The Shrinking Space For Creativity In Our Society

Pakistan needs a paradigm shift: we need to foster a culture of creativity and artistic development to nurture future leaders in creative disciplines. This starts by valuing creative skills and paying workers fairly, to create a more equitable creative industry.

The Shrinking Space For Creativity In Our Society

Creative work is in a state of insecurity. Our society seems to prioritize hard science and math skills over creative talents when it comes to professional success in various industries. This skewed perception of the value of artistic disciplines has profound consequences, not only for emerging artists but also for the overall job market. This narrow understanding of creativity hampers the development of future creative talent, ultimately leading to income difficulties for those who do not follow the traditional educational path. Many emerging artists are left with no option but to accept low-paid work in the hopes of securing a better position in the creative industry.

Our society fails to nurture a culture that encourages fine arts 

In Pakistan, the disparity between the emphasis on math and science education compared to visual arts is stark. Students spend the majority of their school days on math and science subjects, while visual arts classes are relegated to a mere once-a-week occurrence. However, this imbalance in education becomes problematic when these students eventually seek careers in the creative industries. They find themselves lacking essential artistic skills required for professions such as animation or textile design. According to UNICEF, creativity should be cultivated from a young age, becoming an inherent part of a person's identity and skill set, ultimately contributing to a "talent-led economy." Sadly, our society fails to nurture a culture that encourages fine arts from a young age.

One of the primary reasons behind this lack of emphasis on art education in Pakistan is the prevailing focus on securing a livelihood through careers in fields like medicine or business. In an underdeveloped country like Pakistan, the primary concern is often immediate survival and future financial stability. Consequently, subjects like art are seen as non-essential to making a good living. This mindset is also reflected in the hiring practices for art teachers in schools. In many cases, art teachers in public schools lack the same qualifications and expertise as teachers in other subjects. This deficiency in pedagogical skills hampers the development of creative talent among students. McRobbie's insights highlight the pivotal role that education plays in embedding creativity in young professionals. If the arts were taken more seriously, it would be reflected in the qualifications and standards of art teachers in schools.

The devaluation of arts education at the school level has a profound impact on students' career choices. When the narrative that art is not a serious career path is instilled in students from a young age, those who may have considered pursuing a creative career are discouraged. They may believe that their only path to success lies in excelling in rigorous math or science classes or pursuing more "prestigious" professions like medicine or engineering. This narrative perpetuates the notion that the arts can only be pursued as a hobby rather than a viable career option.

This ignorance of fine arts disciplines at the school level has a ripple effect that extends into the creative industry employment sphere. Many underprivileged students opt for technical schools instead of pursuing a high school or graduate degree. They learn hands-on work skills such as welding and carpentry, hoping to secure a job in their chosen field. However, despite their mastery of these skills, they are often paid the bare minimum. Companies justify this by arguing that these individuals did not pursue traditional education paths, deeming them less valuable. This discrepancy between the effort put in and the monetary compensation received is a glaring issue in the creative industry. For instance, mega furniture companies like Habitt employ highly skilled carpenters, but pay them a fraction of what their work is worth. The owners like these tend to downplay their contributions and justify low wages by questioning the need to pay them more due to their lack of formal education.

The cycle of exploitation continues unchecked

This unequal treatment persists, even though technical school programs often require as much hard work and dedication as more traditional educational paths. The notion that creative skills are worth less than technical or scientific skills perpetuates a cycle of underpayment and exploitation. This, in turn, keeps workers from these backgrounds locked into precarious employment situations, unable to secure well-paying positions or permanent job placements. For example, in District 19, a community center in Korangi known for its support of artists and youth, tickets for underground raves are sold at exorbitant prices. However, when it comes time to compensate freelance DJs, who invest significant time and effort in their sets, they receive a paltry fraction of the total revenue. A similar situation applies to freelance graphic designers and video editors who often accept unpaid internships. This precarious nature of creative work is perpetuated by companies that exploit the passion of creative artists, offering portfolio improvement in exchange for subpar compensation. Since there are limited well-paying alternatives or permanent job placements in the creative industry, this cycle of exploitation continues unchecked.

In conclusion, the prevailing narrative in our society perpetuates a cycle of undervaluing creative skills. This cycle begins in schools, where art education is treated as secondary to math and science. Students are discouraged from pursuing creative careers, leading them to prioritize traditional education paths. This mindset, in turn, affects the creative industry's treatment of underprivileged individuals who choose to develop hands-on skills in technical schools. The industry exploits their passion and skills, paying them far less than they deserve.

To address this issue, we need to break the cycle at its root. Schools should invest in comprehensive art education programs that recognize the value of creativity. Teachers in the arts should be held to the same standards as teachers in other subjects. By fostering a culture of creativity and artistic development from a young age, we can nurture future leaders in creative fields. Additionally, the creative industry needs to recognize the worth of all its workers, regardless of their educational background. Pay should be commensurate with skill level and effort. By valuing creative skills and paying workers fairly, we can create a more inclusive and equitable creative industry where talent is truly rewarded. This shift in perspective is not just about the arts; it's about recognizing the value of creativity in all its forms and its potential to drive innovation and progress in our society. 

Hanaa Hashim is a communication & design graduate from Habib University. Her focus spans the humanities, social sciences, and data analysis, and the intersection of creativity and technology.