Lebenskünstler

Art Work Redux – Temporary Services – Basic Income vs. Workfare

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 02/22/2010

There is much to like in this interview with Temporary Services. They do a good bit to qualify their ambition for their recent project Art Work, but the message is still muddled to me. They clearly have larger ambitions for economic justice than establishing what they consider just compensation for artists, but likely due to speaking from their personal experience the larger ambition seems to lose its way.

I certainly support the rehabilitation of  their art-centric focus expressed here:

“Our concern is about creating a new language and methodology around art *and other creative fields* that sees this output as essential to the daily life of humans.”

And:

“In general, we want to get rid of the idea of work for everyone. We believe that people from all fields can work together in order to create an environment that takes care of everyone and is not dependent on the outdated model of Capitalism. ”

My concern is that there isn’t much “new language” used in discussing these ideas. They seem to speak in pretty conventional leftist terms – especially around the idea of exploitation. They’re absolutely right that the commercial gallery system limits how “art can be conceived,” but this is true of any art context of which the commercial is just one.  That is what makes it a context in the first place. It is only by accepting the primacy of that context and its measures of success that these arguments have weight. The charge of exploitation is a complicated matter. There are a VAST number of artists supporting themselves fully or partially in commercial galleries. Maybe they mean commercial galleries in Chelsea or other Art Forum/frieze sorts of galleries? There are artists thriving in commercial galleries in Mobile, AL – Taos, NM – Galveston, TX – Brunswick, GA  – and many other ‘off the map’ locations. Additionally, there are many Chelsea artists who don’t feel exploited at all (some of whom have only marginal economic success with their work). Are we to know better than they do whether they are “exploited?” Certainly Temporary Services has provided rich documentation of many who do feel exploited, but let’s not pretend it is anything other than a polemic (yet one I am very sympathetic to).

When asked to imagine what working full time outside an art/commerce model, we get into the muddiest waters with regard to larger notions of economic justice/freedom. They look to the Works Progress Administration which I think is good in that it was not exclusively for artists, but I offer the counter-example of a Basic Income/Participation Income model as that does not emphasize the productivist values of work and employment. Work should not be the organizing principle of society which is what I thought Temporary Services was getting at in mentioning getting rid of the idea of work.

We need less work, less labor, and more emphasis on generating wealth outside of an economic rubric. I think we’re basically on the same page here, but they focus on the plight of artists far more than I care for. In fact, I rarely see anyone lament the sorry state of arts funding other than arts professionals and wannabes. It makes one pause to see a group (here I am not speaking specifically about TS) proclaim over and over how important what they do is, yet decry the fact that no one else seems to recognize this. Maybe that should tell them a bit about how much value they actually offer. If I were to be concerned about one group being justly compensated for what they do, it would be stay at home moms or adult caregivers, not artists. This singling out, of course, is pointless though.

TS says, “but we could do this exclusively if we were actually paid well for what we do. We have to have other jobs.”  To this I say yes, welcome to the real world where people routinely get paid to do something they don’t like in order to facilitate pursuing things they actually enjoy. There are plenty of car customizers, gardeners, jugglers, SCA types, etc. that would love to be freed from the obligation to work. I support this fully, but rather than the WPA, or selecting artists for special treatment due to their self-perceived value to society, we need to rethink fundamental assumptions about work and leisure. While I applaud the effort and dedication Temporary Services brings to exploring ideas around art and economics, I can’t help but be disappointed at how easily the discussion falls into the trap of productivist, and often elitist thinking.

Related material here.

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3 Responses

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  1. […] 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 […]

  2. […] many familiar themes here. LeisureArts anyone? And this post on Basic Income or Art Leisure vs. Art Work and even an interview on Art […]

  3. […] production” and “art workers” in a piecemeal fashion for years (See here, here, here, and here, etc.). Again I urge the art=work crowd to seek out the […]


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