The value of creativity in the Mediterranean Cauldron

Feb 2020

As part of the program Cultural Priorities in Syria, Ettijahat – Independent Culture is publishing a series of opinion pieces by Syrian and non-Syrian experts and cultural practitioners, who are invited to highlight some of the issues and challenges facing Syrian cultural work. The articles also seek to open up conversations about the relationships between artistic content, the events upon which it is based, and the concept of the ‘message’, as well as the artistic standards that dictate the Syrian creative process.


Michele Trimarchi

Creativity is quite fashionable. From economic reports to publicity many institutions, professionals and scholars consider it a powerful driver for growth, as it is. The question, a controversial one, is that often creativity is used as a label, associated with dynamic (and presently aggressive) sectors such as fashion, design, eno-gastronomy; this brings us to the second step, which is the conviction that whatever amount of money spent on creative activities is able to multiply its value; the final outcome is simple: it is economically convenient, ethically right, and politically virtuous to invest on creativity, art and culture.

The risk of such a simplistic view is manifold: public expenditure is not aimed at generating monetary returns, but at making essential services evenly accessible; creativity is not an object but an action, which implies that, as not every painting is an artwork, not every wine or dress or sofa is creative. The issue becomes quite labyrinthic. How can we define creativity and focus upon its value in the Mediterranean framework? Of course a framework is not necessarily a geographical exchequer, but mainly a philosophy, a methodological approach, a pair of spectacles that only we Mediterranean people wear and use to interpret life and the world.

During the decline of the manufacturing system we should consider some crucial facts. Eurocentrism, along with its colonial bias, has convinced too many that the competitive industrial paradigm was the best possible system, and that finally the economy and society had attained their golden age. This is totally false. The material accumulation of goods, services and money can be helpful to face our desires and needs, but does not grant happiness, and makes its quest hard and complicated. All the different worlds have been stupidly considered ‘wrong’ or, even worse, ‘inefficient’. Actually, what we need is an effective society (efficiency is only a textbook metric).

The Mediterranean cauldron can give us many suggestions: a) fertility comes from diversity; b) creativity comes from the ability to do something that we do not know how to do; c) space and time should not be interpreted as protective (and constrictive) grids, but as loose landscapes where and when we can draw our trails with an empiristic approach; d) the three sides of the Mediterranean can teach us a lot, melting the syntactic and the paratactic approaches, combining abstract and concrete views, associating the representation of the self with the desire of contemplation. We did this for centuries, and it worked a lot, despite the (too) many attempt to reduce everything to a private property struggle.

In such a respect we should be careful and delicate when some area experiences troubles and contradictions: our long tradition based on connections and exchanges is being dangerously affected by a stupid fight for land, borders and walls. Whatever area may suffer from these wounds – as it happens in Syria and in Libya in our years – not only ends up draining our ability to generate shared values and common strengths, but also starts a sort of collective resignation, allowing external (and normally colonial) powers to intrude into our unique rhythm of co-operation, hybridization and cross-fertilization. It is, dramatically, a vain return to an invented past fed by the illusion of being protected. But it goes in contrary direction to the flow of present civilization.

The most eloquent example of how the emerging society (and economy) works is the courtyard of artisans, where experience, relationship and proximity generate value in actions and objects that may seem similar but are unique, since they reflect an indefinite dialogue between the creative artisan and the customer, and incorporate the informal exchange of know-how that trustful crafters accept and facilitate, aware that creativity is a value when it is processed, just like food whose value is generated by the cooker. This could help us to emphasize our similarities and common views, and it could help weak nations, conflict areas, uncertain people. Creativity will rescue us from stupidity.

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