How to handle Picasso

Tantrums and Talent
November 17, 2000

This long essay, by an ad-man well known in the politico-media complex, provides unconscious insights into the way in which the culture of the arts has become fully commodified. It is aimed, presumably, at the management profession and assumes as axiomatic the presence of a sharp divide, or even conflict, between managers in the arts-dependent industries and those who provide the ideas and skills.

Winston Fletcher calculates that 1 per cent of the working population is made up of "actively creative people" working in the corporate world. "How can the output of those key 300,000 individuals be optimised?" he asks, and the question provides the book's mission. But what emerges is rather disturbing, more so than the author seems to realise.

He starts by briefly reviewing some notions of creativity in the arts and sciences, emphasising the separation between logical and creative mental functions, left and right lobes, and so on. Managers are placed on the rational side of the divide, their function dependent upon logical analysis and decision making, while creative workers are assumed to be on the intuitive side of the divide.

Drawing upon interviews he has held with notable contemporary managers of creativity (David Puttnam, Tim Bell, Christopher Bland, Michael Grade, Wally Olins, Jeremy Isaacs), Fletcher explains how creative people, "wayward, stubborn, volatile, egoistic" as they tend to be, may be effectively managed. One wonders whether his interviewees, who might be thought to be not a little creative in their own right, will take kindly to the strictly managerialist role they have been assigned.

Tantrums and Talent , it should be noted, is a rewrite of an earlier work, "a pioneering management classic" titled, less patronisingly, Creative People . This version can be read as a series of witheringly deprecatory characterisations of a group of fellow citizens, seemingly permissible solely because they spring from the culture of "management".

After getting through the opening chapters, I kept imagining a table-turning spoof dealing with the difficulties experienced by creative workers in coping with an indolent and thieving managerial cadre (Fletcher does not shrink from insinuating an exaggerated propensity to peculation among the creative, by implication absent in other areas of industry).

One distressing characteristic of the book is its casual approach to the nature of evidence. Fletcher feels able to argue by assertion. "We have seen then that creators tend to be egotistical, assertive, independent, rebellious perfectionists who seek fame and are not necessarily all that highly intelligent... Those creators who are, in some degree, mentally unbalanced, are a minuscule minority."

Presumably they talk like this in advertising offices and in some schools of management training. One yearns to know whether the intellectual practices demonstrated in this book conform to the norm in this powerful professional milieu. People whose minds work like this are now, it would seem, in charge of large swaths of the new economy, which is so dependent upon design and writing skills. Thus, the subtext of Tantrums and Talent is more than a little alarming.

The term creative came into use in the 19th century to suggest some kind of analogy or connection between (certain kinds of) artistic endeavour and the work of the divine creator. It was hijacked in the 20th century by the advertising industry as it attempted to associate itself with the high arts. Today, when marketing, advertising and promotion dominate all forms of production, an idea has taken hold that creativity is a unified quality, applicable to a vast range of totally separate arts and activities, a kind of scarce natural (and, it should be observed, national) resource, transportable, quantifiable, educable, harnessable. But in this readable little book the hubris generated by this notion is taken to sometimes risible extremes.

The following is taken from the chapter on "The creative personality": "The difficulties might be less pronounced if creators were better at editing their own work. But even the greatest artists often produce pap. Picasso's paintings and Shakespeare's sonnets are of variable quality, to put it generously, and even Leonardo da Vinci - rightly celebrated for a lifetime of astonishing creative achievement - had loads of daft ideas." Leonardo would surely feel indebted to the author for the compliment, and the advice. No doubt things would have gone better with Shakespeare, too, if there had been better "management of creativity" in Elizabethan England. As for Picasso - well, I suppose the author would have terminated his contract.

Despite its evident tosh quotient, there is much worth reading in this book. But it springs from a ghastly world that lives with ghastly assumptions.

Anthony Smith is president, Magdalen College, Oxford, and was formerly director, British Film Institute.

Tantrums and Talent: How to Get the Best from Creative People.

Author - Winston Fletcher
ISBN - 1 84116 050 4
Publisher - Admap
Price - £25.00
Pages - 142

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