The Warhol economy: how fashion, art, and music drive New York City by Elizabeth Currid is
not just a book devoted to talking about fashion, art, and music are interesting and fun. For that, you can read SPIN or Vogue or ARTnews. Instead, The Warhol economy is about how and why fashion, art, and music are important to New York City. Despite the random and seemingly arbitrary processes that lead to the success of a music single or a new designer, a pattern emerges: a preponderance of creativity on the global market – and successful creativity at that – comes out of New York City. Why is that?
Currid’s answer is not, in outline, very original – nor indeed does she claim it to be:
Social science, as the sociologist Howard Becker once wrote, gives us a greater awareness of things we already know. And this book may strike some – namely, those who actually work in cultural fields – as obvious: the significance of social networks, the importance of nightlife, the fluidity across fashion, art, music, and design.
The value of Currid’s study lies rather in synthesising these themes and, above all, showing – with the benefit of quotations from numerous interviews with diverse creatives – how all this plays out in practice.
The result is a rich account of ‘how contemporary cultural industries and workers interact with one another, the city and different industries’. It is written is a fresh, engaging style – one mercifully free of academic jargon.
The Warhol economy reminds me in some ways of another book reviewed on this blog, namely The innovator’s DNA: mastering the five skills of disruptive innovators by Jeff Dyer and Hal Gregersen (Harvard Business Review Press, 2011). Both books take an intangible, even mysterious, phenomenon – in one case creativity, in the other innovation – and explain its occurrence in terms of a handful of readily understood factors. This makes both works essentially optimistic.
In my review of Sharon Zukin, Naked City (13 Dec 2012) I caught myself “wondering if [Zukin’s] book constituted a rare example of that popular desideratum, the perfect book”. I concluded that it wasn’t that (“The photographs are too few, too small, and too dark. The cartography is inadequate”). The Warhol economy, published by Princeton University Press, comes even closer to the ideal. Though it lacks maps, it is attractively set (in Sabon and Futura Display). The publishers’ practice of reserving the wide margins for captions to photographs gives the text design a spacious feel and helps the text to breathe.
I do, in fact, have some criticisms of Currid’s text. However, I will leave them for another occasion (forthcoming post, 31 Jan). The point of this post is to celebrate a great book.
Up to now, the ‘creative economy’ text I’ve always recommended has been John Howkins, The creative economy (reviewed 4 Feb 2011) – this is the book I listed on the Monographer’s Bookshelf page above. I’m happy now to replace it with The Warhol economy, which is comfortably the best book I’ve read on the subject.