Lebenskünstler

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

Art Worker – WAGE – Artistic Labor

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

More on this theme here and here.

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

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures 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.

Art Work – Leisure

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/02/2009

UPDATE: More here.

These comments pertain to the recent release of Art Work by Temporary Services. They apply to the project as a whole, but a link to them was left on Julia Bryan-Wilson’s essay “Art Versus Work” as it is a central organizing essay. I apologize in advance for the scatter-shot nature of the response. I level these criticisms and objections with great admiration of, and humility toward,  Art Work, its organizers, and its contributors even if I don’t always maintain that tone.

Anything but work: Call Me a Slacker – NEVER a Worker.

“My father taught me to work; he did not teach me to love it. I never did like to work, and I don’t deny it. I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh – anything but work.” – Abraham Lincoln

Julia Bryan-Wilson does an admirable job presenting a historical overview and theoretical foundation for those who embrace the notion of the artist as worker. What leaves me a bit cold, not just in her piece, but in Art Work as a whole, is the lack of any substantive dissent from this notion. At the very least, a sketch of some counter-theorizations, and a survey of key figures advocating against the valorization of work and labor would be useful. The slackers, quitters, idlers, loafers, drop outs, and leisure theorists have their own history, many providing a scathing critique of the lefts embrace of the proletarianization of human activity. I, being one of these good for nothings myself, hope to provide just such a sketch, but it will remain just a sketch as anything more would feel too much like work, and I’d rather read, tell stories, crack jokes, talk, laugh…

On work, labor, and old man Marx

“I think that there is far too much work done in the world, that immense harm is caused
by the belief that work is virtuous…” – Bertrand Russell

Julia Bryan-Wilson writes, “Drawing on Marx’s theoretical work, and prompted by a desire to make art legitimate, necessary, and meaningful, artists in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries tried to erode the distinction between art and labor by insisting that their actions, and the products of those actions, were indeed work.” The idea that calling what you do “work” makes it “legitimate” or “meaningful” is the crux of the problem I have with much of what one finds in Art Work. This sort of thinking is everywhere on the left and Marx does in fact provide the theoretical mirror in which many self-identified “cultural workers” (I always shudder at this phrase) see themselves. Jean Baudrillard, the still mostly Marxist incarnation of which Bryan-Wilson cites, moved very quickly into a position not easily integrated within her piece or this newspaper as a whole. In his book The Mirror of Production he writes “The critical theory of the mode of production does not touch the principle of production.” That is to say that Marxist analysis too readily embraces the terms of the debate and therefore provides a mere functional critique, one that Baudrillard might note, “…deciphers the functioning of the system of political economy; but at the same time it reproduces it as model.”

Like Baudrillard I see a certain kind of of Marxist theoretical fundamentalism at work here. Art, like everything else in life apparently, becomes just another form of work. The proponents of artist unions and art workers appear to see labor and production everywhere and thus we find ourselves talking of wages, compensation, and professional practices. Let’s keep in mind though that just as the id, ego, and superego are organizing myths of psychoanalysis, Marxism has its own myths. Mapping the world using these specialized tools is certainly useful in certain contexts, but I’d just like to keep in mind that they are specialized, very partial, and historically bound views and that they are maps after all. Or to return to Baudrillard in reference to Marxism:

“Historical materialism, dialectics, modes of production, labor power – through these concepts Marxist theory has sought to shatter the abstract universality of the concepts of bourgeois thought…Yet Marxism in turn universalizes them with a ‘critical’ imperialism as ferocious as the other’s.”

“…Thus, to be logical the concept of history must itself be regarded as historical, turn back on itself…Instead, in Marxism history is transhistoricized: it redoubles on itself and is universalized.”

“As soon as they [critical concepts] are constituted as universal they cease to be analytical and the religion of meaning begins [or what we called theoretical fundamentalism].”

Giles Gunn, not writing specifically about Marxism puts it this way, “Theory of this sort is always in danger of reifying itself – or, what amounts to the same thing, of treating everything it touches as mere epiphenomena of its own idioms. [emphasis mine]” So where does that leave us? What does employing these terms do? It seems many contributors here find them liberating. I feel it gives too much ground, too readily cedes a particular view of what is important about what artists do. I’m not sure that Baudrillard doesn’t have this one right:

“Failing to conceive of a mode of social wealth other than that founded on labor and production, Marxism no longer furnishes in the long run a real alternative to capitalism.”

And:

“And in this Marxism assists in the cunning of capital. It convinces men [sic] that they are alienated by the sale of their labor power, thus censoring the much more radical hypothesis that they might be alienated as labor power, as the ‘inalienable’ power of creating value by their labor. [entire quote in italics in the original]”

I see in Bryan-Wilson’s apparent acceptance of Marx a failure of imagination of sorts, one that leads us reductively to seeing the world through a narrow, economic prism. Much like the psychoanalyst sees libidinal drives and frustrated sexuality in everything from their morning coffee to flower arrangements, many in Art Work, see money, labor, and production everywhere. This strikes me as unhealthy and teeters dangerously close to the history of conceptual imperialism employed by Western ethnographers when they interpreted other cultures through their own cultural matrix and mistook this reading as transcription rather than translation. Baudrillard, again in The Mirror of Production is helpful here:

“…it [Western culture] reflected on itself in the universal, and thus all other cultures were entered in its museum as vestiges of its own image. It ‘estheticized’ them, reinterpreted them on its own model, and thus precluded the radical interrogation these ‘different’ cultures implied for it.”

Continuing:

“In the kindest yet most radical way the world has ever seen, they have placed these objects [so called primitive art] in a museum by implanting them in an esthetic category. But these objects are not art at all. And, precisely their non-esthetic character could at last have been the starting point for a radical perspective on (and not an internal critical perspective leading to a broadened reproduction of) Western culture.”

If we substitute “esthetic” with “economic” it should become clear why this is pertinent. By seeing something that looks like what the West calls economic exchange or labor and calling it such, we miss the opportunity to observe something deeply challenging to the very premise of economy, value, and work. To extrapolate then, we should think long and hard about how readily we want to place art within the conceptual spreadsheet of capitalist vocabulary, or as Baudrillard would say, its mirror – Marxist vocabulary.

Art work or Art leisure?

“…with art-relaxing art comes to you with a greater simplicity clearness beauty reality feelingness and life.” – Gilbert and George

“…there is no art without laziness.” – Mladen Stilinovic

Leisure, Joseph Pieper, the “intellectual worker,” and de-proletarianization

“Leisure has had a bad press. For the puritan it is the source of vice; for the egalitarian a sign of privilege. The Marxist regards leisure as the unjust surplus, enjoyed by the few at the expense of the many.” – Roger Scruton

“Work does not make you rich; it only makes you bent over.” – Russian proverb

One doesn’t have to look very far to find alternatives to the worship of work. Josef Pieper’s book Leisure, The Basis of Culture provides a road map to rethinking many of the founding assumptions of Art Work. Tackling head on what he calls the culture of “total work,” Pieper argues for leisure as an organizing principle for culture. He is especially scornful of the notion of the “intellectual worker” from which the easy leap to “art worker” should be obvious. He writes, “…the takeover…of intellectual action…and its exclusive possession by the realm of ‘total work’…the most recent phase of a whole series of conquests made by the ‘imperial figure’ of the ‘Worker.’ And the concepts of intellectual worker and intellectual work…make the fact of that conquest especially clear and especially challenging to our times.”

He goes on to provide a historical summary of how the idea of effort, work, and labor came to be equated with knowing and how this transformation omitted the very basis of intellectus, the passive, listening, visionary, effortless dimension of knowing at the expense of ratio, the mostly discursive, active form. As he describes it, many in this publication seem to have followed this same path of over-valuing effort and difficulty. So in Art Work it becomes clear that “…not only the wage earner, the hand-worker, and the proletarian are workers; even the learned man, the student, are workers; they too are drawn into the social system and its distribution of labor. the intellectual worker…is a functionary in the total world of work, he may be called a ‘specialist,’ he is still a functionary…nobody is granted a ‘free zone’ of intellectual activity…” In this I sense a sad resignation to proletarianization, but what if we sought rather de-proletarianization?

Pieper defines being proletarian as “being bound to the working-process.” This he argues leads one to become a “spiritually impoverished functionary” – and it is this that rings loudly when I see one embrace the term art worker. For once again it seems like a failure of imagination, a spiritual failure (knowing full well how unfashionable that must seem) to adopt, if even tactically, the rhetoric of total work, or “to fall into line as ready functionaries for the collective working-state.” What is the alternative? Rather than expanding the reach of work, its colonization of existence, its imperial nature, perhaps it is better to tame it, refuse it (to the extent one can), and most easily, reject its measures. As Pieper says de-proletarianization “would consist in making available for the working person a meaningful kind of activity that is not work – in other words, by opening up an area of true leisure.”

Slack

Another prism through which to read all of this is through the “paradoxes of slackerdom” – an online conference I co-organized with Stephen Wright here. In its own way that (international) conversation stands as a kind of rejoinder to this one, or at least a necessary supplement. I urge those who have found their way here to look not only at it, but at the legions of lazy sods, slackers,  and others that reject work altogether as the (only) measure of human worthiness – those that seek  to define their lives relative to, and in, leisure – what Paul Willis calls “the hidden continent of the informal.”

Alexander Koch – Quitting – Stephen Wright

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/18/2009

“Why would an ex-artist potentially bring more creativity, more imagination or more self-responsibility to natural sciences and medicine than anybody else. I think Richard Rorty (whom we both admire) would actually support me here. If artists merely become social scientists or long-distance runners, or if they do become social scientists or long-distance runners “as artists”, would sound for him a) as really hard to distinguish, b) unclear what this distinction is good for, and c) sound like an attempt to find something essential about what artists are, exactly in the very moment of their disappearance, whereas my theoretic proposals of the artistic dropout try to contribute to an anti-essentialist perspective on that disappearance.” – from an amazing interview here.

Leisure – Jerome Segal – Graceful Simplicity

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 11/12/2009

Thinking more deeply about the politics of leisure. Jerome Segal calls it “graceful simplicity,” but we basically mean the same thing. He states, “A politics of simplicity seeks a world that is not hectic, not filled with anxiety. It is a world in which people have sufficient time to do things slowly and to do them right, whether what they are doing is building and enjoying a friendship, working on sculpture, or studying scripture.”

Slacker – Leisure – n.e.w.s – Stephen Wright

Posted in Uncategorized by dilettanteventures on 12/31/2008

FYI:

An online slacker summit will take place from 1/2-1/6 at n.e.w.s.

Cutting Slack

By both slacking off from the imperative to work and, symmetrically, deliberately abstaining from leisure, slackers embody a fascinating – and for the productivist majority, infuriating – performative paradox. Slackers don’t “just” slack off; they go at it full-tilt. Performing laziness – that is, the studied and ostentatious practice of doing not much – is all-consuming. But is it subversive? Does it have seditious potential within a regime of productivism? Can it be decreative, obstructing the reifying thrust of the “creative” industry and class with their “artistic research projects”? To answer these questions in the affirmative is to imagine that slackers might come to constitute something of a political community, however slack. But, as Randall Szott has asked, are communities formed by slack not also bound by slack, that is, to entropic collapse without even really working at it? Or can they, martial arts-style, lackadasically harness the surplus force of the productivist adversary? Over the course of this weekend forum, we will ride the slack tide to consider these questions. In suitably slack fashion.

The moderator will be Stephen Wright.

I’ll be the “special guest.”

Confirmed participants include:

Brian Holmes – Continental Drift

Chris Carlsson – Nowtopia and Processed World

Andy Abbott – Festival of Pastimes and http://www.andyabbott.co.uk/

Katherine Carl – NAO

Sal Randolph – http://salrandolph.com/

Hideous Beast – http://www.hideousbeast.com/

Many more T.B.A

Please contact me if you’d like more info on how to join the conversation!

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