I went to see the new delightful film about Molière, where the character of interest is the ‘bourgeois gentleman’, Monsieur Jourdain, who believes that beyond financial success, becoming a dilettante in the arts (and some sports) will ensure his rise in status from tradesman to aristocrat. Some may see Jourdain as an insufferable nouveau-riche who pretends to own a culture which he does not understand, but what I see as important is the emphasis he places on the various forms of art, and not just because they are associated with ‘class’ privileges, but because he truly delights in music, painting and dance. At the same time, perusing the book by Richard Florida, The Rise of the Creative Class (2002), I see a connection: the rise of his newly identified class of ‘creators’ echoes the rise of the bourgeoisie or ‘third estate’ (the other two being the clergy and aristocracy) reflected in the late 17th century theater of Molière, and leading to the French revolution in 1789.

I found Florida’s book keenly observant and rather uplifting. If we are to subscribe to the concept of a creative class, the model of the ‘starving artist’ or ‘good-for-nothing bohemian’, subject to contempt from the more prosperous segments of the population may not live too much longer; the idea that creators must either be enslaved to patrons or voluntarily cast themselves out of society may soon be short-lived as well. Simultaneously, radical woes about the cooptation of creative ideas into the main stream may already be outdated as the times have once again changed. As the upper classes embrace and value bohemian styles (the phenomenon is described by David Brooks in his book Bobos in Paradise, bobo meaning the unexpected but widespread 21st century bourgeois-bohemian combo), the bohemians are appreciated for their esthetics, creativity and freedom. They are vibrant, contributing members of a new class of people at the forefront of cultural evolution.

Florida writes: “The creative class derives its identity from its members’ roles as purveyors of creativity (…) Creativity has come to be the most highly prized ‘commodity’ in our economy – and yet it is not a commodity. Creativity comes from people. (…) Some 38 million Americans, 30% of all employed people, belong to this new class. I define the core of the creative class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment, whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and/or new creative content.”

The concept of creative class provides an answer to some of the identity issues that we might face as non-main-stream composers. If we multitask between composing, teaching and blogging – because it isn’t possible to devote ourselves to either of those activities exclusively, we can embrace our multi-functionality as active members of the new creative class, and be comforted by the fact that our contribution to society is all the more valuable because we integrate these various activities. The creator who holds a job and also contributes public creative content is a social powerhouse. It’s about time!

I remember being embarrassed at a party where I made the mistake of introducing myself as a composer and was immediately the target of questions like “how many CDs do you sell?”… Whereas no one would think of asking me the amount of my annual before-tax income upon being introduced, being a composer or a musician places us in some kind of public property domain where people believe they are entitled to such questions. Now I have a ready answer: it’s not about how much you sell, it’s how much you create, and how wide your creative range is – as more and more, creativity is considered one of the most important drivers of the new economy. I found more information on this subject of the actual economic value of the arts in a lengthy, serious report at: http://artsusa.org.

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