’ as long as they are enterprising enough and a little flexible. The comparison with the creative industry is a false comparison that seems to be primarily motivated by austerity and lack of knowledge.

No harm to the creative industry, but let’s make sure that sub-sectors are played off against each other – with possible cuts as a result.

Good to know

An earlier version of this article was published on the NRC’s Opinion page on September 21 and 22

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