Johanna Darbritz

A culture of innovation

Interview with the sociologist and cultural scientist Andreas Reckwitz

Age of Artists met with Professor Reckwitz, a leading expert on sociology and culture in Berlin and asked the scientist, among other things, whether it is at all possible and necessary to create something new.

For Reckwitz, it is important to start by clarifying what “new” actually means: “Modernity, or late modernity is a culture that puts a lot of emphasis on the notion of novelty. In my book, I distinguished between three different forms of the New. New I is what we know from the French Revolution: A status is achieved that is completely new and progressive and that’s it. New II is the model of technological progress and represents the New in a sense of ‘surpassing’. In this case, new technical solutions are constantly on offer and this continues in an infinite process. New III is finally the aesthetically New: it is a kind of stimulus, excitement and intensity, or the surprising and original. It’s not really a step forward, but rather based on the moment and quickly replaced by something else.”

Due to the constant interaction between routine and innovation there is a danger of adopting one novelty after the other at an increasing pace until this process can no longer be handled. Thus, the appreciation of the established and proven is left behind: “By now, I see the problem that the focus related to goods has shifted too much in favor of novelty and to the disadvantage of routine, although it is clear that especially creative and artistic professions are largely based on routine.To a considerable extent, writing a novel or painting a picture is a routinized technique. It also requires specific skills that need to be acquired and trained in an extended process. I think we would have come a long way if the education system emphasized a long-time approach to acquiring skills that enable such routines in the first place. It is not about a routine that relies on mindless repetition, but on complex skills.” And this routine you have to master if you want to be able to create something new, says the expert on sociology and culture.

Another topic we talked about was the intimacy of the aesthetic-creative and the economy. Is it a good or bad thing? Especially on the labor market, Reckwitz observes the following trends: “More and more workers expect from their job that it also provides sensuous and meaningful value – an intrinsic motivation that we traditionally know from the arts and related areas. But also from a consumers’ perspective you could state that the aestheticization of goods constitutes a consistent, reasonable development. The supply of goods that are instrumentally rational has run out. Today, people rather expect goods to provide sense and sensuousness, that they offer new experiences. This development also affects the provisioning of services. I refer to the combination of both processes as a culturalization of the economy, which is a logical response to perceived deficiencies on the part of employees as well as on the part of consumers.” But how is it that the connection of aesthetics and economy now seems to be particularly relevant? Is it possible that it has always been there, but our perspective changed only in the course of industrialization?
“Yes and no. If you look at the Arts and Crafts movement of the 19th century – for example, John Ruskin -, you will find ideas that go into this direction. And if you go back to the early modern period to Da Vinci, one can also observe that craft and art were not separate. Art was also crafts, people worked in teams and under a division of labor. This already existed, but I think that in the modern world and especially in the late modernity a specific constellation came into being. Because now we have both the absolutization of the aesthetic, as it could only arise in modernity, as well as the one-sidedness of the rational through large, formal organizations.”

The complete interview with Andreas Reckwitz in German language


Text by Johanna Darbritz.
Translation by Hendrik Achenbach.
The interview was conducted by Dirk Dobiéy on 11/06/2015.
Image source: Andreas Reckwitz.

Reckwitz Book “The invention of creativitiy” was published on Suhrkamp.

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