The Role and Value of Expertise

The Get Creative campaign runs from February 2015 to February 2016. A wide range of broadcasts and activities will be flying the Get Creative flag over these twelve months, including BBC output and events run by (nearly) one thousand Get CreativeChampions’ – cultural organisations of many sizes and types that have signed up to contribute to the campaign.

Many of the BBC’s Get Creative broadcasts are programmes that would have existed even if the campaign had not happened: output that was already in production but which dovetails neatly with the aims of Get Creative, and which has therefore taken its place within the initiative. However, the campaign has also been the spur to one piece of bespoke programming, a series of four half-hour programmes that address some of the central themes of the campaign. Will Gompertz Gets Creative follows the BBC’s arts editor as he visits a different art group each week, trying his hand at life-drawing in Brighton, spoken word in London, pottery in Hampshire, and song-writing in Coventry.

Broadcast on Radio 4 at 10.30am on Saturday mornings, and featured prominently on the BBC Arts webpages, the series is one of the most high profile explorations of the campaign’s concerns to date. Listening to these programmes with my researcher’s hat on, a cluster of questions asserted themselves noisily through each of the four art sessions: what are the challenges and rewards of ‘getting creative’? In what variety of ways – through what vocabularies, and within what implicit accounts of ‘value’ – might the processes of ‘getting creative’ be understood and discussed? And what might be the role of expertise in these processes?

The programmes also present a series of what we might identify as keywords for this project: terms requiring our particular attention and investigation. ‘Local’, ‘everyday’, ‘confidence’, ‘absorption’, ‘amateur’ and ‘community’, to name just a few. Through the work of the Get Creative Research Project we will explore these (and other) keywords, which, in each case, will provide an important lens on our central research questions. Each of these words directs our attention to a broader set of sociological considerations regarding the environments, processes and values through which people do or do not get creative: the concerns at the heart of this research project.

One of the keywords the four episodes of Will Gompertz Gets Creative raises is ‘expertise’. The format of each edition is a “masterclass”, with one or two ‘experts’ joining a pre-existing art group to reflect on their own experiences and practice. Each programme features informal conversation with members of the group, some of whom have been attending for many years, others of whom are there for the first time. The expert visitors provide general advice and insight, and in each episode provide feedback on the creative efforts – the drawings, spoken-word poems, pottery or songs – that the participants are creating within the group.

The presence of these expert visitors – and the ways in which their expertise is framed and put to use within each art group, which, interestingly, is not the same in each of the four – raises questions regarding the role, status and value of expertise in creative practices. The programmes encourage listeners to ‘have a go’, and suggest that it is okay if – like Gompertz himself – you are “bad” at pottery, drawing or whatever the creative practice may be. At the same time, the programmes do not eschew the attribution of value to expertise and accomplishment, nor the idea that some creative acts are more successful – better – than others.

This combination of ideas is important to consider further. Over the course of the next year we will make use of ethnographic and interview methods to investigate – with a wide range of research participants – the varieties of value and pleasure (and perhaps frustration, disinterest and displeasure) people experience in creative practices, and the ways in which expertise does or does not feature within the processes by which value and pleasure are generated. In doing so – alongside our other keywords and key questions – we will consider a series of issues concerning the operation of expertise within creative practices across variables of geography, (non-)organisational conditions, and art form. These may include, for example:

– To what extent are people keen to learn from ‘experts’ when developing their own creativity?
– To what extent does the relationship between expertise and ‘inexpertise’ operate differently in different locations of creative practice?
– To what extent do experts legitimise (or withhold legitimation from) acts of creativity in different creative locations?
– Are there some creative locations in which expertise operates more collectively, and others in which creative expertise is much more explicitly an individual trait and accomplishment?
– To what extent is developing expertise integral to the pleasure and value of creative activity? How does this vary across creative locations?

Paying attention to how expertise operates across a diversity of locations will be one important part of developing this project’s sociology of creativity: investigating the conditions, processes – and what might be at stake – in ‘getting creative’. The fine balance struck by Will Gompertz Gets Creative – between the dismissal of, and invocation of, the value of expertise – is indicative of the complex, non-transparent, politically sensitive combination of values and beliefs in operation in this (and perhaps any) exhortation to ‘get creative’. One of the aims and challenges of the Get Creative Research Project is to unpack this combination of values and beliefs, by working with a wide range of research participants to address just such questions as this one: what is the role and value of expertise in creative practice? – JG

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2 Responses to The Role and Value of Expertise

  1. Pingback: Week 7 – Spaces of Creativity | Get Creative Research

  2. Karen Patel says:

    Hi Jonathan, my PhD supervisor Paul long was at the Amateur Creativity Symposium last week and he has drawn my attention to your work. My PhD is in part looking at the performance of expertise by creative industries workers, and I’ve written a few posts about expertise which may be of interest

    It would be great to hear your thoughts. Thanks! If you would like to email me it’s karen.patel [at]


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