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A long-read by Robert Peston VII, Business Culture Editor-at-Large for the Financial Times 4.0

Published 5th May, 2372

Looking back at the 20th century, one might be astonished by their rudimentary methods of cultural production. The Arts! So quaint, it almost sounds like a cottage industry. But back in the Second Dark Ages, that is indeed how humans made culture — or what they called ‘Art’. Much like their predecessors, the caveman and the neanderthal, 20th century humans would physically make Art with their bare hands. It was a discrete activity. They would make Art as individuals and collectives for each other’s amusement and enjoyment, or for personal satisfaction and meaning. They would come together and look at it in large open rooms called Public Galleries. That was until the creation of… Creative Industry Group Incorporated (CreatInG inc).

Business historians have extensively documented CreatInG’s meteoric rise. Founded at the end of the 21st century, in the territories formerly known as the United Kingdom (FKAUK), they soon kickstarted the 6th Industrial Revolution. Perhaps what remains unexplored is how CreatInG came into being. What fed their existence? What context and cause made it possible for them to turn Art into what we now recognise as the creative industry? Well…

Artists have transformative power. Even the ancient artists of 20th century antiquity could turn flat surface, colour, line and shape into an image. The artistic process is one of transformation — taking objects, ideas, theories, whims and abstract fancies, and turning them into coherent artistic output. The artist performs artistic labour and confers symbolic or conceptual value. In other words, the assignation of meaning. ‘Art’ is the product of that labour. Artistic labour conditions things into a state that is fit for public view, binding it together with other things — other art-objects, the viewer, the space or the world around it. It can start out as random and unrelated as you like, but by assigning symbolic value, it accumulates a mystical conceptual relationship with other things, making it legible on its own terms. Meaning — it is given meaning. Yes, artists have always been magicians.

What the Second Dark Ages left untapped (or at least insufficiently monetised) was the value of that transformative ability. When an artwork entered a ‘public gallery’, the formal context and coherence signalled its value as an asset. In the Second Dark Ages, artists were not afforded this same luxury of formality or coherence. The value of their transformative power had nowhere to go, no direction, definition or context that would signal its value. A true waste! To think of all that untapped financial potential, all the money that wasn’t made! Squandered without a care — one of the 21st century’s numerous tragedies.

From here in the civilised 24th century, we have historical hindsight and can asses how this tragedy came about. From the beginning of the 21st century (2010) until the Prime Ministership was reabsorbed back into the political monarchy in 2200, the FKAUK was governed by consecutive Conservative politicians — what we now refer to as the Conservative dynasty. And at the beginning of the 21st century, conservative Prime Ministers were focused on optimising the health of the economy while simultaneously enacting fiscal policies that did nothing but worsen general economic wellbeing.

Historically, governments had provided state funding for the Arts. Subsidising cultural activity alleviated the pressure of commercial viability, so artists had been able to make work that was wholly unconcerned with the generation of profit or financial value. While this state of affairs sounds absolutely ludicrous to us in the 24th century, contemporary sources also identify it as wasteful and opulent. The ancient peoples of the 21st century thought that science and technology was the future of skills, growth, work and prosperity — the state actually launched poster campaigns encouraging ballet dancers to retrain for jobs in cyber. We have no way of knowing what cyber actually was, but the deprioritisation of creativity is evident. The Conservative dynasty enacted rounds of cuts to cultural funding and all other forms of public spending. Contemporary sources called it austerity, but with our hindsight we can recognise it as a minor component in their Maximum Neoliberalism strategy.

This state level neglect of an entire economic sector (especially one as lucrative as the creative sector) might be mind-boggling to us now, but for the savage peoples of the 21st century, it’s consistent with the barbarous values of the time. This mindset only shifted once the true financial potential of creative labour was made explicitly clear through other avenues.

Records from the 21st century are sparse and of poor quality. From what we can tell, urban communities informally discovered the value of creative labour by capitalising on artistic surplus. It took the form of a primitive market. Artists would move to an area where the rent was cheap. They would live and work and in doing so would transform these areas with a new atmosphere of culture and creativity. This atmosphere was the surplus, a by-product of artistic labour and a desirable asset on the social market. The atmosphere would attract other young talented people to the area and demand for housing would increase. Before the invention of instant podular abode systems, housing supply was notoriously slow to respond to demand. If supply stays the same despite increasing demand, it can only lead to one thing: skyrocketing prices. The artists were unable to afford the increased prices and would be forced to leave, moving on to new areas to start the cycle all over again. But even after the artists had left the area, the area would crucially retain its increased value.

The how and why of this primitive market still bamboozles modern academics, who look at the sparse hisorical record through the lens of a common historian, rather than the perspective of a business culture analyst. With my humble expertise, I will hazard an attempt at demystification.

Midway through the 21st century, the world bank declared the completion of neoliberalism and achievement of its ultimate endpoint: everything became an unregulated free-market. The labour market in particular saw increasing fragmentation and fluidity, the supremacy of the individual. Contemporary sources called it ‘the Gig Economy’, or precarious labour. By 2050 every working age adult was a freelancer. The individual was responsible for determining their working hours, their working responsibilities and their working value. Maximum neoliberalism meant that everything was a potential revenue stream that could be maximised, including an individual’s abstract subjectivities. Subjectivities and abstract concepts can only have value if they are assigned meaning — the very trade of artists.

The value retention of artistically transformed areas can be demystified if we understand that the value was conferred onto the people who moved in after the artists. Everyone wanted to be where artists had been. They wanted to sit in the creative atmosphere, they hoped some of it would rub off on them. The value of creativity didn’t lie in creativity itself, but what creativity implied about a person adjacent to it. Artists had given it all meaning — meaning that made it coherent on its own terms and it was therefore of value.

While the post-artist wave of freelance-workers weren’t capable of artistic labour or meaning creation, they were creatively literate enough to fashion an economic system through which meaning could continue producing value. It was a rudimentary paraculture — it involved lots of people having meetings and discussing the intersection of things (art, technology, permaculture, worldbuilding, community, care and collectivity). Activities included connecting, ideating and synergising — historical terms for using hand gestures near meaningless pie charts. None of these things involved production or creative labour. Artists had already made the meaning, which could continue to circulate as aesthetic or conceptual signifier, capable of generating value all the same.

The post-artist freelance workers had unwittingly discovered the value of creative labour. Here was CreatInG’s business model! The economic case for creativity, live and direct. The figures alone were beyond dispute. If you looked at urban planning, it wasn’t money or available land, but cultural activity that determined the shape of a town or a city. Urban real estate had historically been a volatile market — creative labour could turn that volatility into a stable asset with stable value. It was making serious money. By 2064 this primitive market was out-earning the financial industry. The ‘Arts’ themselves might not have been concerned with profit and value accumulation, but it was creating a by-product that contributed an increasingly significant amount to GDP.

After 80 years of state intervention in the economy to no significant benefit or avail, what the Conservative dynasty really wanted was a cultural sector that made money. State cultural infrastructure wasn’t fit for purpose: the FKAUK had a specific governmental ministry to deal with cultural affairs and policy, and a state body to distribute funding. In an act of extreme privatisation, the 32nd government of the Conservative dynasty decreed the sale of the funding body. It was taken to auction at Sotheby’s and sold to the highest bidder — Sir Nicholas Serrota with a final bid of £36 million, a purchase that was reported in this very publication as ’the bargain of the century’.

From here, we are all very familiar with the founding mythology. His Imperial Universal Majesty Sir Nicholas Serrota incorporated the funding body as a private company and Creative Industry Group was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 2090.

CreatInG’s meteoric rise to the status of Blessed Monopoly Organisation was confirmed in 2124. But, while BMO status is a position of aspiration and envy, it doesn’t ensure a smooth path…

The 22nd century’s bitterest pill was confirmation that the free market is a myth, a fairy tale for naive children. The free market simply does not exist, and it never could. Deregulation and the opening up of new untapped markets can only ever lead to one thing: enclosure.

When CreatInG was incorporated at the end of the 21st century, the wider arts sector was caught off-guard by its cutthroat monopolising strategy. His Imperial Universal Majesty Sir Nicholas Serrota had made the purchase of the old funding body at an absolute bargain basement price, leaving CreatInG with a huge war chest to invest back into monopolisation. The first motion enacted by their founding board was the purchase of the second largest Cultural Funding Distribution Organisation (CFDO). The second motion was another purchase, the third motion a third purchase. After a year of incorporation, CreatInG had acquired all but 8 of FKAUK’s CFDOs and had 85% market share. By 2095 CreatInG acquired the last CFDO left on both the private and public market. In 5 years it had bought a total monopoly, 100% market share, and was the only organisation with the authority and ability to commission payment of artists or authenticate the purchase of artworks.

The monopolising strategy received its fair share of criticism, from wider society and artists themselves, who felt that a single company’s total control of commissioning power was a looming threat and proof of unfair business practice within the sector. Call it what you like: primitive accumulation, re-enclosure, or just good common business sense. The economy has never payed much regard for fairness. CreatInG’s monopolisation strategy had an immediate effect on the sector. If artists wanted to receive payment for their practice, they had to do so with a contract of work from CreatInG and it was CreatInG who would be paying them from then on.

Criticism also came from within, from a completely different angle. CreatInG’s founding board was made up of an illustrious mix of policy-viziers, management experts and creative consultants from a wide range of culturapreneurial disciplines. His Imperial Universal Majesty Sir Nicholas Serrota, spent the first few years wrestling for supreme control of corporate strategic authority. Though instances of insubordination to his Imperial Universal Majesty are inconceivable to us now, the board was, at times, in revolt against his strategic authority. But prioritising acquisitions and growing market share wasn’t an approved business growth plan. A commissioning monopoly wasn’t the kind of corporate innovation the sector had envisioned or been expecting.

Most futurologists predicted that the corporate future of culture would be the artist as Culturapreneur, providing direct to consumer meaning-production services. The artist would be an empowered vendor, a sole trader selling their wares on a blissful free-market, investing in their personal brand to maximise sales and profit. This vision granted artists the freedom and prestige of business adjacency, rather than the individualised precarity of a ‘Gig Economy’ worker. Yes, the fallacy of the free market strikes again! Naive futurologists envisioned a world where a free market led to individual freedoms and individual financial prosperity. A myth, a fairy tale. The free hand of the market only moves to help big fish get bigger, as is its god-given right!

Informal and amateur art production continued long after 2095 and the achievement of CreatInG’s 100% market share. While the corporation had a total monopoly over formal payment systems, artists have always been comfortable with the idea of producing art before, or entirely without, financial compensation. This informal workforce presented a theoretical threat to CreatInG’s monopolisation strategy, but in practice, like the rest of the sector it lacked the power or preparation to undercut CreatInG’s total monopoly.

Artists were effectively sitting ducks. Even in the depths of antiquity, artists had always been freelance workers, bouncing around the drainhole of precarity. The only regulatory brake on the system was the moral concept of fair wages for fair work. Of course, some artists had been able to climb the greasy pole and achieve the rare dream of independent empowered vendorship, selling their products for maximum profit. But that business model relied on a direct to consumer sales strategy, and direct access to the consumer market.

Under CreatInG’s total monopoly, the consumer market realised that purchasing artworks through a large corporation came with some rather undeniable perks. Of course, artwork prices were lower. Quality was better regulated, consumers were guaranteed more value stability on the resale market because CreatInG acted as third party authentication. CreatInG offered both outright asset ownership and shared asset ownership — consumers could buy 100% of an artwork or hedge their bets and buy partial shares in an artwork, meaning more flexibility and diversity for consumer portfolios. CreatInG also offered structured payment plans — consumers could pay for an artwork in instalments (contemporary sources lambasted this, calling it ‘Art Klarna’, but the appeal was undeniable and expanded the market, making art purchases accessible to first time buyers and hard-to-reach demographics). The concept of wealthy individuals providing patronage or private philanthropic funding for art and culture had always been flawed. It eventually died out as wealthy patrons directed their support through CreatInG, as it guaranteed maximum efficiency for tax avoidance.

Ultimately, art production is incredibly labour intensive. Production costs rise more steeply than in other sectors and economies of scale aren’t actually possible — smaller vendors were at an immediate disadvantage, there was no way for artists to remain competitive when up against a corporation the size of CreatInG.

Artists gradually joined the ranks of CreatInG’s freelance creative workforce. In 2124 the last independent artist finally relented and signed a CreatInG contract — it was a moment of such historic significance, it was broadcast live on state television. The pen the artist signed with was later sold to the great grandchild of Jeff Bezos for $4.5 billion, the highest recorded price for the sale of one singular pen. In establishing an absolute monopoly of market share and the labour pool, CreatInG was granted the official status of Blessed Monopoly Organisation. Within 60 years, by 2184, CreatInG was the largest BMO on the continent, contributing a larger percentage chunk to GDP than the Oil and Gas giants combined.

CreatInG’s meteoric rise set the stage for the 6th Industrial Revolution and the transition from service economy to symbolic economy. As the Business Culture Editor, I am perhaps not as quallified as my colleagues in the Business Sciences. Nonetheless, I will attempt a brief overview of the history of industrial economic eras.

Feudalism was established through primitive accumulation, the enclosure of the commons. Lords, Barons and Dukes had bigger sticks and bigger men who were able to claim private ownership of land by force. What was once thought of as the 1st Industrial Revolution was the transition from feudalism to the manufacturing economy. The use of machines, factories and physical labour to produce physical products that consumers could physically purchase. The invention of steel triggered the 2nd Industrial Revolution and a transition to mass manufacturing. 3rd was supply-side reform and a transition to New Industrialism. The 4th was the information economy, where data was the raw material in question. And the 5th Industrial Revolution saw the death of Artificial Intelligence and a transition back to an earlier para-model of a service based economy. The 6th Industrial Revolution, triggered by CreatInG’s meteoric rise and 48% contribution to Europestan’s GDP, saw the transition to a symbolic economy.

The advent of the symbolic economy brings us back full circle to the beginning of this long-read, to the transformational power artists uniquely possess. Without which, we would be spiritually poorer. We would also be financially poorer. God bless the artists and bless the Blessed Monopoly that keeps them producing Culture! May it continue forever!

After this article was published, CreatInG’s lawyers got in touch to demand an explicit declaration of Robert Peston VII’s enthusiasm for CreatInG and its high-quality cultural products. Below is Robert Peston VII’s additional comment.

There are still critics of CreatInG’s corporate practices, some going as far as to call it creative-neo-feudalism — this is gratuitous and misplaced. CreatInG’s business model finally allows for a system where artists are fairly compensated for their labour with fair wages. Or at least the minimum living wage, who can say fairer than that. They can choose when they work, where they work and how they work. If they don’t like the terms of their contracted employment, they are free to terminate the contract — conditional on compliance with protocol and the destruction of their creative urges, a condition that contractors are made well aware of before signing. Granted, there is no scope for creative work without a CreatInG contract — such is the nature of a monopoly! CreatInG holds the pursestrings and ultimate commissioning authority, responsibilities that grant them authority over what gets made, and where meaning is applied. CreatInG also has ultimate ownership of all creative intellectual property produced by their contracted workers, so of course they reap all profits from creative labour — such is the nature of feudo-capitalism. If you don’t like it, the People’s Socialist Republic of Mars is taking applications for new citizens. You know where the door is. For those who are wise enough to see what this corporation contributes to the creative economy, CreatInG are a public company that trades on the Neo Londinium stock exchange. Shares are currently going for 100,058.99 GigaPounds (GBP).

Criticism aside, it’s important not to force artists to suffer and endure all the unnecessary paternalism. The idea that the commentariat might potentially know better than artists themselves is for the birds (or, at least what’s left of the birds). Critics of CreatInG might do well to have a glance at their artist testimonial reports, published yearly, which conveniently mentions that 99.998% of artists contracted by CreatInG feel a ‘sufficient level of satisfaction with their labour and contractual terms’.

By the time His Imperial Universal Majesty Sir Nicholas Serrota kicked the bucket and passed on to the other side (a period of cryogenic link rot where the iPad that his brain had been transferred into finally fell out of sync with modern technology and his sentience was uploaded to the cloud), CreatInG’s shareholder board was reporting profits of £700billion (GBP) across all universal territories, including the People’s Socialist Republic of Mars. The artistic labourers that make up CreatInG’s workforce are contractually obliged to hang an image of him above their workstation and kiss him on his little lips every time they clock in for their micro-shifts. I imagine that is what secures 99.998% of their satisfaction and happiness, as it is an honour and a privilege.