No More Factory Farms; No More TV Dinner Biennials; Eat Money, Spend Food; Leave The Art Fair and Never Come Back
***I’m creating a bunch of sweeping essays/rants/writings to help myself research and write a curatorial text for an exhibition i’m curating called artWORK featuring the publication by Temporary Services alongside other projects and works set up in exhibition to help develop a conversation about the current state of art, precarious labor, the dark matter of the artworld, it’s links to social class, post-fordism and the artists ability to be an artist of (revolutionary) consequence. I’m not going to lie either, the show and these articles are helping me research so i can write my PhD proposal. HOLLA!***
Let’s be honest, the art world is a middle class world. Those who say that social class isn’t a factor to becoming an artist would be somewhat correct. However, those who say social class doesn’t effect becoming a successful artist would be mostly wrong.
It’s infuriating that most interesting artists are perfectly capable of functioning in at least two or three professions that are, unlike that of art, respected by society in terms of compensation or usefulness.
Those emerging artists starting from low-income working class backgrounds are less likely to have the economic support behind them to rent a studio, or not have a full-time job outside of their chosen field whilst they generate artwork or go on residencies. The family ties of support make it harder for the working class artist to move to geographic locations that may have more opportunities. The working class work ethic – despite recent negative press in the current turbulent job climate – is that if you’re not doing ‘real clock-in and out work’ – then you’re not really working. This working class societal demand here guilts the working class artist into splitting up their time and income towards different areas of support and just general neo-liberal capital minimum wage survival. Obviously, there are many successful working class artists out there – but mostly, they’ve gained a place within a middle-class profession when acknowledged.
I look towards my peers, and others from Middle Class upbringings. It’s a simple joy to see that they can rent a studio, or not have a job, work only part-time, and not have to sign on at the Job Center to pay the rent. They float from unpaid internship to unpaid internship whilst their networking business cards and compliments build up. Their job offers and exhibition opportunities arrive, they can go into more further education: partially due to luck, partially due to talent but mostly because of this luxurious position of time, economic and cultural family support. It is at this con jour, I would like to add that within this sweeping statement there are, of course, middle class artists out there that also struggle with full-time jobs, studio fees and handling this problem completely on their own with no other support from else where – obviously.
Ask anyone who has children or sick relatives in a country with no free healthcare system in place (which is virtually everywhere these days), as the administration of life is deferred more and more to the private sphere of personal finance. This only makes the question of fair compensation all the more pressing. It is not an issue of some kind of moral or ethical principle, but of life itself.
So why should so many artists submit themselves willingly to a field of work (that is, in art) that offers so little in return for such a huge amount of unremunerated labor?
For some reason or other, either due to the artists own vanity, or being hypnotised by some sort of authortive diva that promises X-Factor style recognition, the artist is left to their own entanglement with regard to their own usefulness. The artist is left to expend an enormous amount of professional energy in the unfolds of the murky waters of a pseudo profession that absorbs work under the auspices of some kind of common belief in its high value.
It is here that this idea of ‘higher value’ that presides over – and indeed fuels – an idea of art labor as free labor must be contested.
All are to blame for it; though classical exploitation is rampant, it may actually pale in comparison to the amount of self -exploitation – the willingly inconclusive. The artists who come from backgrounds that can allow them to willingly work for free, offering their services to other artists that have come from similar backgrounds that are now deemed successful, in exchange for some sort of mentorship or a mere way to get to meet people for exposure. Even those like myself, who keep several crap paid jobs down, in order to dump resources and time into a labor of work that gains very little in return, whilst their relationships surrounding them crumble.
We look to our options, perhaps we could blame it all on authorship and the cult of the author? But that seems frankly ridiculous. Erase your name, and not only will you not get paid for your time, you will not get credited either. And by some bizarr inflictions we think that if we work even more, especially for free, this work or dream job will be seen/offered.
We maintain the status-quo. Especially when/if we are given, even just a small taste of, recognition or acknowledgement. We believe that the system isn’t wrong. That it is probably just us, our work, or that we should have a studio, or move to another place. It certainly isn’t that the system itself is flawed. We don’t believe it’s ‘not what we know, but who we know’. It can’t be. Because this would mean one could resource their way up to the top? But how long can this illusion be kept?
The collapse of the world economy has brought around an interesting turn of events in 2011, and i hope it will continue to evolve through into 2012; Where a workers revolution is achieved.
As the Temporary Services ARTWORK publication puts it best I will directly quote them:
” Now is a perfect moment to push for new ways of doing things, developing better models, and to question commercial forms of art making and the commodification of human creativity and significance. It is also an excellent moment to look backwards at old models that might be ripe for reworking, and the myriad strategies and support systems that artists have invented in order to survive creatively and economically. It is a time to fight for a different future, better treatment, and a diminished role for the market in art discourse. Resistance to the status quo has been minimal. Artists for the most part are hiding and hoping things will get better. We must gather, pool knowledge and resources, agitate, question, confront this system and make alternative models using the creativity that we reserve for other kinds of artistic production in more stable times.”
This was written with help of Temporary Services article ‘This is Our Job’ and E-Flux Journal articles written by various thinkers and writers.
“FREE” – Desire for Economic change.