Lebenskünstler

Art Worker – WAGE – Artistic Labor

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 03/21/2011

Abigail Satinsky’s recent post on Bad at Sports Protest culture: Wisconsin and WAGE and recently seeing a group called “Artists Call for Workers Rights” has me thinking again about the idea of the art “worker” and artistic “labor.” Could anyone tell me what these terms even mean? They get thrown around quite a bit as if there is some self-evident justification for their use or understanding of what they are supposed to mean. Maybe if I used other terms my confusion will be more evident – Does juggler worker or juggling labor make immediate sense? Or hike worker/hiking labor? Pinball worker/labor? Bird watching worker/labor?

Obviously there are many activities that people enjoy without monetary compensation. They often have to have jobs to support undertaking them. Yet again and again, I see artists singling themselves out as engaged in some sort of special endeavor. Calling themselves “workers,” calling their activity “labor” in some honorific sense. In the interview Satinsky cites conducted by Nato Thompson with W.A.G.E., Thompson does at least ask why just artists, but W.A.G.E will have none of it – apparently having fully accepted the capitalist paradigm, self-interest reigns. “What do we need?” is the motivating impulse. They complain about artists having to “cobble together a living” and assure us that “The dream [of state funding of artists] is alive and well” in a perfectly self absorbed art cocoon. Why not state funding for jugglers? For hikers? The answer seems to be that artists are special, providing a uniquely meritorious “service” to the world if only the world would recognize that. And in the cavalier dismissal of social capital, it appears that the only real recognition an artist can receive is in the form of monetary compensation.

In my more snide moments I think yes, go ahead W.A.G.E., go ahead art workers, join the calls for a General Strike in solidarity with the labor protests in Wisconsin (the second line of thought in Satinsky’s piece). Let the resounding fury of artistic labor “withheld” be felt across the nation. Deny us Bruce High Quality Foundation’s self-indulgent Teach 4 Amerika tour. Refuse to publish the next issue of the e-flux journal. Teach the world a lesson…except that lesson is already established, which is that the art world this whole discussion takes place in, the art world that clamors for criticality and “radical” action will not be missed much by the people who live outside of it and the problem for its advocates is that most people do…I am quite sure that transit workers, nurses, firefighters, garbage collectors, and teachers will be missed a bit more and thus their cries of economic injustice are not met with my same skeptical ears.

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18 Responses

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  1. heathschultz said, on 03/23/2011 at 19:57

    Thanks for posting this, Randall.
    First I want to say that I’m working with ‘Artists Call for Workers Rights’ here in Iowa City, and it a rather nebulous grouping of folks. It’s a new project (only weeks old), spawned in response to the explosion of the republican agenda and an attempt to do something about it. It would be generous to say that we know what we’re doing or what our ‘mission’ is other than a handful of projects we’re working on and tripping through ways in which to be politically engaged. Regarding ACFWR I wanted to also mention that we are not working on art-related issues in the sense that WAGE is, which is to say, our engagement points outward toward the broader labor movement, at least right now. Some of us are working on organizing a day of solidarity in which faculty and TAs are invited to teach their classes on the pentecrest (the ‘quad’ of UIowa, basically) to perform our labor in public, students are invited to walk out, we’ve invited unions to participate if their wish etc.
    And, for me at least, I’m not interested in turning into group that works on ‘arts’ issues.

    I also wanted to say that I appreciate your (and Abby’s) critique of WAGE and I’ve always struggled with artists putting a lot of effort into organizing around the issues WAGE is working on. For me, it has always been a political question in that I don’t expect state arts-funding for political creative work any more than I expect state funding for revolutionary politics. Although, being militant about not being exploited and not allowing institutions to fuck over artists isn’t very sound politically, either. But in a lot of ways I’ve always found that discussion that WAGE is having alienating because the only folks are are having it are generally the ones who are already successful and usually have a teaching job somewhere. How many ‘struggling’ artists are getting museum shows, anyway? That said, there is something to be said for occupying all positions–this includes one’s of privilege. This, of course, doesn’t suggests everyone has great politics artists should get paid for anything other than their labor in relation to institutions.
    There is still a lot to be said, I suppose. But for now.
    heath

  2. Sarah Kanouse said, on 03/23/2011 at 23:15

    Hey Randall,

    As a person who helped start the fledgling Artists Call for Workers’ Rights group, I feel compelled to dispel some of your assumptions about what that group is about. Though we aren’t totally sure what we are doing yet, we are definitely not chiming in with the WAGE choir about artists being workers whose plight is somehow more worthy of attention than that of anyone else. Instead, we’re a local (Iowa/Midwest) group of artists trying to use our visual and writing skills in pretty straightforward, agit-prop ways to organize around right-wing proposals in Wisconsin and Iowa that we believe affect us all as workers (public workers or fast food workers or sex workers or even art workers). Some of us are interested in the idea of artists being workers too (and the politics of such a claim), but that isn’t the meat of the project as currently being articulated. There’s a lot to be said and thought about the use of the ‘worker’ appellation, and I am generally more supportive of it than you are. I think there is merit to the idea of ‘activating the social fabric that you currently inhabit’ (to paraphrase Casas-Cortes & Cobarrubias), which is where this artist-worker meme seems located. As you point out, the connections to more global structures are too rarely articulated, without the appropriate humility, by folks like WAGE (which is also the substance of Abby’s piece), but there is a big difference between that and getting so paralyzed by your own privilege as an artist that you cannot make political demands located in your own experience or imagine anything beyond continued cultural and political irrelevance. Whose interests does that serve in the end, anyway?

  3. Randall Szott said, on 03/23/2011 at 23:50

    Sarah and Heath -

    Thank you both for taking the time to dignify my screed with a response. I call it a screed because it wasn’t written in one of my best moments. I have been really good lately at not spouting off in frustration, but failed to restrain myself this time. Please understand that my mention of your group was in no way meant to impugn it. I only mentioned it because of the use of art worker. I did not mean to imply any criticism beyond that (so it was probably foolish to name it without clarifying that!).

    Of course both of you are right that there is much value in “mak[ing] political demands located in your own experience” and “occupying all positions–this includes one’s of privilege.” No dispute there. I will say that it can be very tricky to articulate this stuff when it comes to the notion of “solidarity.” I worry (perhaps unfounded) that solidarity can too easily be interpreted as a claim of “similarity.” And I have been mixing it up/spouting off about that elsewhere in the electronic aether. There is so much work that needs to be done to break the strain of the art world that we occupy down into anything resembling a politics of mutuality…

    I say this because (as I testified via facebook comments!) that it seemed like the two times I went to Madison (and in extensive conversation with a friend who was there many many times as well as following it closely in other arenas) the people I saw actively advocating for a General Strike were almost exclusively grad students. No one from the IBEW, the Teamsters, the CBTU, etc. were handing out leaflets or carrying signs advocating this as a strategy. I spent a good deal of time talking to the people advocating and came to feel like they were into the “glamor” of being radical which is easy to do when you’re a 20 something grad student (I have been guilty of it too of course). It really got me angry to see people with no job, and no real potential for loss, agitating for people with kids to support and careers to wreck, to strike…They just didn’t seem to get how different the world they live in is from, dare I say it, the “real” world. So maybe this helps contextualize why I made my post (the first in a year). I just get so frustrated with folks on the academic left trying to speak for/as non-academic working people when there is such a huge divide that needs to be bridged.

    Thanks again for the comments.

  4. A.L. Steiner said, on 07/20/2011 at 14:46

    As a co-founder of W.A.G.E., I’d like to clarify a few important things and confront your false dichotomies. We are soley fighting to be paid when the practice of capitalism is inherent in the relationship at-hand: namely, the arts institution. That doesn’t negate all other formulas, dialogues, dream and goals of alternate and practiced economies – some that would inherently discount that very economic relationships we’re highlighting! Our cause chooses to recognize that the rules played must be the ruled applied to everyone involved in that particular game. I’m a maker and I work, making artworks. The traditional formula of “the worker” (investor? entrepenuer? skilled? self-employed? freelance? part time? deskilled? work-at-home? day laborer? multi-tasker? homeworker? etc etc) is more & more fractured in our late-capitalist economy. Artists are, and have been, participating and formulating rules and actions within this capitalist framework for centuries. The “dream of state funding is alive and well” is merely a statement regarding an occupation that, very often, is not dependent on a capitalist profit-making scheme. You can discuss sanitation workers, ballet dancers and other occupations in similar frameworks- their non-profit vs. profit “marketshares” are intertwined and dualistic. As you may know, none of us are participating in pure capitalist economies, but rather mixed-economies. Even privatized corporate “capitalist” for-profit entities are nation-state (i.e. community?) funded! We’re keenly, acutely, personally aware that cultural production and cultural capital are laden with value. That value does not translated or transmute as a replacement for hard currency for 90% of artists to which it is offered as reward or payment for a scheme known as “futures” (as we know, a dead artist is worth more than a live one!) Art institutions present thousands of independent curators and artists annually- via exhibitions, performances, readings, panels, lectures, film/video screenings, etc nationwide. Furthermore, to dismiss those of us fighting for- and those supportive of our efforts- as “successful” (financially? socially?) or somehow “accuse” (blow our cover!?) people of holding secondary and tertiary jobs is part + parcel of the same system that denies us payment for our formal labor and active participation in culture + economy. To deny payment because someone else in your profession gets paid/makes money is nonsensical and ludicrous. W.A.G.E. is in active dialogue about how money is being distributed within arts institutions that, indeed, distribute monies via budgets within communities. Artists, arts workers, performers, independent curators, writers – or whatever you want to call us- must be a part of that economic equation. Best- A.L. Steiner

  5. Randall Szott said, on 07/20/2011 at 19:54

    A.L. -

    Again I have to thank anyone who takes the time to address anything a gadfly like me has to say…However, I don’t find that your comment clarifies anything for me. What is an art “worker?” How is it different from a bird watching “worker?” Or a stamp collecting “worker?” What “work” is it that you’re doing? I presume that you enjoy eating – when you eat are you an eating “worker?” Performing digestion “labor?” When you hug someone are you a hugging “worker?”

    I just can’t get my head around why art appears to be the only arena in which a person can create something that no one wants and expect to be paid for it…if I decide tomorrow to create a shoe out of a plastic bag and no one wants to buy it and no shoe store will carry it, do I then form an activist group to demand compensation for my “formal labor?” Do I ask the state to subsidize my future “participation in culture + economy.?”

    And with regard to secondary jobs, again I ask – Is it only artists that should be immune from having to find a means for supporting their passions/hobbies? As I talk about here, I find that highly suspect. The real struggle should not be limited to artists, least of all, the ArtForum set or those with a penchant for quoting European social theorists, but should extend to anyone with a dream of being able to pursue whatever goofy pastime they imagine. Certainly gardeners, home cooks, dog sweater knitters deserve as much protection from capitalist market forces as some highfalutin art type – especially given that at least they do something that ordinary folks can actually relate to…

    Thanks again for commenting – when will you send me the invoice for your blog reading labor?

  6. A.L Steiner said, on 07/21/2011 at 00:09

    It seems you didn’t read my post, don’t recognize the simple cause W.A.G.E. supports, seem to grasp how the economy you’re participating in works or benefit from any activity that is not profit-making. Go to any shopping mall and report back to me regarding your analyses. Then go to an arts institution and analyze the laws of consumption as well. And just know that most everyone at the mall is remunerated for work – to produce (although this equation is another point for debate), display and attempt to sell overproduced, toxic and unwanted goods whose production is subsidized by several nation-states, and most of those at the museum were not. Or maybe just read Hollis Frampton’s letter http://www.wageforwork.com/frampton_letter.pdf

    If you think the only “things” produced are those made for “necessary” exchange or to fulfill a “supply and demand” marketplace, you are deluded. For instance, your analyses and mindset is exactly why the Huffington Post pays some bloggers & writers but not others- a random late-capitalist hierarchy that picks and chooses who it pays for content- where the eventual goal would be to not pay anyone for content at all. Is “the economy” comprised of “job creators” vs. “profit stealers”? Is my work- as a culture producer/arts worker/artist/laborer-of-lover or whatever your preferred word of choice is today- in the non-profit sector to be non-remunerated, framed as an eternal unpaid internship, even when my phone rings to provide works for the consumption, edification, enjoyment of a public audience? OH wait- maybe i see your point- you’re right- for instance, why did Van Gogh paint his lame paintings when nobody was buying them?? Seriously. Or morevoer, why should my insurance company cover my cancer treatment when the cost-benefit analysis doesn’t add up – ESPECIALLY as a lo-sales/no-sales full-time visual artist with 3 jobs- oh wait, sorry- 2 (my art practice doesn’t count)! I don’t contribute to society anyway! So never mind, nix all this.

    PS> yes, invoice coming soon for our conversation (I charge my friends and enemies alike for my interpersonal communication)… it’s almost like you & I are in the same room together having a beer at my house. Oh but we would never do that b/c there’s no point- unless you’re selling the beer to me at a (preferably exorbitantly high) profit margin!!

  7. Randall Szott said, on 07/21/2011 at 00:45

    And I thought *I* was a ranter!

    In the 1st paragraph of my response I posed 7 questions – you answered none.

    In the 2nd paragraph I asked two (admittedly mostly rhetorical) questions – you appear to have “answered” them by sending me off to the shopping mall or to investigate the Huffington Post compensation kerfuffle. I fail to see any relevance.

    In the 3rd paragraph I ask a very important question – why do you appear to place artists in some special class requiring protection from a predatory market and not jugglers, pig callers, or D+D players? Is it because you are one and in grand competitive market thinking – it’s everyone for themselves? I’m sure you think what you do is important and more desirable to spend time at than your day job(s), but again I say welcome to the real world where people engage in various forms of soul crushing employment in order to pursue other things like restoring cars or scrapbooking. Let’s put an end to all of it. And maybe from a pragmatic standpoint it might make sense to organize around activities people can relate to rather than in the rarefied air of contemporary art…

    You see there is no contradiction in my position – I advocate for a universal basic income, one that prevents everyone from having to choose between a passion and a career. I also advocate for *universal* healthcare (which addresses your cancer question – and in all seriousness if you are drawing a real life example here, I wish you all the strength and resources in the world at conquering it) and NOT healthcare for only those in some uniquely (self-asserted by the X-tra/ArtForum curatorial/artist/critic set) “valuable” position…

    Finally, I asked facetiously about an invoice – to illustrate precisely the thing you seem to be falsely accusing me of! It seems that you are the one looking to monetize everything to see EVERYTHING as work, labor, exploitation – I, and people WAAAAAAAYYYY smarter than me, have addressed this sort of thing pretty thoroughly. I guess you think the counter-arguments are as unsatisfying/mystifying as I find W.A.G.E. and its sympathizers…

  8. A.L Steiner said, on 07/21/2011 at 02:55

    Oh ok- I’ll be waiting for your privatised universal basic income check in the mail. Until then, I’ll be working on a statistical survey of who is most important on Planet Earth. Good luck with your blog “work” and all the other ones you do or will enjoy throughout your lifetime. Hope to run into you at a museum sometime soon. Yours in eternal confusion, Steiner

  9. Jennifer Gradecki said, on 01/16/2012 at 07:48

    Hi Randall,

    Why does an art union have to imply that artists are more important than other workers? Do metal workers feel that they are more important than other types of workers when they organize? I don’t think so. Trade union organizations are a way to foster solidarity to improve a specific situation. It is a way for producers to gain leverage over their exploiters. Artists have historically had a hard time finding solidarity with one another, which is the reason Hans Haacke and Pierre Bourdieu gave for why the AWC split up so quickly. But some good things came out of AWC, including the Projansky contract. This is a way for artists to have more control over the conditions of their production. The logic of capitalism, of competition, is the problem we should be focusing on. How do we find ways to relate to other artists when the market breeds competition? With no federal funding, we are forced into competition for private grants, which are influenced by often undisclosed political and economic agendas. The impulse to organize comes out of the tradition of syndicalism, where workers organize for a more equal distribution of wealth. If the world at large doesn’t care about the art world, it seems then that artists would be the only ones who will organize to change it to a more sustainable model that will foster creativity over competition. But since there is a significant amount of cultural and economic capital at stake for those funding the art market, who skim off the surplus value from the artistic labor that runs it, sometimes paying nothing to workers, like interns and young artists, it seems that there are some that would indeed care about, and would indeed be affected by, the disappearance of the art world.

    Jennifer

  10. Randall Szott said, on 01/16/2012 at 08:40

    “Why does an art union have to imply that artists are more important than other workers? Do metal workers feel that they are more important than other types of workers when they organize?”

    The desire for a union certainly does not imply that. And no, metal workers by merely organizing, are not making such a claim. Things get murkier for me when we get to this point in the analogy:

    “It is a way for producers to gain leverage over their exploiters.”

    The problem with comparing “real” workers and art “workers,” is that many artists are not employed by someone with a specific demand for a product/service. Many artists are just out there making stuff hoping to generate such a demand. So, if the union is there to address the specific instances in which an artist tries to have “control over the conditions of their production” as you put it, I wouldn’t necessarily have an objection. But certainly you see that someone making drawings in their bedroom is hardly being “exploited” if they receive no compensation for it. As opposed to say someone being commissioned to do a public sculpture (in which case there is a specific request for their “labor.”

    “How do we find ways to relate to other artists when the market breeds competition?”

    Leave the (art) market altogether? It has been a very satisfying solution for me.

    Unfortunately your comment seems to come off the rails when you mention the lack of federal funding – this invites all of my criticisms from above. Why should artists (alone) receive a tax payer subsidy and not say jugglers? Gardeners? And when you invoke syndicalism and where *workers* organize, I’m fully on board except I still haven’t had sufficiently explained to me (or been open minded enough?) what makes artists “workers.” Are we talking about some artists? Or are *all* artists workers? And again are bird watchers also workers?

    Finally, the people that you mention that might miss the disappearance of the art world are members of that art world (as I’m defining it).

    Thanks again for taking the time to comment. I hope my response doesn’t make it seem like wasted effort (labor?).

  11. Derek Curry said, on 01/16/2012 at 09:00

    Hi, Randall, I might be coming a little late to this conversation, but your argument seems to be making some assumptions that I would like you to clarify.

    The first assumption you seem to have is that art is, or should be an activity that people enjoy without monetary compensation, and artists should have a job to support this activity. That a desire on the part of artists to be compensated monetarily for their contribution to society is unreasonable because it does not contribute anything. And you suggest a distinction between state funded art, and private funded art.

    I’m going to assume that you realize that there are a significant number of artists that are making a living off of their work because they are selling it. These artists are being compensated, and very well in certain cases, and this compensation affords them the opportunity to further promote their work and contribute to the cultural discourse in the field of art. The money they receive is coming from collectors who, by and large, are buying the work as a type of investment. These collections are very often cared for at the public expense as the works are loaned to museums. Where I live in Los Angeles, the LACMA built an entire building to house the collection of Eli Broad. The building, named B-CAM (Broad Contemporary Art Museum), its operation, and the maintenance of the collection is funded largely by taxpayer money. Collectors, like Broad, loan their works to museums partly because they don’t have to pay for the upkeep, or insurance costs involved and also receive tax breaks for allowing the public the privilege of viewing the artists they decided to elevate to an important status.

    The artists in Broad’s collection are now represented in a collection of a major art museum, and can subsequently charge much, much higher prices for their work (the prices they charge being the monetary compensation they receive). You don’t address this in your statement, would you suggest that artists who are entrenched in the market should not expect to receive monetary compensation for their work either? If it is okay for artists to be funded by the market, and keeping in mind that they are benefiting from taxpayer funded subsidies, I fail to see the difference between these artists who have achieved market based success and the artists you feel should not expect compensation other than they have been elevated to a certain status by a group of extremely wealthy people that can afford to be the patrons of the artists and donate money to museums in exchange for tax breaks and a position on the board of that museum. The private art market is heavily subsidized by state funds, and I can suggest many studies if you are unaware of how this works.

    Are you suggesting that Jeff Koons (prominently represented in the B-CAM) did not expect to be compensated when he made giant porcelain sculptures? Or that he should not have expected it?

    Or would you suggest that it is somehow different to expect to be compensated by the financial elite, even though those elite are using public money to support their collections?

    If public money is being used to house and care for market based art, why would it be unreasonable to compensate artists who are not being chosen by the small group of art collectors?

    The other statement you made that I would like you to clarify is:

    “The dream [of state funding of artists] is alive and well” in a perfectly self absorbed art cocoon. Why not state funding for jugglers? For hikers?

    To my knowledge, there are no accredited programs in universities for hikers or jugglers, so the people who engaged in these activities probably didn’t spend a significant number of years and take out large loans to engage in these activities. (You have taught at these art institutions, right?). Are you suggesting that it is unreasonable to expect to be monetarily compensated for something you have spent a significant portion of your life and gone heavily into debt learning to do?

    If so, what is the purpose of art schools, to waste the time and money of our youth so that they can then be excessively trained for a hobby they can pursue in the free time they have from when they are not contributing something useful to society?

    In the United States, the university system has been the main patron of artists, supplying them with academic positions and funding their artistic research (possibly even yours?). These positions, if they are at state schools, are publicly funded, and even some private schools receive state or federal money for their artistic endeavors. If these professors are, in fact, training people to do something as useless to society as hiking or juggling, why would we spend billions of dollars creating, running, and paying professors to teach in these institutions? it seems that logically, you should take issue with this.

    Thanks for your clarification on these points.

  12. Randall Szott said, on 01/16/2012 at 09:50

    Oh man Derek, we’re going to have to discuss my hourly wage before I take the time to address all of those points…

    “or should be an activity that people enjoy without monetary compensation, and artists should have a job to support this activity.”

    I actually wish that no one had to have a job which is why I support the Basic Income (I linked to a bit about it above. Here it is again: http://randallszott.org/2010/02/22/art-work-redux-temporary-services-basic-income-vs-workfare/) As far as enjoying goes, I’m not sure if you mean making it or viewing it, but I would love to be paid to see most of the art dreck out there these days.

    “That a desire on the part of artists to be compensated monetarily for their contribution to society is unreasonable because it does not contribute anything.”

    I believe artists contribute quite a bit to the overall quality of life on this planet, but I think the same about all sorts of other folks too. I don’t see anything *uniquely* important about a social practice project that merits compensation any more than a person with an attractive garden. I am somewhat suspicious about the self-congratulatory nature of the “contribution” as it is a wee bit gauche to trumpet how important one’s field is. Why not let others make the case for you?

    “You don’t address this in your statement, would you suggest that artists who are entrenched in the market should not expect to receive monetary compensation for their work either?”

    This is a false choice no? If you choose to be in the market, then compensation is par for the course…but many activist artists reject the market model and along with that goes compensation. Now I get that is a large part of what the various art union efforts are trying to address, but that opens up the whole “why just artists?” can of worms. The public subsidy question cuts both ways – you want to use it as a bludgeon against me, but it can be used against you as well no? I sense great contempt from you regarding Broad having his collection supported by tax monies, so one might wonder why you don’t share the contempt for the notion of artists being funded…I think the whole system is rotten to the core and so it is largely a moot point for me. But I am consistent (I think) – subsidies for all (not just artists) or no subsidies.

    “Or would you suggest that it is somehow different to expect to be compensated by the financial elite, even though those elite are using public money to support their collections?”

    I would just point out here that not all collectors or probably even a majority use public money in the specific ways you describe. But being supported by a financial elite *is* different although it is also a huge mess to sort out as financial inequality stains everything.

    “If public money is being used to house and care for market based art, why would it be unreasonable to compensate artists who are not being chosen by the small group of art collectors?”

    Who will be doing the compensating? And who gets to qualify as an artist? If my mom says she’s an artist will she be compensated? And if not, what “small group” will be making *that* decision?

    “To my knowledge, there are no accredited programs in universities for hikers or jugglers, so the people who engaged in these activities probably didn’t spend a significant number of years and take out large loans to engage in these activities. (You have taught at these art institutions, right?).”

    Here is where you really start leaving me cold. Funnily, you are sort of making my argument and undermining your own. You are saying that because an elite (college accreditors, professors, etc.) have decided something is important, that those outside of that designation are less worthy of compensation. If hikers were to demand compensation, would they have to set up a “hiking studies” MA program to establish their legitimacy? Talk about elitism!

    “Are you suggesting that it is unreasonable to expect to be monetarily compensated for something you have spent a significant portion of your life and gone heavily into debt learning to do?”

    I am suggesting that it is largely foolish to do so. It is especially foolish to go into debt to get an art degree. The fact that MFA programs continue to enroll students knowing full well the economic implications is disgusting.

    “If so, what is the purpose of art schools, to waste the time and money of our youth so that they can then be excessively trained for a hobby they can pursue in the free time they have from when they are not contributing something useful to society? ”

    Pretty much.

    “funding their artistic research (possibly even yours?).”

    To my knowledge, I have never done artistic research. I haven’t claimed to be an artist in like 20 years…even while graduating from two art grad programs (long story).

    “If these professors are, in fact, training people to do something as useless to society as hiking or juggling, why would we spend billions of dollars creating, running, and paying professors to teach in these institutions? it seems that logically, you should take issue with this.”

    Here again you blow your cover and reveal how much better you think the noble artist is than some dumb juggler or hiker! I needn’t take issue in the manner you describe because I don’t see jugglers or hikers as any less deserving of my respect and consideration. In fact they might deserve it a bit more because they do not demand it! Of course *my* respect and consideration isn’t worth demanding anyway.

    Whew. That kept me from watching the Golden Globes tonight. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or bad…

  13. Randall Szott said, on 01/16/2012 at 10:02

    Oh and here’s a different angle on some of the same issues from someone who isn’t a smartass like me:

    http://www.processedworld.com/carlsson/nowtopian/work-and-the-economy/jobs-dont-work-2

    I think there is much in there that we can agree on. I find it especially useful for challenging the “”jobs” mentality, the “labor” and work” way of thinking. Any hope of common ground in there?

    Oh and I’ll self-cite again so that the quotes in this link might further illuminate the art vs. hiker thing:

    http://randallszott.org/2009/12/10/common-culture-paul-willis/

  14. Jennifer Gradecki said, on 01/17/2012 at 03:34

    Hi Randall,

    This is an interesting conversation…

    When I talk about art workers, I refer to a definition, albeit an imperfect one, but one that I have found to be the most useful so far, that was established by the AWC: someone who contributes productively to the field of art. By productively, I mean produces something, or adds labor to something, as opposed to someone who adds nothing to the field, but simply skims off of other people’s labor, exploiting those who produce. I am not talking about people drawing in their bedrooms, but people working in various art world institutions, whether by contributing artwork or other forms of services and labor to the field (i.e., interns, artists showing work in art institutions, curators, art handlers, instructors, ect.).

    I agree that the art world is very different from the world of manufacturing. Having worked and trying to organize in both fields has taught me a lot about those differences. This is part of the difficulty of applying the model of a union to the art world. But I think that experimenting with different models for solidarity could be generative. What do you think? Apparently they have some amazing cooperative networks in Argentina, Brazil and other parts of South America, where workers cooperatively own factories and have set up spaces for artists to work and exhibit, but I am just beginning to learn about it.

    I see why you’d leave the art market. Complicity in the market means complicity in income inequality. But when you say: “Obviously there are many activities that people enjoy without monetary compensation. They often have to have jobs to support undertaking them,” are you saying that no one should expect to work in the field of art?

    To be idealistic, I think we should get rid of money altogether. Free market capitalism failed. Derivatives are unnecessary and have caused great harm, including starvation. Each person should have food and a roof over their heads. But we live in an unequal, capitalist society. Working within that framework, to me it follows that if art workers are struggling because they are expected to work for free, or for very little money compared to those who profit off of their labor, it is unjust, and it is not surprising that art workers would try to organize to gain more control over the conditions of their production.

    I’m not familiar with your work or position in general, I just found out about your blog when I commented, so I’d actually like to hear more about what you would propose for artists to do in the current economic situation. I’ve heard about what you are critical of, but what do you support?

    Thanks!
    Jennifer

  15. Randall Szott said, on 01/17/2012 at 07:20

    “someone who contributes productively to the field of art. By productively, I mean produces something, or adds labor to something, as opposed to someone who adds nothing to the field, but simply skims off of other people’s labor, exploiting those who produce.”

    I’m sorry, but this definition doesn’t clarify much for me. I don’t know what the “field of art” is, or which “field” we’re talking about. That is, I have a friend that is a painter. She is represented by several galleries, but not ones in NY, LA, London, etc. The galleries are in St. Augustine, FL, Martha’s Vineyard, etc. She makes a living selling her work, she has collectors. Her collectors aren’t Eli Broad types making an investment or looking to play taste maker, they generally just like having pretty things in their home. She will never be reviewed in Artforum. She will never be mentioned by Greg Sholette, Claire Bishop, or Rosalind Krauss. In the “field” they participate in, she does not “contribute.” I would argue she does contribute to the field of art – just not the academic, frieze art fair field.I would also argue quite vehemently that someone drawing in their bedroom contributes to the field of art as well. For that matter, old ladies learning to paint at the senior center, dudes making beer can sculptures at tailgating parties, all sorts of people are “contributing” to the richness of aesthetic experience for themselves, their friends, and their social circles. So if your definition doesn’t include them, I don’t follow. It actually seems like a pretty tautological definition and also begs asking – what group gets to decide who counts and who doesn’t? who contributes and who doesn’t? What I see is the ongoing story of one set of taste makers the professorial/activist class wanting to supplant the financial taste makers. Too often the folks who essentially make a living from being critical of the art market want to take over the role of deciding what is and is not “making a contribution.” Despite all of the rhetoric of democratization in the arts and the alleged breakdown of high/low dichotomies, the avant garde fantasy is alive and well. I mean look a Derek from above.He clearly believes that a dérive is better than a hike, that an artist that is seed bombing is better than a gardening club. Why else invoke all of the academic hullabaloo? The people I usually see from the academy that seem actually interested in democratizing the arts are not from art programs. They tend to be folklorists and the occasional lone wolf cultural studies person.

    “I agree that the art world is very different from the world of manufacturing. Having worked and trying to organize in both fields has taught me a lot about those differences. This is part of the difficulty of applying the model of a union to the art world. But I think that experimenting with different models for solidarity could be generative. What do you think?”

    To flash my union cred, I’m am writing to you from off the coast of TX working as a proud member of the Inland Boatmen’s Union (part of the Marine Division of the ILWU). I also used to be a member of the CWA. Now my real objection here is that I guess I feel that you and the people I’ve ranted about above, don’t really seem to be “experimenting with different models for solidarity.” As I wrote about in some other posts, using the language/models of labor, art worker, and various other productivist tropes seems like a dead end. I prefer to see something organized around generosity, fellowship, love, leisure, etc. I would rather see a wholesale rejection of the ENTIRE apparatus of professionalization which leads to…

    “are you saying that no one should expect to work in the field of art?”

    I am saying I don’t understand why anyone wants to (the X-tra/e-flux field). For me the compromises aren’t worth it. The system is also so corrupt, so elitist so rotten to the core that I think talk of changing it using a union model is sort of like thinking voting for Democrats will lead to a just society. I prefer my quiet, nearly invisible role on the outside.

    “I’ve heard about what you are critical of, but what do you support?”

    Well a lot of what I support can be found through the internets if you choose to further waste your time with me. So yeah, I am highly critical of art types (the capital A art, Rancière quoting types). I wouldn’t mind the insular world they’ve constructed for themselves if it weren’t coated in the language of liberation and democracy, if they weren’t so sanctimonious and hypocritical, if they didn’t look down on people while pretending otherwise. I spent about 11 years in school around these people in universities and private art schools in various parts of the country and in undergraduate and graduate school, plus most of my life outside of school has been in their midst either personally or reading, discussing, etc. So this might be a mistaken conclusion, but it isn’t one drawn from thin air.

    I am for ordinary people trying to live creatively, searching for meaning. I am for the car customizers, the D&D players, the Star Trek fans gathering together and sharing what they love with each other. Each of those groups has its own lingo and believe what they do is super cool and interesting, but I have rarely heard them express the sort of disdain for those that don’t share their interests. When I gave a talk at SFMOMA I shared a story about talking to my wife in which I made a similar comparison between painters (which my wife is) and Trekkies. I elaborated that both groups are basically nerds doing something really obscure although also widely known. I didn’t make the comparison to denigrate painters, but this was the immediate interpretation of the museum crowd. Apparently it would’ve been preposterous to believe that I view each group equally. And I chose jugglers for precisely the same reason with resounding success with regard again to Derek. His reaction was a quick dismissal – “something as useless to society as hiking or juggling” And that response, is, in a nutshell, precisely why if I have to choose between the academic art world set and the karaoke singers, the toothpick sculptors, and the Harry Potter fan fiction kids, Ill choose the latter every time. I just wish the smarty pants crowd didn’t make it so easy.

  16. Mira Rychner said, on 01/18/2012 at 02:04

    Hmm, look ski bums and jugglers get paid too.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/18/sports/arctic-adventure-a-1500-mile-trip-by-sea-kayak.html

    http://www.deadmanscarnival.com/

    What is the difference between an artist and a juggler. Absolutely, nothing. It is a matter of how far you take it. And its Trekies. Look at Comic-Con and all the other sci-fi conventions.

    Its true the institutional art world, i.e. the field of art is overly insulated and in trying to validate itself to the world even monomaniacal. Does that mean the tasks and professions involved when working with art, handlers, restorers, historians, curators, and producers are easier than working in say customer service or education or publishing. Is writing a book or television show less valid than building a sculpture, painting a picture, or putting on a performance? Are white collar unions less valid than blue collar unions?. Are these people all ego maniacs because they want to defend and maintain their rights as working people?
    On a side note we all know it’s 2012 right? The famous artistic inquiries of the 60′s 70′s and 80′s have been established. The art world has long since moved to externalize it’s dialogue to make socially relevant art work. What the heck dose that mean. Why discuss it in those terms. Its left overs from ancient philosophy, Plato and Socrates justify life art and beauty. Everything is a building process. Nothing is absolutely original. The gist of it is typically artists these days care more about the world around them than the abstract philosophical debates of their predecessors. Things change. Don’t Hate, because people are trying to redefine their working conditions. However you ask great questions Randall, I do think the declarations of WAGE are overly presumptuous. They assume that the general public cares. I don’t think they are considering there position in relation to the rest of the world as you have articulated. Perhaps we should all move to understand our position in relation to one another instead of defending our ground with bared teeth. Maybe Unions need to be redefined all together. They certainly don’t mean the same thing they meant from 1900 and up through 1950 The IWW is just a shadow now.

  17. Mira Rychner said, on 01/18/2012 at 02:43

    My post is not as articulate as the previous posts. I am not well practiced in the art of debate. I did find this article very helpful in defining the mentality of people like Jennifer Gradecki, Derek Curry and others working to redefine the terms and conditions of the art realm.

    http://blog.art21.org/2012/01/11/occupy-a-living-wage/

  18. [...] Work? – Christopher Hsu [Sounds awfully familiar - see this, this, or this for instance.] Listening to artists and writers talk, you notice that the word you are hearing most [...]


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