defining the "creative"
Updated: Feb 28
Staff writer Kaila Cherry dissects what a "creative" is, what it means to be one, and how it coincides with personal identity.
The youth art scene is preoccupied with redefinition. In contemporary culture, a person who expresses themselves through outlets such as drawing, dance, music, photography, etc. is considered an “artist.” This is the label that has categorized those with a career in aesthetics for centuries. However, there is a subset of young “artists” who aim to separate themselves from the epithet; if one makes art but does not want to call themselves an artist, then what are they? They are creatives.
What exactly is a creative? Does a creative differ from an artist? To answer these questions, I researched the word creative, read about creatives, and spoke to young people interested in the arts to get their perspectives on this rising trend and the impact the term “creative” has on traditional concepts of art-making.
The Creative in the Art World
My first encounter with “creatives” occurred when I moved to Los Angeles. I was there for college and studied Film and Television Production. As I met other artists from various fields, I found more and more often that these 18-22-year-olds referred to themselves as “creatives.” As creatives, I would ask them what, exactly, they were creating. The response was almost always around the idea of a brand. This brand could be slapped onto the realms of fashion design, music production, graphic design, film production, what have you. Most of the time, when I wanted to know more about these brands and creations, they opted for vague descriptions of their “visions” without much fruition. “Creatives” linked me to their empty websites; “coming soon” Instagram accounts hallmarked by zero photos; Soundcloud pages essentially soundless.
I left Los Angeles with the view that creatives were people with many ideas that rarely applied them. Creatives, to me, seemed like people who co-opted the concept of the artist and modified it into something iconoclastic in order to brand themselves as different, modern, and innovative. The innovation, however, was more performative than it was authentic.
In the conversations I had with young art-makers, I got varied thoughts on the term “creative” and whether or not it has a place in the art world today. Sophia Muys, a sophomore art major at UCLA, says that she feels “creative” is “...such a corporate word.” Expanding on that point, Muys says that “...calling myself an artist connects me to past and present artists in a way that the word creative doesn’t.” The word “artist,” to her, “...signifies that the artist is making art for the sake of art and activism (something with a net benefit) and not for the marketing materials within our capitalist structure,” which she associates with creatives.
A similar sentiment was expressed by Jackson DiNucci-Radley, a freshmen experimental artist studying Film/Video at CalArts. “I think the term ‘creative’ is intentionally vapid in order to make the person’s actual craft ambiguous, so you don’t ask too many questions about their often ‘capitalistic’ artistic ventures.”
The delegitimization of art practices for the purposes of marketing and branding was also a concern for twenty-year-old visual artist Amiah Peterson. When asked about the culture of youth art-making today, Peterson said she felt that making art has become a “flex,” and “something used to get attention instead of for yourself.” Although she goes on to say that this desire to create art for attention is not necessarily a “bad” thing, she does believe that the pursuit of attention has caused artists to create work for the purpose of being popular instead of self-expression. Eighteen-year-old photographer Nicky Saxton-Garcia echoes this idea, saying that “...the word ‘creative’ has been used by people who create for a social or trendy reason. Someone who is truly creative doesn't have to remind their Instagram followers that they are.”
Not every young person in the art world sees the term “creative” in a negative light. Jupiter Berrysmith, creator of RawMeat Zine, calls himself a creative because he believes the phrase is able to encompass a diversity of art forms into one label. “Creative feels more uniting rather than divisive. When people hear the term ‘artist,” they might think of the famous European painters we learn about in school and it can feel quite unattainable or not relatable. ‘Creative’ may be the revolutionized and accessible term the youth of today have chosen to define themselves by.”
Others see the terms “artist” and “creative” as subjective and thus unable to be analyzed through an objective lens. Vic is a nineteen-year-old creative who has experimented in the fields of makeup, visual arts, dance, film, and writing. When asked if she considered herself an artist or a creative, she found it difficult to distinguish the two. “Art is subjective and so is creativity,” she said. “They aren’t really anything while simultaneously being everything a person makes it be.”
Carter Monstag, a sophomore Recording Arts major at Loyola Marymount University, had the most diplomatic view on creatives out of the bunch. He states, “It’s cool to be called a creative but dude I’m just a dude. I don’t really fuck with people hating on other people for creating. Let people create, even though it may be shitty to you.”
The Big Picture
Semantics is essential in a culture’s journey to define itself. The obsession in finding the right words to identify a group is imperative for both the development of self-concept and the perception of the group to outsiders. Labels are used to give validity to the ways in which people see themselves and how they want to be seen by others. Because the ways people want to be seen are constantly changing, new words must be created in order to accurately represent the motives, intentions, and purpose of those who feel outside of the conventional methods of naming in their societal context.
For youths in art today, “creative” is a polarizing term. Some believe the label to be detrimental; others view it as empowering. The concern that the art made by creatives is more corporate, marketable, and uninspired parallels itself with the age-old debate of the “sell-out” versus the “purest.” In both conversations, ideas around authenticity, monetary gain, intention, and motivation behind actions are woven into the discourse. In my view, I do not think it is possible to break down the relationship between the “artist” and “creative” without coming back to the dichotomy it stems from.
Defining oneself as a “creative” is still a fairly new phenomenon. Perhaps it is too soon to assess exactly what their role within the greater art world will or should be. Then there is, of course, the question of who gets to make said choices. It is up to the creatives to show up for their craft, continue to produce, and show the world the full capacity of what they can create.