Saturday, 11 October 2014

To Create is to Destroy?

I was standing in line at a Chapters store a week or so ago, waiting to pay for this month's haul of magazines, when I noticed a book sitting on the cash counter. Just one book. I couldn't tell if someone had left it behind, rejected it, or if it was the last book in a stack strategically positioned (by a marketer, no doubt!) to act as a trigger for an impulse purchase.

Going with the last explanation, I sneaked a few peeks at its cover, but resisted the impulse to purchase it. I'm not about to get manipulated by such an obvious tactic! Or am I? Over the next few days I found myself thinking more and more about what the book might have been about. Was fate or serendipity or synchronicity trying to tell me something? I can usually come up with multiple excuses for the 'need' to return to a book store.

So what book was it? Well here is an image of the cover. Or, should I say covers. When I returned to the store, the book was no longer sitting on the cash counter, I had to ask the manager for help in finding it. As it turns out, he's used to this request. The book, by Keri Smith, has been a hot seller among teenage girls for some time. My first decision was which cover to purchase - talk about having too many choices! (I went with the one that looks like a brown paper bag.) As we discussed the book, the manager offered his opinion that the reason for its popularity is that it allows young women the chance to express their creativity. Do we need a book to tell us how to be creative?

Apparently, Keri Smith thinks so. She's a Canadian conceptual artist and writer (check out her website) who, according to her bio, focuses her work/research on creating “Open works”, pieces that are completed by the reader/user. The title for this week's post is the subtitle of the book Wreck This Journal. The whole idea seems to be that by following Smith's suggestions, you can colour outside the lines and unleash your own creativity. The instructions even tell you to experiment and work against your own better judgment. So, can we create by destroying?

I gave it a try, I really did. But I got stuck early on by a page that said simply, "Crack the Spine." Yikes! No way I could do that. Just *not*gonna*happen*! But other people seem to have wholeheartedly embraced the concept. A quick Google search provided these images:

Is this destructive? I can imagine a librarian, hair severely pulled back from her face into a bun, glasses perched on the end of her nose, telling me that stepping on any book is a disgraceful practice, to say nothing about poking holes or doodling in it! But aren't the pages more interesting now?

Can We Take the Idea of Creative Destruction Further?

Thinking about this book reminded me of a recent purchase made by the National Gallery of Canada (just imagine the associative network that linked those two thoughts in my brain!) Majestic is a sculpture by Canadian artist Michel de Broin,which is now installed on the grounds of the National Gallery. It was constructed from salvaged street lamps damaged when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. In this case, the destructive activity was carried out by nature, while the artist supplied the creativity. The result, which I've heard described variously as 'beautiful' and 'just about what you'd expect from salvage', may not be to the liking of all art lovers, gallery-goers or onlookers. But it is certainly a lot more 'productive' than dumping the posts in a landfill or perhaps melting them down as scrap iron. Even if it doesn't comply with your personal definition of 'beauty' it stimulates thought and discussion about salvaging what we can from disaster and the possibilities for re-birth.

Elite artists aren't the only people who can do this. The average scrapbooker does it all the time. Using things drawn from everyday life - a movie ticket, concert program, bit of lace or a photograph - scrapbookers create a new 'whole'. They tell a story that is meaningful to them and possibly to future generations. If you think scrapbooking isn't much for consumer researchers to be concerned with, I'd invite you to tour a Michael's store some time soon. I think you'll be as shocked as I was at the variety of scrapbooking supplies, tools and accessories being offered for sale. This is a big time business!

For consumer researchers, the idea of consumption as being something more than just destroying the 'use value' of something is part of the changes we observe in postmodern society. Accordingly to Firat and Venkatesh (1995, p. 245), under modernity, only "production was creation, because it added something of value to human lives." Consumption destroyed the value that was created through production. These authors go on to argue that today, in postmodern times, there is no distinction between production and consumption "they are one and the same, occurring simultaneously" (p. 254). Each act of consumption is also an act of production. Just as the scrapbooker 'consumes' materials produced by the market, and may even 'destroy' value in the sense of tearing, cutting or writing over photographs and ephemera, in order to 'produce' something that is more than the sum of its parts, so too do we in our everyday lives destroy in order to create.

So, is creation really just the flip side of destruction? What do you think?

Firat, A. Fuat and Alladi Venkatesh (1995), "Liberatory Postmodernism and the Reenchantment of Consumption," Journal of Consumer Research, 22 (Dec.), 239-267.

Web Sources: 

For further reading:
Baumeister, Roy F. (2002), “Yielding to Temptation: SelfControl Failure, Impulsive Purchasing, and Consumer Behavior, Journal of Consumer Research, 28 (March), 670-676.

Rook, Dennis (1987), "The Buying Impulse," Journal of Consumer Research, 14 (2): 189-199.