Lebenskünstler

Art “Workers” – Life’s “Work” – Labor – Leisure – The Gratuitous

Posted in Uncategorized by Randall Szott on 05/07/2012

Why 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 often, after I and but and the, and so on, is work.

In citing his work, an artist or writer associates himself with the non-gratuitous, unpleasant labor, the “toil and trouble” identified by classical economics…The word is meant to act in part as a good luck charm to ward off the evil spirits of vacuity, uselessness, solipsism, self-indulgence, depravity.

They conflate the second and third senses of work in an effort to push back at the idea of art as a gratuity, to demonstrate the worth of their product. “I am working on a series of works…” You can see where they are coming from. The problem is that art has never fit comfortably into a labor theory of value, and for that matter, any notion of objective value finds few takers under a marginalist, net-income-extracting model of economy. If the exchange value and standing of an object of art are determined instead by the symbolic capital bestowed on it by an arbitrary, conspiratorial “artworld,” what relevance has the labor-time inputted? It is out of their hands. They would be better off with a word like collateralize.

No, the ubiquity of work ultimately masks the artist’s most complex and vital relationship, which is to leisure.

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