Here’s an easily digestible summary of Hans Abbing’s seminal book, “Why Artists are Poor.” He argues that the arts are made ‘exceptional’, i.e. outside the market economy, by a combination of mythology and self-interested subsidies. Artistic production is only about half supported by the market, and the other half is supported by a ‘gift’ economy of subsidies by artists themselves, governments, and big donors. This economy is premised on non-monetary compensation recognition, status, appreciation, etc. Corporations who invest in the arts receive a similar return of social and cultural capital, an aura of civic engagement and high class status. Governments feel it is their duty to subsidize this ‘sacred’ sphere that is somehow beyond the market. Abbing concludes that subsidies and myths are making the situation worse and enticing more and more people to enter the arts under false pretenses.
Do non-monetary rewards make up for the fact that so many artists are monetarily poor? Why should or shouldn’t the arts be subsidized by corporations, governments, and artists themselves?
Here's Hans Abbing's website. He's both an artist and an economist/social scientist. We need more of those.
ART WITHOUT ARTISTS: AGAINST THE ARTIST CEO
by Eunsong Kim and Maya Mackrandilal
Maya Mackrandilal and Eunsong Kim write some of the sharpest, take-no-prisoners pieces about art and labor out there. This one tackles the idea of the Artist CEO, icon of hyper-capitalist art in action. They ask us to consider: How are capitalist frameworks, languages, roles, and identities limiting the way we pursue artistic careers? Why do MBA/MFAs elevate conceptual management over material labor? How can we reclaim a position of power for embodied labor?
"We’ve reached a point where even the performance of labor is rendered irrelevant. The idea is the only thing that matters. This is the moment where art becomes the realization of the capitalist dream. Sure, Sol Lewit thought he was liberating artists from the market, but the market likes Sol Lewit just fine. And how fitting, just in time to celebrate the triumph of capitalism over communism and the end of history."
"The artist is the CEO. Detached from labor. Detached from work. Labor demands sacrifice: our bodies, our time. It demands a small portion of ourselves, or lives, in it we confront our own mortality. There is a kind of immortality in ideas: the mythos of the Cartesian split. Poor people have bodies, their labor is extracted. Rich people have wealth management, their money does all the work, generation after generation."
Read the full article here:
"Standard Deviation—a multiphase project that includes a series of conversations, a printed broadside for distribution, and an online forum—addresses these questions so that artists might identify the kinds of opportunities that serve their artistic goals and help them sustain viable practices over time."- Helena Keeffe, Art Practical
If you're an artist struggling alone, eye-brows deep in the hustle, and it feels daunting to get up to speed on national conversations about art and labor, here's a sweet little broadside to ease you in.
In 2013, Helena Keeffe got artists in the Bay Area together for a conversation very much like those we are hoping to have this November, asking "What kinds of strategies might artists employ to create a sense of agency when it comes to artistic production? What are the key questions artists should ask themselves in seeking to define standards for valuing their labor?" They collected their output in a website and a broadside, which are excellent primers on both the history of artist-labor initiatives in the United States and the existing toolkits and concrete actions artists can use to advocate for their work.
Read Helene Keeffe and Art Practical's Patricia Maloney's reflection on Standard Deviation here: http://www.artpractical.com/feature/standard_deviation/ Make sure to scroll all the way down to the bottom to check out the related readings!
Download the Standard Deviation Broadside here:
Art Practical and the artists involved in Standard Deviation were also involved in 2014/15 organizing conversations through UC Berkeley's Arts Research Center. We'll be linking to more of their work in upcoming posts.
This blog is a collection of research and reflections produced in the planning of the Art + Value Conversations. It includes histories of artist labor organizing and activism in the US and abroad, advocacy toolkits for artists, personal narratives, and academic articles. We hope it will be a useful resource for Chicago artists to frame the Art + Value Conversations