Kanye West, on a panel at the 2014 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, spoke passionately about a range of issues that are vital for creative and innovative types to pay attention to.
Two that struck me as most important were: his unabashed loyalty to the frenetic nature of his practice (and his peers), and a call to action at creatives and commissioners: “Choose great content creators, or fuck you.”
Both of these struck me as focusing on something that is being reignited in the arts and culture sectors: adherence to excellence.
Excellence got a bad rap in the 90s, thanks to its alliances with the elite; the actual elite: rich white men in positions of power across media, arts, sports and politics. The 1990s brought us hip-hop, grunge, DIY culture (and its messy aesthetic) and the gatway to the masses: the internet.
Kanye West has made it his life’s work to take that ethos of DIY and democracy and elevate its aesthetic to that of the ‘elite’. On the panel, he spoke of following in the footsteps of Steve Jobs, whose work was also to make great design accessible.
This is probably nothing new to anyone who has read anything about Kanye West in anything other than tacky press. But what was new to me (full disclosure: I have an archive of rants about how great Kanye West is), is that Kanye West’s methodology is a means to such new excellence – one that is concerned with beauty, design, fashion, great music, feeling it (all those amazing things that we creatives love), but which we compromise in the pursuit of the dollar for our work.
Kanye West, in his rants, is pushing for us to stop the compromise and to turn up the output.
His version of excellence (which I’m pretty excited by, actually) is not longer a slow and steady pace of being sequestered and kept comfortable in a loft behind a desk or workshop.
Excellence is now hyper. It is creating on the spot, quickly learning from others, keeping it moving, collaborating and challenging yourself and those around you to be better and do better, knowing that you need to stay ahead of the game and that you will probably be outstripped by a rookie next year.
‘Wake up, girl, and stop expecting to create in a vacuum’
On a deeper level, this kind of push for excellence is also a drive to continue knocking down the old complacencies of power: racism, sexism, elitism and the kind of aesthetic/taste that comes with that.
At its core, it is a striving for the beautiful, inspiring, innovative and creative to explode, to put the audience (and not the market or the money or the system) first – no matter what. It’s not about your networks anymore, it’s about the work. It’s not about who knows what, it’s about the work. And, according to Kanye and the people who gave him a standing ovation at that session, it’s the way of the future.