Critique, Creativity, Comparison

William Blake. ‘Newton’ 1795 - c.1805 (detail)
Olafur Eliasson. ‘Model Room’, 2003 in collaboration with Elnar Thorstein (detail). Photo: Peter Otto, Tate Modern, London


This theme focuses on the tensions and exchanges between critique and creativity, which during the long 18th-century become the dominant modes of modern thinking, through which our sense of ourselves and exchanges with the world are in large part shaped. Indeed, one might say that for Western modernity, the faculties of critique and creativity (reason and imagination) stand close to the centre of what it means to be Human.

But rather than repeating well-worn oppositions between these terms, this theme takes as its subject their changing fortunes during this period, as their powers, roles, and relation to each other are reworked by, for example, the shock of revolution, the growth of empire, and the emergence of new technologies. And, just as importantly, it introduces a third term, comparison, crucial to the functioning of the first and the second, which brings the first and second into a cosmopolitan world, where ‘the same’ must engage with ‘the different’.

These historical studies provide a rich pre-history of the present, which recontextualises and in so doing defamiliarizes terms often taken for granted, perhaps most notably: ‘knowledge economy’; ‘creative economy’; ‘entrepreneur’; ‘creative community’, ‘creative class’, ‘creative institutions’, and so on. In so doing, this theme offers a way of reframing contemporary debates about identity, education, knowledge, and learning in an Age of Innovation. As all this suggests, critique, creativity, and comparison together form a thread entangled with all of our other themes.