Creativity Wasted?

Are young people channeling their creativity into the wrong professions? Is it a waste to use your creative abilities for commercial purposes?

The following quotes, both of which I came across in the past week, suggest a cultural shift:

"The thing I hate the most about advertising is that it attracts all the bright, creative and ambitious young people, leaving us mainly with the slow and self-obsessed to become our artists. Modern art is a disaster area. Never in the field of human history has so much been used by so many to say so little."

-Banksy (quote via the Lefsetz Letter - hat tip to Jordan for sending it my way)

"The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads."

-Jeff Hammerbacher

I've written before about my own bias against advertising and commercial culture. Beyond those thoughts, since the Hammerbacher quote references online business, I'll add that a number of my friends who work in the web are lamenting the industry's commercialization.

When I graduated college in 1998, I was drawn to the web because it was a place where young people could do meaningful work without languishing for years at the bottom of a corporate ladder, filling someone's coffee cup. It was a place where you could be creative.

The culture at web shops is different these days, even at nonprofit orgs; the scruffy, invention-in-the-basement energy from the web's infancy has been obscured by a few coats of heavy-duty corporate polish. Of course, an industry with 10+ years under its belt is going to be more mature than one that's brand new... and in some ways, this maturation is an improvement. We've learned a lot about how people use this crazy medium of the Internet, so we can create more user-friendly experiences out the gate. We know some strategies will work better than others, because we have years of experience and data to back us up.

But let's not get smug. Not only because it's such an unattractive trait, but also because -- there is so much left to learn, not just about "the web" but about how to optimize human communication. Human understanding. And we need unjaded, genuine creativity to help us figure it out.

We all need to make money, and businesses (and artists) need revenue, and these are facts of life. But don't kid yourself that creating copy for a car company is "creative" in the truest sense of the word. Don't limit your contributions to the world to commercial pursuits.

I'll get off my soapbox now. I guess I'm writing this post for recent college grads, most of all -- people who can choose to pour their creativity into making things that help people, things that are beautiful... or things that keep the cogs going in the corporate machine. At the end of your life, "greasing cogs" isn't what you want on your grave stone.

And if you're mid-career, it's not too late to change course. It's never too late. Life is comprised of the choices we make, and all it takes to make a change is to make a new choice and commit to it like hell. With gumption and optimism, anything is possible.

I'm sorry if this post is sanctimonious. I'm trying not to be judgmental, but it really kills me to see people channel one of the greatest gifts we get in this life - creativity - to something insular, something that doesn't contribute at all to making the world a better place.

What do you think? Am I being too judgmental? How do you apply your creativity?

Graphic above by Lloyd Dangle, courtesy of the Norman Lear Center on Flickr