“Administration of aesthetics” or on underground currents of negotiating artistic jobs; between love and money, money and love

“Paint what you love and love what you paint”
Tom Roberts, 1890

“Your money or your life!” – was a threat or a false pick that the 19th century bandits, just about the time when Roberts wrote his credo, used with unguarded passengers on picturesque English countryside roads or in the wilderness of British colonies. A different linguistic plot for this potentially lethal choice might be something like: “your love or your money!” – in which case the selection with equally surprising effect is put before contemporary passengers, before a caravan of mobile and flexible “culture workers”. The meaning of this blackmail in the domain of cultural production finds its roots far back in history but, as we are about to see, it is never explicitly nominated or pronounced remaining implicit and suggested.

In this overview we will try to analyse different ways in which the concepts of “love” and “money” inhabit the context of production and interpretation of art. In their complex and often violent interplay this dialectics of passionate and lethal embrace allows for a discussion about historically dense relationship between the autonomy of art and heteronomy of labour, as well as various ideological structures of new-old blackmails contained in the binomial love vs. money operating within this domain. Nevertheless, people producing artistic content encounter such choices every day.

In our case love will appear in a very specific and linguistically very heterogeneous form – as an idea or as an ideal, also as historical and human responsibility, the essence of what we tend to recognize as “spirit”, or even as “soul itself”, as the ultimate meaning and validation of human nature. The concept of love, in this sense, results from Platonic norm of love of art 1 and continues evolving in various directions of aesthetic idealism, all the way to the issue of social responsibility of a public intellectual, socially useful work or public good. In a contemporary, flexible and self-organized context of content production love plays a key role in a different way – as the field of transactions in the domain of emotional affects or a post-Fordian currency for friendship and social capital.

On the other hand, the concept of money emerges as an empty place of speech, as something making that non-productive (artistic) labour stutter. Money is hiding behind representation of art; it is uneasiness itself and to mention it in this context is nothing but “mercantile kitsch” that is allegedly at odds with any true artistic intent, political responsibility and social engagement. However, as opposed to many incarnations of the concept of love, i.e. linguistic, logical and semantic, it seems that “money” is an actor entirely insensitive to context and transformation of all those relations. In other words, while Mr. Money tends to anonymity and invisibility, Miss Love remains in the spotlight and on stage, trying to disguise, frequently changing its masks and wardrobe.

It is precisely this interplay or “dance of language” that allows the situation to invite its analysis from the perspective of terminology, definition, nominalization and communication practices by means of reconstruction of various struggles and pacts it has with the logic of capitalism. This apparently dynamic but actually rather consistent interaction takes place within a broad and expansive field of art – for the actors in this field, contemporary life is marked with nominalization of key words and phrases, tag cloud mentality and the quantity of communication turning all its actors into “linguistic animals”, formed and limited by the linguistic matrix.

Prologue: why do you say “Money” and mean “Spirit”? Why do you say “Spirit” and mean “Money”?

In The Artworld by Arthur Danto, a text that can be considered a turning point in relation to classical and modern discourses on art connected with the theory of imitation (mimesis), the truth and the meaning of art lie in the institutional consensus that separates the ordinary world from the world of art 2:

“The artworld stands to the real world in something like the relationship in which the City of God stands to the Earthly City. Certain objects, like certain individuals, enjoy a double citizenship, but there remains, the RT notwithstanding, a fundamental contrast between artworks and real objects.” 3

At the first glance, alike the anachronisms of idealistic philosophy, Danto initially lays down the foundations of what art is to be, which he defines as “the world”, certainly – in the spirit of the 1960s art and philosophy, not the world for itself but the world which positions itself in relation to and in dialogue with life, society and institutional and human constellations. Danto’s “world” is bringing together the three historical moments – establishing of the Academy of art, emerging of aesthetics as the independent sphere, and of forming the institutions of art in both senses: as ideological state apparatuses and as the networks of interpersonal relationships, interactions, historical dialogues. 4

What appears to be relevant for the development of contemporary art, for which Danto’s text and its consequences may be the reference point or interface, is not a reformist approach to the idealistic philosophy, or a duplication or separation of the worlds. Instead, Danto does not interpret that duplication as a product of a particular ontology of art, but as an institutional agreement generating the modes of production, meaning, interpretation and communication, even the market value of art. Danto does not address any other implications in his text, but the theory and practice of contemporary art will demonstrate the unfixed and flexible character of this world – its expansion and power of assimilation, its gaps and leakages into reality, and its osmotic connection to societal realities.

What is the impact of “the duplication of worlds” on the object of art and its market form? Danto takes the example of the difference between the Brillo Box authorised (branded) by Warhol and the Brillo box produced by the detergent factory of the same name. 5 In fact, the difference between production of art and mass-production established herein 6 draws a dividing line between “sacredness” (eternal life) of artwork and “profanity” of mass- produced goods, the meaning of which is totally exhausted in market economy. The institution (or the world) of art may transform the artist into a powerful, yet tragic, figure, not unlike that of King Midas, who turns anything he touches into gold, only for this miraculous gift to boomerang on him (with King Midas, the punishment of “the divine gift” leads to too much gold and too little life, whereas in the artist’s case – it leads to too much “spirit” and too little money or pay). The institution of art appropriates the divine prerogative of creation as its own, at the same time using that same prerogative to open up space for denying something, i.e. material body (the artist’s life), his or her relationship with the real world etc. and this is something that critical art practice would file under artistic work (or artist’s labour) or the social function of art.

Within the concept of creation and creativity, as the key element of the ideology of art 7, the work is replaced by free and almighty flow of inspiration that is the hallmark of a artist-genius – accordingly, the outcome of this free process (read: the work of art) is solely defined by immunity or the author’s trademark, uniqueness and singularity. And precisely in the concepts of authorship or originality in the contrast between the divine attribute of creation (creatio) and worldly production (productio) lies the ideological opposition between arts and goods, which has been constantly and confidently perpetuated by the institution of art. For this very reason, mercantile character of art has always been a neuralgic point, unease itself, something that has always been a dead end for aesthetics and history of art.

In the contemporary “Enterprise Culture” art has never been represented as a market, not even when it has been nominally, legally and institutionally constituted as the market. Let us take the example of very popular contemporary art fairs such as The Freeze Art Fair in London, a manifestation that without any doubt exhausts its function and meaning in art sales and trade although its (self)representation refers to something completely different. In function of representation and “experience” this manifestation frequently employs vast symbolic capital of communication, aesthetization, intellectual work, creativity and, finally, money in order to dissuade visitors, art lovers, collectors and even the actors of this operation, at least for a moment, that it is all just about money, goods and trade.

Brand new ambience commissioned for the occasion guarantees “new” and different experience where visitors are invited to enter a maze of gallery stands: such stands are much more than that – they are curated rooms with exhibition concepts and carefully designed atmospheres. 8 Education and entertainment are also part of this, i.e. there are numerous lectures, discussions, promotions of books and magazines, VIP and open parties, self-organized presentations (and sales) of young artists’ works, advertised and unadvertised performances, actions, curator initiatives, counter-fairs and alternative fairs and so on and so on. This assembly of various art events, this scenography of “spirit”, makes an uninterrupted continuum of camouflage that is positioning art market operations behind the scene and outside of the visible domain.

With this “game of hide and seek” involving labour and money with the aid of even more money and investments various culture industries transfer a distanced reflex of “truths” rooted in modern aesthetics and history of art, seeking in them their own legitimization, no matter how absurd and paradoxical this venture might seam. Lessons on distinction between high art and its public function on the one hand and commercial art as the synonym for low on the other had been provided by the 18th century Academy and that heritage has more or less played a constitutive function for the institution of art in all it later stages of (self)transformation.

Ever since Vasari’s calls for perfection in art that is alienated from any other form of production and Winckelmann’s postulate on “noble simplicity and quiet grandeur” connecting antiquity and modernity as well as Diderot’s review of the Paris Salon in 1767 as “corruption of taste by luxury” where he nominated “money destroying beaux arts” there is one thing that stands out – the Industrial Revolution, emergence of bourgeoisie and placing art at the core of capitalist relations, that is the establishment of a direct link between money and taste was confronted with systematic resistance in the framework of emerging institution of art. How has “true art” historically managed to divorce from money? All trade or production of art defined by demand was simply equalized with decorative arts from which it wanted to detach. In ideological but also in very practical sense, the academic system served to liberate art from medieval associations of guilds, which, in our case means liberation from the immediate purpose of “luxurious decoration”.

Joshua Reynolds, one of the founders of the British Academy, observed that art attributes as “intellectual dignity … that ennobles the painter’s art” and “draws a line between him and pure mechanic who does not produce art but mere ornament”. Thus the institution of art at the moment of constituting the aesthetical as a separate sphere establishes the attributes of uniqueness, originality and authorship introducing a difference between high art and commercial culture of luxury craftsmanship (or art as the expression of commercial culture).

In such contrasting, antagonistic and variable attempts to remove money, labour and labour relations from the stage of art representation, there are obvious consensual efforts to explain that art cannot be understood as business as usual, as labour or work – but rather as something completely different. At this point, money appears as creative shame.

Administration of aesthetics and its dramaturgy

However, what happens with the transfers of love and money, if we are to try – from the perspective of contemporary art – to approach the very production apparatus, the terrain of everyday life where various practices of administration of aesthetics take place? What will we find if we try to get closer to economic reality of “workers” active in the ever expanding “world of art” in all its domains of (self-)critical negations, transformations, excesses, inclusions and exclusions only to focus on the very moment when projects and collaborations come to life? How does art-as-ideology inhabit speech used on such occasions?

The term administration of aesthetics has been forged for such needs as an allusion to or inversion of Buchloh’s term aesthetics of administration; the inversion in terms of difference between the exhibition mode or the moment when art is presented (on which Buchloh focuses) and the process that precedes it, i.e. agreements, negotiations, communication, all those things that have been categorized as too banal and therefore set behind “the stage” for exhibiting and presenting art. At the time, Buchloh’s aesthetics of administration emerged from subversive appropriations of bureaucratic and institutional forms in conceptual art practices of the 1960s and 1970s, better known as the art of institutional critique. 9 In analogy with labour negotiations, which are the focus of this paper, the term was introduced to mark art which reveals the relations of production, pacts and deals that are usually covered up, eluded or decorated with the experience of “real art”.

How are modes of production established by the means of speech and communication? How do individual actors position themselves in their role of employers or employees? Unofficial, para-legal agreements on art production, often founded in peer-to-peer bases, figure as dominant forms of negotiation about “the delivery” of content or participation in various cultural events. We can even say that production forms find their sources precisely in this para-legality and one-on-one relationship, 10 whereas institutional “officialdom”, mobilization of the representative apparatus, legal verification of the agreement – all this represents mere administrative confirmation of something that has already happened, which has been concluded and which served its function. 11

The dramaturgy of the whole process of contracting works of art mainly relates to the field already operated by protagonists who live at the bottom of the economic ladder of the “Enterprise culture” – freelance writers, guest lecturers, experimental curators, critically oriented visual artists, left wing intellectuals, alternative theatre companies, independent critiques, essayists, in other words, all those who are answering to various institutional calls (to be more precise, those who produce content for institutions, or, which is a relatively new phenomenon, who work in place of institutions). We will dramatize characteristic communication involving authors or culture workers who collaborate in various self-organized initiatives behind the curtains of immediate production of glamour and success – those subjects that Gregory Sholette calls dark matter 12 in the sense of their voluntary (political) decision to leave the place with the most exposure and immediate connection with the “star system” and market demands.

In this “adventure” of going down to the field of production or a kind of scenario overview where every similarity with real actors is intentional, the accent will be put on several types of para-contractual relations, in which the relations between “love” and “money”, “play” and “labour” become apparent in the speech registry.

Although such arrangements are para-legal and unofficial and imply talks and negotiations behind which, in most cases, there are no contracts signed between the two parties, in terms of the process and verbal practice there are two dominant players: the One who calls (A) and the Other who is being called (B). 13


The title might come in handy to illustrate the conversational atmosphere in which the “world of art” is observed as something isolated from the outside world and even existence itself (the artist’s life). In such atmosphere there is a presumption about chains of equivalence 14 based in mutual love for creation and knowledge, so that business relations between A and B are intentionally “erased” from speech. The presumption A (and sometimes even B) is that the biggest ideal in art is actually “to create out of ideal” and that “we” (always, in that case, “we”) are driven only by ideas and idealism and never by money (which could, in this case, be understood as “interest”). On the one hand, creative work is perceived either as a natural urge and emanation of talent, or as a spontaneous manifestation of civic or social responsibility of public intellectuals – almost as some kind of biological growth or metabolic process of creative personae. On the other hand, the word “money” is perceived as something dirty and (although, in most cases, no one has ever questioned receiving compensation for one’s work; quite the opposite. However, the issue of proper pay is in this case something unconsciously presumed)… “Dirtiness” and “ugliness” related to the perception of money also results from paradoxical fact that words such as “amount”, “compensation”, “author’s fees” and “expenses” come down to some sort of financial gain (or cupidity, or maybe even, and let us be very silent about it, –– some “profit”), which true art supposedly surpasses. 15

Examples in speech: 16

A – Would you like us to do …; I have a great idea for … Will you join me …; We officially inform you were chosen to …. The date is this and this …; I am calling you to write a text for me, you are the only one who can do it; You are invited to give a lecture there and there, then and then; I started a project – I only want to do this with you …;

B1 – (a person who accepts the game unreservedly) … Please, let’s not talk all the time about budget issues – this should be left to managers – let’s talk about the content – this is why we are here, writing should not be a profession; I do not want to talk about money, I am not doing this for money, I am doing this because I am interested in it … and then, if something comes out of it – good; However, I would do this in any case, because I believe the matter is important in itself.

B2 – (a person who still tries to make a living, but not to question certain “unspeakable” issues thereby) … Thank you a lot for your invitation – could you tell me about some organizational details; I like the idea a lot, but I am also interested in hearing about the exact plans regarding the production; I would really love to do this – is it possible for me to find out more about the whole project

The rhetoric of the inviter – the initiator, the undertaker, the project manager or the institutional representative – displays a discourse of intimacy, relationship erotisation flattering tributes and praises are spoken (like, have an idea, join, be officially chosen, be invited, be special, be unique…). At first glance, such invitation can easily be replaced by an invitation for playing, having fun, hanging out, an affair… As if the topic were spending free time together, and not working. Understandable, such rhetoric nurtures the idea of the specificity of the “world of art” and “love for creating and knowledge”, the other side of which can only be the banality of the brutal capitalism and the motif for profit making.

The rhetoric of the invited content providers, B1 and B2, will differentiate from one another, although they will both nominally reflect accepting the noble aristocratic game of the disinterestedness and such gentleman-ladylike agreement. A person who refuses to engage in “vulgar” economical and organizational aspects of creative work, and is willing to talk only about noble matters concerning sense and content, probably enjoys the “luxury” of being situated in an institution, receiving a regular payment, or has some other (perhaps family) background enabling him/her not to live from his/her own work exclusively.

The second voice also accepts this hegemonic discourse, although the person standing behind it is obviously someone (trying) to make a living through his/her work, someone who cares about the precise production parameters, in order to incorporate them into the “production line” of their living-work-time-self-sustainability costs. Regarding such “B2 person”, the rule says they will, almost without exception, decide to (once again) make peace with their well-known destiny of volunteer professionalism, although the answer to their rude question “how much?” will often be “well, nothing”.

(closed code vs. open code)

At the moment, the tripartite letter format slowly naturalizing as a canonical form of conversation about the art work usually involves the shorter or longer information blocks:

— Information on the content/scope of the project.
— Information on the nature and scope of involvement, place and time of the content “delivery”.
— Information on the fee.

While in the first case of the gentleman-ladylike agreement we encounter constant discomfort in phraseological, and sometimes also inventive tries to leave out the word “money”, in the case of the tripartite letter we find that discomfort originates precisely in the directness of its reference. In this speech register there is no mystification of creating, no concealing, no suppression, no costuming, and no detour strategies of linguistic politicking. There is, however, a shock because of the brutal purchasing of something that – as history taught us – “is not for sale” or, at least, “cannot be ‘pure trading’”.

In the closed code of the tripartite letter para-contractual format, A and B are clearly positioned in the field of power – A buys labour or administers a “purchase” in the name of the buyer, while B actively operates in the labour market and is ready to sell his/her time and expertise. B can be treated either as a qualified worker (in culture: specialized for certain subject matters), or as an unqualified, or all-qualified worker (in culture: the one replying to general and wide-spectrum invitations for creating contents being offered). 17

Examples of correspondence:

A – Dear XXX,
I received your contact details from YYY. Are you interested in writing a text concerning the topic of MMM for the ZZZ magazine? Kindly find attached the concept (attachment: a brief general description). The text should have X – Y words, the length of the text is standard and strictly limited. Unfortunately, the deadline is tight – all texts have to be ready for layout no later than 0.0.1. (date). In case you are interested in cooperation, kindly send us the draft of the text you would be writing by the end of the week. We can provide 000 (the sum) for the author fee, that will be paid a month after the volume is published, and this is planned for 6.6.6. (date, usually 3-6 months after the text is submitted). I hope to hear from you soon, XYZ

B1 – (thinking for themselves, or discussing with friends…) – I really prefer working for a capitalist. At least everything is clear here – what you see is what you get. They exploit clearly and publicly, and not “under the table” like state institutions or “our friends”.

B2  – (always a sharp commentary) – The thing I hate the most is when someone talks to me like this – as if writing a piece of text would be twisting screws on the assembly line, as if you would not engage your whole mind and body in the process in order to say something, to send a message. This is pure intellectual prostitution. Mechanical sex. At least in prostitution you get the cash immediately, and here you get it only when you forget you ever worked for it. What should this mean – that writing a piece of text is not the most important part of magazine production? I wonder if they are going to pay the printing house only after they sell all the copies…

The letter written by the person who commissions work establishes relations of production that are alienated beforehand. Such relations involve what Marx addresses in his early work as “real subsumption”, and Camatte and Negri address the same issue as “a complete or total subsumption of labour”, or rather “a total subsumption of society” – standing here for the expropriation of workers from the production process and a magical formula that will make the value of labour decreasing constantly, while the productivity should always increase. “I received your email from XXX” even says that B, addressed in this situation by the client who orders labour, was not their first choice, but was actually a delegated successor of someone more attractive to the labour provider, a subject more intensely tagged on the cultural scene, who refused to do the job for some reason, but was kind enough to pass it on to someone who they have a friendly relationship with, or someone whose expertise they believe in.

Having in mind that the draft of the text should be sent, so to speak, immediately, this is probably the second, third or fourth time the job is being passed on, and the content provider is reduced to a replaceable executive instrument of isolated, mechanized, time- limited, and somewhat standardized operations. The person who commissions work does not address her as an author with a certain oeuvre, a defined and constructed profile they wish to place on the market and to support, they address her as an intellectually equipped cognitive mechanic who needs to fit insinuated, unclear, or extremely vague and undefined expectations. Descriptions of concepts and content are brief and general, and a cynical observation might conclude that in this sense they receive anything other than what they do not receive.

It seems here as if it were much more important to produce the matter successfully and pack it up as a project, to make sure the content gets its attributes defined in contracts, regarding the person who orders, produces, sponsors, administers, and “owns” it, than to take account of preliminary details of that content. 18 In other words – it seems as if these legal documents might exist meaningfully even without that one document representing the very text that is ordered.

On the other hand, in the case of an open code, 19 there is an attempt of a differently motivated cooperation that is still primarily based on ideas and contents. Such conversation will try to oppose to the hegemonic production apparatus and its strictly defined roles through more democratic, interactive formats that are more open to a critical thinking. In the open code, A and B already are in a kind of comradeship, counted on through a (political) friendship and love in “the common good” and “socially engaged contents”. This comradeship also stands for a mutual understanding and trust regarding the organization of the production apparatus, with the aspirations to affect the apparatus tactically in the direction of an envisioned transformation or change. The para-contractual conversation in the form of a tripartite open-code letter is characteristic for the so-called non-profit project sector or – in the post-Yugoslav territory – most often for the work of “independent cultural protagonists” and the development of what is called “the independent cultural scene” – something that, in a broader sense, could be recognized as a format of self-organized initiatives and cooperatives with, naturally, certain shared socio-political and aesthetic aspirations.

Examples of correspondence:

A – Hello, my dear XXX,
Long time no hear. We finally got the money to realize the ZZZ project I told you about last year, remember when we talked in the breaks at the BBB conference? The instructions have slightly changed in the meantime, because we had to make some adaptations, and to connect with YYY after all (project/institution/organization) in order to receive an EU grant, but the team is fantastic – you’ll see. We managed to make a draft of the concept I am sending preliminary – of course, if you have any comments, remarks, or similar – they are more than welcome. We are really interested in what you have to say about all this, but bear in mind that this is still just a draft … We haven’t had much time to focus so far due to all the bureaucracy, you know how it goes.
It is suggested that we organize a series of events during November – pls let me know if this suits you and what terms you would be able to join us. We should know the exact dates within the upcoming weeks, and we are contacting many people, who are all “all over the place” … You know how things are … Actually, we can postpone the whole thing for as far as the beginning of December, but no longer that that, because at the end of December the reports need to be prepared as well, uh-huh :).
Also, we shouldn’t forget “what keeps the mankind alive” – we can offer fees of 001 (the sum) to our collaborators – they might be small, but at least they are coming from the heart :) We are aware this is not much, but you are familiar with our working conditions. If you think this is not enough, considering the engagement in question, don’t hesitate to complain, maybe we could do some magic and squeeze some more euros from the production, and increase the sum for 50 euros or so … In any case, you can count on standard per diems, friendly meals, dinners and good atmosphere … That isn’t that bad either :)

kind regards and talk to you soon, your X

Here the text of the response sent by B would be mostly a direct reflection of text A – accessory and consensual.

The case of the tripartite letter open code (which is certainly never completely open because, for example, it does not put a comprehensive insight into the development of the project and budget allocation in the common field) reveals two sides of the discourse of love and care:

On one side, such processes can be perceived from the perspective of power, from the recognition of the effects of supra-state ideological apparatuses that project work is exposed to (international foundations, project networks, etc.), their subordination to totalizing tendencies of a neoliberal social order. In that case, such para-contract would mean an accessory agreement of A and B to be “beaten” by the hand of humanism (a kind of warmer, but also a creepier version of the previous model). This extended hand of an “active effort” (regarding the selling of their own labour) and “firm bonding” (in friendly forms and contents) is subtly coloured by the situation where everything is in the air, in the process, negotiation, agreement, flexible arrangement, and yet restrictively defined by the project form characterized by a lack of available time, tight deadlines, competitive networking, and self-precarisation. 20 In project forms, individuals put themselves into cooperation and interdependence, determine and reduce their own incomes, while the factor of modern technology speeds up this communication and production; the number of projects is increasing, as well as the amount of work, while incomes are decreasing or, in the “most successful” cases, they remain the same.

On the other side, individuals have certain autonomy in project management – they have the opportunity to intervene in the field where “worker does not apply working conditions, but working conditions apply the worker”, and to convert this classical form of suppression into its opposition. A good manager, like a train switchman, is in the position to reroute paths and direct the movement/thought/tendency into another direction (let us remember the character of a diversionist in partisan movies!). The possibility of intervention and action now opens towards a wider community as well, and refers to a collectivist, and a more democratic model or approach. Love would be the unifying element of such collectivization.

Here we can find the particle of continuing the thought brought by revolutionary feminism, and this is an attempt to create micro-communities, modern cooperatives in which interpersonal, working and social relations are organized differently. In her time, Alexandra Kollontai, a Bolshevik feminist, was inviting for a certain parallelism, a simultaneous construction of both the new social apparatus and the change of personal and interpersonal relationships, believing that the end of capitalism lies not only in an “abstract” organization of the state apparatuses and laws, but also in a concentrated and organized effort to transform personal and interpersonal relationships. 21 This invitation can also be seen as an invitation to revolutionize relationships based on p2p, in line with the struggle for integral social changes.

However, it is not that straightforward, or without a paradox, to use past experiences in a “handy translation” for the needs of a reformist politics of creating better and more equitable communities. Without any doubt, a full force of realization of this type of project is possible only through overcoming the capitalist system. Inside capitalism, it remains a tool of subordination or an inner transformation of the already-existing… while a true revolutionary practice strives precisely for the realization of the non-existent.

Creation, entrepreneurship, artistic labour/non-labour

How to conclude the consideration of this ideological transfer between creatio and productio, between the Spirit and Money, whose manifestation is mediated by various “parades” of love – interested and disinterested, with a vision or with calculation. What is the presumed terrain on which these relations unfold?

Still, the issue of creation, entrepreneurship and artistic labour cannot, in the historical sense, be reduced to a clear-cut and unambiguous opposition between art and the production of goods in some sort of totality. 22 This relationship has, rather, become the foundation for bifurcations and stratifications, conflicts and struggles occurring within art itself. The positioning takes place in the naming alone. Whether we recognize a certain artistic gesture or practice contextually and materially as creation, entrepreneurship or artistic labour/non-labour, says something about the practice – it introduces demarcation lines on the body of art-as-ideology, which are often the lines of the “class struggle within art”.

Through examples, analyses, dramaturgies of events and sketches of relations, we have touched upon three wide conceptual terrains on which artistic positioning is carried out – the terrain of high art, market art and critical artistic practices, which we have given special attention. 23

The concept of high art or art commission was originally developed as an aristocratic invention, only to later find its new iterations in modernist aestheticism and formalism. In the Keynesian welfare states of the 20th century, high art played the role in the state ideological apparatus 24 of the organized space of autonomy (the so-called relative autonomy of art) and was juxtaposed with the alternative culture (as the critical margins of society) and popular culture (often equated with the cultural industries). 25 Its connection with terms such as the public, politics or state, and occasionally the society (in socialist states), most often presumed connections with the dominant public, or “the public of the class in power”, which changed through different orders, just as art itself has changed.

The concept of market culture or market-oriented art appeared as an alternative to the academic dictate, primarily the dictate of the French and British academies and their production apparatus established according to the model of art commission or commissioned works of art. Art, as an already established (institutionalized) practice, entered a contractual relation with capital and responded to the market demand under the slogan of liberated individuality. The concept of art as a matter of individual taste was created by the rising middle class, bourgeoisie, emancipating itself from the public, policy and state, whose ideology at a given historical moment was dictated by the aristocracy and clergy. Today, this concept is the dominant mode of existence of art, which best reflects the logic of the 1:99 order.

Finally, the concept of critical art 26 opposed this binary pair of high art and the arts market. Critical artistic practices have developed from the doctrine of self-reflection and self-criticism of the artistic system, the Artworld (as Danto would say) or art-as-institution (as Peter Bürger formulated it 27, relying on the experience of the historical avant-garde).

One of the main goals of critical art was to return art, through criticism of the institution of art created in the liberal civil society, to everyday life and social practice, thus returning to issues of the modes of production and consumption, relying on the approaches of political economy and Marxist theories of art. 28 Various avant-garde policies of negating and provoking institutions of art in different contexts and situations attempted to create and defend a new and different public. By questioning the form and context of phenomena, and by questioning the relations between the content, form and organisation, critical art often returned the focus to the issue of artistic labour in different forms. In the historical development of art in the 20th and 21st century, we faced different manifestations of ideological interventions in the field of creation (creatio) through concepts the artist-worker, worker-as- artist/creator, through the slogan “everyone is an artist!”, through the concept of art as everyday life or everyday life as art.

However, what happens today if we return to the concept of artist-worker and we begin to think of art as labour?

On the one hand, the entry of the field of self-definition via the declaration “I am a cultural worker” represents a tactical operation, a mobilization call to the precarious cognitariat faced with neoliberal processes of the decomposition of the social sphere and welfare states, sending everyone it can to the market. To say “I am a cultural worker” is to reclaim the linguistics of broken socialism for the purposes of an existential struggle of artists that have been made redundant, just as many other industrial and social workers, who have lost their position in the general restructuring of the economy and politics according to the neoliberal dictate. “I am a cultural worker” is a signifier of the cultural solidarity with the contemporary working class, which results in the active denial of the ideology of art and the canon of creation. Such a declarative de-auratization of artistic distinctiveness represents an attempt to shift the focus to artistic and intellectual activity as labour that deserves social recognition and material compensation.

On the other hand, the opposition between artist-genius and cultural worker only accentuates the rupture between the autonomy of art and the heteronomy of labour, between the “ethereal existence” of an artist creating out of love and (social) ideals and the cultural worker immersed in the material existence, who creates motivated by external factors – profit and wages. Paradoxically, to say art=labour and to be a cultural worker is to consent too easily to the oblivion of all great dreams of autonomy and freedom in exchange for a little safe existence here and now. What does it mean to be a cultural worker in capitalist social relations? A creative slave? A freethinking hireling?

To accept capitalist labour and the principle Make Whichever You Find Work 29, as Marina Vishmidt and Anthony Iles demonstrated, is just another form of affirming contemporary market expansionism. To say “I am a cultural worker” means the same as “I am not an artist-social parasite”, 30 some sort of confirmation via negation or a boomerang effect of the neoliberal dyad utilitarity-redundancy. Cynically – the system could reply “if you are a worker – sell yourself, work and earn some money”, if the other industries are closed, at least the cultural industries are open – “apply your creative craft as a worker and work in the industries”…

There is something in disinterestedness that capitalism finds very disturbing, but it certainly does not mean a return to the same struggle for the autonomy of art initiated by enlighteners, philosophers of idealism and founders of academies. In any case, it is interesting to notice that the paradoxical struggle of cultural workers invokes an image of future society as a “society of workers”, whereas in the revolutionary situations of the 20th century one would dream of a “society of artists”. This is why the dramaturgies of the para-contractual conversations, which were the subject of this text, manifest numerous schisms, anxieties, contradictions, wants and frustrations of the contemporary protagonists of the art world, imprisoned like voices in the mind as a result of the inflated (im)possibility of self- realisation.

As an open ending – one true anecdote that formalizes and performs the claim that money represents the shame of creation through a paradoxical coupling of cynical conceptualism and tactical functionalism. After many years of discomfort over the struggle for his own worker’s and existential rights in the midst of discussions about beautiful and creative artistic matters, the artist X from Western Europe finally found a “Solomonic solution”. He gave form to this deafened schism by creating the fictitious character of his female manager Y, with an e-mail address and Southeast European origin. The artist X only discusses artistic creation, and the manager Y only discusses money. The same person is behind both e-mail addresses, simultaneously delegating tasks to both his “elevated” and “banal” half, conducting himself – as necessary – sometimes generous and sometimes restrictive, sometimes immersed in the content of the art and sometimes in the production needs, at times struggling for ideas and at times for money and subsistence.

Rather than as a convenient method for “ridding oneself of the sins of interestedness” with “disinterested ideas”, the anecdote is more intriguing for the way it situates, through gender, geopolitics and ideology-art, the schisms in one body and in “the right location”. This schism confirms the rule that today a true artist is only the artist who can say: “For everything else, please address my manager”.

Translated from Serbian by Mirna Herman

This article was first published in “Art & Money”, Frakcija 68/69, (Zagreb: 2013).


  1. The norm of love of art is derived from the Plato’s concept of love (love of philosophy) as transcendescence of human existance through self- realization, self-improvement, knowledge, creation, thinking, aspiration to immortality. See: Plato, The Symposium (London: Penguin Books, 1999).
  2. See: Arthur Danto, “The Artworld” (1964) Journal of Philosophy LXI, pp. 571-584.
  3. ibid, p. 582.
  4. Andrea Fraser wrote about the internalization of the institutional apparatus and biopolitical understanding of institutions in From the Critique of Institutions to an Institution of Critique Artforum, 44.1 (2005), pp. 278-285.
  5. Danto underlines the issue of recognition, distinction and not so much the issue of economy and status of goods that are in the focus of this text: “To see something as art requires something the eye cannot decry – an atmosphere of artistic theory, a knowledge of the history of art: an artworld.”, Danto, “The Artworld”, p. 580.
  6. There is something blatant in Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes – that repetitive and reproductive creation of series of objects, very similar to factory making with an element of aesthetization or, as Benjamin said, “auratization” – with an approach from, of course, cynical side of “aura” which equalizes spirit, love and money – functions as the artist’s brutal comment on the production of artistic values in the era of optimism linked to capitalist consumer society (Warhol dedicated many of his works to fetishist character of money). Paradoxically, and with the same brutality and cynism, nowadays, in the era of political and economic pessimism the dominant discourse of contemporary art seems to go back to the old arguments related to spirituality, grandeur and relevance of creativity, overshadowing money and putting capitalist relations aside.
  7. The concept of ideology of art or art-as-ideology originally belongs to Goran Đorđević, former artist, active on the territory of former Yugoslavia and internationally in the period 1973-1985. For Đorđević, ideology of art is characterized by concepts such as creation, genius, autorship, originality, uniqueness and distinctiveness resulting from “religious consciousness”. As opposed to art practice as the reflexion of religious consciousness, Đorđević’s (counter-) artistic works are based in negation of creation through exploration, negation of originality due to copies, negation of autorship through anonimity. See: Goran Đorđević, “Umetnost kao oblik religiozne svesti” (Art as a Form of Religious Conciousness), Oktobar 75 (Beograd: SKC,1975) and Goran Đorđević, “On the Class Character of Art”, The Fox, 3 (1976), New York. Also, Branislav Dimitrijević, “(Ne) mogući umetnik: o nestvaralačkim istraživanjima Gorana Đorđevića” and Jelena Vesić “Igrati na terenu umetnosti, ne biti karakter u priči, govoriti pozajmljenim glasom”, Against Art, Goran Đorđević – Copies (1979-1985), exhibition catalogue (Belgrade: Museum of Contemporary Art, 2014).
  8. Very often in the stands in the galleries selling works of art disguised in curated rooms it is impossible to discern markets with exclusive objects bearing price tags. The price is never there, not even if a particular work of art has been sold. If that is the case, the object is marked with a subtle, coloured dot to be noticed only by those for whom this piece of information is intended. For everyone else, this might be just another mega exhibition of contemporary art.
  9. Buchloh actually talks about artistic intervention in the field of the institutional revealing the very mechanisms and politics behind this representational field – instead of exhibiting theme works, objects, something created previously, what is being exhibited is the intervention in the given and complex institutional constellation where the artist is found. In such aesthetical domain art embraces the tools of bureaucracy: paperwork, documentation, work with advertisments and other papers – only to use them against the representative and repressive (institutional) apparatus producing the criteria for evaluation, aesthetical confirmation and introduction of values. The historical moment in art described and articulated by Buchloh also represents a moment in which he linguistically and politically reaches a certain turnabout in the field of artistic production – the paradigm of piece of art is replaced by the paradigm of work of art… or the artist’s work. See: Benjamin Buchloh, “Conceptual Art 1962–1969: From the Aesthetics of Administration to the Critique of Institutions”, October, 55 (1999), pp. 105–143.
  10.  By all means, productional form is always established as a kind of response to, as Althusser said, a call “hey, you” of the (dominant) ideology. Therefore, productional form is by no means some exterior, previously constituted rule existing outside of the practice itself, but rather the manifestation of productional form co-exists with its inception within the very practice.
  11. Classical, legally binding agreements rarely appear in the contemporary world of art, or, if they do appear, this happens only after everything has been done. Legally binding agreements in art and culture have a life of their own; they are autonomous in relation to negotiable reality in which works of art actually come to life. In that sense, they are separated from life as well – they are born dead and their only purpose or aim is to remain in institutional or bureaucratic archives (as post festum legitimation and not actualization). This very fact explains that there are certain problems related to understanding art as work and, consequently (and especially so) paid work.
  12. Gregory Sholette, Dark Matter: Art and Politics in the Age of Enterprise Culture (London: Pluto Press, 2011).
  13. It is also important to note that positions A and B remain fixed and unchangeable only in the framework of the predefined institutional relations in force within the system of the so- called social or welfare state, whereas in the times of projects, collaborations and flexible work, positions A and B can be very easily exchanged and altered. In that case, we are no longer talking about a pair composed of two elements and univocal relationship between the two, but rather about the entire chain of production and art creation ranging from macroeconomic policies to individual stakeholders.
  14. The notion of chain of equivalence and chain of difference is explained in Hegemony and Socialist Strategy by Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe (London: Verso, 1985).
  15. 15. In the first “case” stakeholders come to such positions through passive internalization of idealistic aesthetic, although most examples of project-based work and sometimes even some exchanged money (proudly avoided, erased and suppressed in conversation) serves for pure reproduction of life far from any kind of profit.
  16. Examples in speech found in this text are a product of dramaturgical research and close empirical encounter with various culture workers rather than “objective” scientific methods of research in sociology and anthropology. Scientific research methods involving tables, questionnaires, target questions as well as other forms of standardization together with alienated relations between the researcher and the surveyee together with the lack of reference to the topic, the exterior, objective position of the researcher are purposely avoided. Such research position is herein interior, emphatic and empirical and all individual experiences are generalized through multiannual extensive and intensive dialogue with different colleagues and friends sharing same, similar or different experiences. I would like to thank for their comments to the Kontekst collective, the Uzbuna initiative, the WHW curator collective, the TKH collective, Bojana Piškur, Vesna Vuković, Vladimir Jerić, Zorana Dojić, Radmila Joksimović, Svebor Midžić, Mirjana Dragosavljević, Darinka Pop-Mitić, Andrej Dolinka, Dejan Vasić, Jelena Petrović, everyone who has participated in discussions about the intiative called “the other scene”, Engine room project at the Cultural Center Rex, the Workers Inquiry in Reina Sofia project and David Berge.
  17. One of the examples of such relation would be the so-called open call invitations from editors for texts in thematic editions of glossy art magazines, participation in thematic panels, specialist publications, etc.
  18. Most often, this will reflect in the allocation of large amounts of money for equipment, promotion and marketing of the project, while small amounts of money will be used for content creation and payment of collaborators whose work presents the backbone of the project.
  19. Here I use the software term open code also connected to the term open institutionalism, referring to more recent attempts to reshape cultural institutions, common resources, and the cultural public sphere in an attempt to resist to austerity politics or placing the culture on the market. See: Tomislav Medak, “Open Institutions and the Reform of the Cultural System”, Frakcija, 60/61 (2011) (Artistic Labor in the Age of Austerity), pp. 50- 54. Also, contributions from the Open Institutions Conference http://zagreb.openinstitutions.net.
  20. For a (self-)critical analysis of project work and NGO forms see: Prelom kolektiv (Dušan Grlja and Jelena Vesić), “The Neoliberal Institution of Culture and the Critique of Culturalization”, http://eipcp.net/transversal/0208/prelom/en [accessed 3 September 2014].
  21. See: Teresa L. Ebert, Alexandra Kollontai and Red Love, http://www.solidarity-us.org/site/node/1724 [accessed 3 September 2014]. Certainly, Kollontai linked these issues to the question of emancipation of women and socialization of childcare, but I believe the request for a change of social relations on the “molecular” level of interpersonality can be set as a universal request – through a transformation of human consciousness.
  22. See, for instance, the text by Stipe Ćurković “Heteronomy of Labour/Autonomy of Art” in Frakcija, 60/61 (2011) (“Artistic Labor in the Age of Austerity”), pp. 50- 54. This valuable and exhaustive analysis of human labour and social relations from Marxist positions obviously retains an external view of art and artistic practice, approaching them from a sociological point of view as some sort of ahistorical phenomenon. In a short review of issues concerning artistic labour (the last chapter of the text, pp. 30-33), Ćurković speaks of art as a “block”, a monolithic structure without internal differentiation, historical development, class oppositions and political struggles. In other words, he sees art as a structure lacking, to paraphrase Althusser, a class struggle in the cultural production (a paraphrase of Althusser’s definition of philosophy as a class struggle in theory).
  23. In reality, these three provisional structures – high art enclosed in the ideosphere of idealism, market art determined by pragmatism and critical artistic practices determined by a materialistic approach to art – do not exist, as is always the case, in ideal isolation or conceptual purity. Rather, they throw into question the vision of art as a single uniform block levitating separately above the field of social events. The world of art, in all of its expansions, transformations and mimicries (as discussed above) is not an enclosed territory, but rather a broad spectrum of approaches and a terrain of struggle – a landscape of conflict, different positions and constructions.
  24. See: Luis Althusser, “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses”, in: Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (New York, Monthly Review Press, 2001), pp. 127-188, http://www.marx2mao.com/Other/LPOE70NB.html [accessed 3 September 2014].
  25.  It should be pointed out that many artistic movements, groups and individual artists who were active in the domain of modernist formalism had political and social utopian aspirations, most frequently related to the coexistence of the universality of modern art and the anticipated universal human emancipation.
  26. The proliferated term critical art probably means little today because every art represents itself as somewhat critical and political in the regulated domain of “appropriate” and “moderate” requirements. However, regardless of this proliferation, I would like to re-claim this term within the historical continuity of critical artistic practices as a continuity of points of discontinuities, cuts and ruptures with one of the dominant tendencies in a specific historical moment or specific circumstances. In this sense, criticism does not have to mean only negation as such, but also negation as the other side of affirmation of something never affirmed before.
  27. Peter Bürger, Theory of the Avant-Garde (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984 [1974])
  28. This return to the modes of production, as stated by Terry Smith, is used to differentiate between “natural processes of formation of minerals” from the “mechanical production processes”, which actually demonstrates that production is the ultimate issue of cultural development and the development of social organization. Also, Smith pays attention to the specific modus operandi of art that concerns both the mode of production, and the production of modes, for instance in the case of the development of historical realism of the 19th century – the production of truths about social relations of production. See: Terry Smith, “Modes of Production” in Critical Terms for Art History, ed. by Robert S. Nelson and Richard Shiff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996).
  29. Marina Vishmidt and Anthony Iles, “Uposli sve što ti dođe pod ruku”, Umetnik/ca u (ne)radu (Novi Sad: kuda.org and MSUV, 2012), and “Make Whichever You Find Work”, http://www.variant.org.uk/41texts/ilesvishmidt41.html [accessed 3 September 2014].
  30. In the full swing of budgetary cuts, it is precisely the autonomy of arts that has been cut. In the most extreme discussions, in the Dutch context, culture and arts have been declared “parasites of the honest working people paying taxes to the state”. See Jack Segbars, “The Dutch situation”, 10 February 2014, http://www.platformbk.nl/2014/02/the-dutch-situation-2/?lang=en [accessed 3 September 2014].