“When is it okay to work for free? Is it acceptable as long as you’re working with—or for—another artist? What is an artistic service?” These are some of the questions raised by Shannon Jackson, director of UC Berkeley’s Arts Research Center, in her introduction to Art Practical‘s latest issue, Valuing Labor. She notes, “These are just a few of the hundreds of questions circulating for artists working in the 21st-century economy, a scene in which the very old question of art’s financial contingency arguably has a different kind of urgency and opacity.” Today we bring you just one of the many features in this issue, a primer put together by Jackson and co-organizer Helena Keeffe that serves as an overview of the topics that will be presented at the Arts Research Center’s day-long Practicum titled Valuing Labor in the Arts, to be held on April 19, 2014.
1. Occupational Realism, by Julia Bryan-Wilson
“Performance as occupation” participates in the rising tide of discourse regarding the interconnection of contingent labor, artistic value, and precarity. Precarity is one name given to the effect of neoliberal economic conditions emergent in the wake of global financial upheaval, recession, and the reorganization of employment to accommodate the spread of service, information, and knowledge work. It designates a pervasively unpredictable terrain of employment within these conditions—work that is without health-care benefits or other safety nets, underpaid, part-time, unprotected, short-term, unsustainable, risky.
2. Five Things I Learned, by Alexis Clements
Reimagining the world seems like everyone’s favorite marketing slogan and pastime these days. And starting from scratch is great in some instances. But the reality is that most of the time it’s not only impossible to start from scratch, it’s undesirable, as you can end up walking down well-trod paths. Beyond finding that a lot of writing about arts and labor focused on the visual arts marketplace, I also found that few writers mention the past at all in their writing on the topic, save to throw in mini-lessons or interpretations of historical theories, particularly those of Karl Marx (I often prefer Arendt on labor, if we’re going for historical theory).