Artists Are Not Working-Class

A Book for Everybody Who Doesn't Love Capitalism Forever

Comments

1
art with a capital A is inherently the most honest form of artificiality. The biggest threats to novelty, beauty, and innovation is political correctness and homogenization. These things are by and large coming from the STATE, not "multinational corporations". Let's see; who has murdered the most people over the last 100 years, governments or corporations?
2
If all art was made by anonymous artists it would be horribly politically incorrect. Art would be on the same level as terrorism in our culture. Basically everything you despise and fear the most is deliberately edited out of the art.
3
Formally trained successful artists have rarely, if ever, generally been working class. Who can afford art school? Who can afford free internships and apprenticeships? Who can afford years of uncompensated obscurity? Very rarely working class people.

Instead of redefining in Orwellian double speak the term "working-class," why don't we talk about how we can actually get more poor people into art schools ect. and keep working artists out of abject poverty?
4
"keep working artists out of abject poverty?"

Gub'ment!
5
Working class artists are only considered artists if their very rich friends decide they are quaint enough to let into the clique. Get a clue. The class gap in art is as wide as it is any where else and, like anywhere else, guess who has the upper hand in defining that gap, and art itself?
6
A professional art critic whose book is published by the propaganda arm of the Leninist-Trotskyist International Socialist Organization (Haymarket Books) has bad things to say about the Situationists? The same Situationists who accurately blasted Leninists, Trotskyists, and other Marxists as those who understood Marx the least, and professional artists as those who understood art the least, and especially "radical artists" as those who understood basically everything the least? No shit....
7
"street Marxist"

That's when I stop reading. (I'm an artist.)
8
True artists can be (and are) working class. The question is whether they can break into a salable market. Even Basquiat had to pose as an inner city breakout to get fame. Artists are everywhere. Open your eyes.
9
No food no Art. With one in five children living in poverty in the US, regular access to nourishment might trump access to Art education or indoctrination.

Do you think financial education will change Wall Street? I do believe education on race and gender and economics can help elevate the consciousness of children of all ages but if you think that it is going to change capitalism, especially in the art world you be cray-cray.

Davis might have created a Marxist wireframe on how the “art market” operates and yes it might look frighteningly similar to Mean Girls collect art. Davis admits there are winners and losers, sounds kinda like capitalism:

5.3 However, in any given historical situation, some forms of creative labor are valued over others; some types of labor are considered more exalted, others less so

www. creativefactoryoccupydallas .com /9-5-Theses-on-Art-and-Class-by-Ben-Davis

This article made me think of Chris Jordan, and a quick search I found Jen Graves interview with him and this sentence resonated, she does say she is rooting for him though.

“It might have been a nice work of art, but as activism it failed”

I think I will flip the sentence about the Davis manifesto, as activism it fails but it is a nice book. I of course have not and will not read the book because I am too busy working.

Kate Grenville gave a talk about art and change and I find it more accessible and aligned to my Humanist likings.

www. kategrenville .com/node/58

Ultimately, I don’t need a book to remind/explain to me of how fucked a life path being an artist is. I am just hoping to get a cafe show and maybe sell enough to make my materials back. As for activism, the suffering of the artist class is not high on my list.

I altered the links to post anonymously
10
The Marxist producers of Entartete Kunst think that the world owes them a living--specifically they demand welfare from those who actually do work for a living and they whine when nobody wants their 5 minute "masterpieces" These progressives should get a real job.
11
What’s batshit is making sweeping assumptions about everyone who makes work, and, with insulting certainty, insisting that “everyone gather around” to devour Davis’s work. If we don’t, we “must love capitalism forever”.

Please.

@Sirkowski (7) – I laughed - and ground my teeth - at the disingenuous description of Davis – who doubtless supports himself well through speaking, publishing, and otherwise “being ensconced in the highest echelons of Fine Art” – as a “street Marxist”(apparently with a NYC apartment). It’s enough to discourage any reasonable person from reading further. Graves’s conjecture that Davis writes from a place of conflict is probably correct. If so, it’s no surprise that, according to her, he omits any mention of said conflict in his book. His philosophy diametrically opposes Greenberg’s, but his delivery mirrors C. G.’s smugness. If “your relationship to your labor“ denotes class, he and Graves are on shaky ground when lecturing the rest of us.

In a perfect world Davis would have to defend his opinions to a resurrected Picasso and the Basques who endured the atrocity of Guernica. Oh hell, the more the merrier: Vladimir Tatlin, Frida Kahlo, David Wojnarowicz - and the still very much alive Judy Chicago, Kara Walker, and Anselm Kiefer. I think I can safely say that none of them were/are strangers to the sticky mess of gatekeepers, politics, and institutions, compounded in several cases by sexism, racism, homophobia, and the restrictions of illness. While their biographies wouldn’t rebut all of Davis’s arguments, they’d foster more intelligent debate than the dead horses Hirst, Koons, and Saatchi, who so conveniently enable the author’s position.

A propos, it’s a leap verging on false equivalency to go from “Guernica” to Allora and Calzadilla’s 2011 Venice Biennale installation. Graves has already written extensively on the filthy rich global clusterfuck of art fairs, and the earlier propagandistic joint venture between the US government and MoMA to fight Commies with culture. Actually being bombed is a bit different from political ass-covering.

To quote Adam Turl in his redwedgemagazine.com review of “9.5 Theses on Art and Class”: “beyond the bourgeois patron and the academic specialist, art audiences are drawn to art out of the need to escape the disenchantment of life”. Suzi Gablik and, to an extent, Donald Kuspit, were writing about this idea and punching holes in both the art establishment and the pitfalls of artists’ self-exaltation over 20 years ago. We need a variety of viewpoints that evolve as history unfolds, but if I recall correctly from my readings, Gablik and Kuspit were devoid of Davis’s arrogance and lack of self-insight.

What’s really irritating here is that, once again, those who create works are asked to justify themselves and what they do – and those who work closest to the ground, with the fewest resources, get conflated with big names and the (yawn) “Art World”.
Some artists make work that expresses more obliquely the convictions they actively implement in other ways; some do so as a counterbalance to energy expended in social action; others proceed from a possible mix of these motives and other drives and interpretations. Citing Turl’s review again, most of us already “recognize that art is not just an intellectual game”, that it is “part of the world”. We’re not hung up on how extraordinary we are or ruminate extensively about, as Comrade in arms (9) puts it, “the suffering of the artist class”. We do our thing and what we need to do to facilitate it. Davis defines this as “middle class”. I think it’s pretty much in line with the everyday lives of the non-aristocratic.

I’d like to believe Graves is spoofing the cliché of the dictatorial critic: specifically, his/her tendency to form mutual admiration societies and echo chambers with other critics. I know better by now. It’s ironic (in the old non-hipster sense) that this piece is shot through with a complacency that feels positively – well - bourgeois.

12
I am in agreement with Ms./Mr. Paintwhiskers- the completely unfounded generalizations that this whole premise is based on are just silly.

Certainly, there are a few artists who are middle class. Tenured College Professors come to mind.
Except, nowadays, MOST art teachers in Colleges and Universities are part time, no benefits, temporary workers hired by the semester.

I have been in this art thing since 1972 or so, full time. And in that time, I have, indeed, known a few millionaires who were artists. Most were millionaires before they were artists, or inherited wealth, or made money at Microsoft or in Hollywood or in business.
I have also known a whole lot more artists who are hand to mouth, working as cooks, copy shop desk clerks, cabinet makers, home health care aides, retail clerks, farm workers, factory workers, and employees at virtually every type of business in the Seattle area.

Thats why they call it the "1%"- because the other 99% of us arent in it.
And while a tiny percentage of artists make a living from their art- my guess is the number of artists who "hit it big" and make as much as, say, a big city policeman or fireman (you know, solid middle class) from their art- that number is probably in the low thousands, as in, below five thousand, nation wide.

You could count on your fingers and toes the numbers of Seattle area artists who make as much from their art as a decent insurance adjuster or midlevel microsoft employee. Everybody I know besides maybe Gary Hill and Dale Chihuly, has a day job.
A few of us, like Buster Simpson, have a day job doing public art- but believe me, thats a job, not unfettered creativity. And that accounts for maybe another 20 people in the northwest.

So, in my mind, artists are, without a doubt, overwhelmingly working class, even if they occasionally read the New Yorker.

Also- artists are NOT all left wing progressives. The distribution of political opinion in the art world is similar to the rest of the world- a few marxists, a few fascists, and most of the rest in the great unwashed middle.
I know a bunch of conservative artists, always have. Libertarian artists, republican artists, and right of center artists. Plenty of em out there.

I think one problem here is that some people confuse going to art school with being an artist. Most people who go to art school do not, in fact, become artists. They go straight, get jobs, have families, and become normal. Only a few people have that unquenchable, uncontrollable urge to make art, all their life, no matter what, and are actually artists. And a lot of them didnt even go to art school. Some did, of course, but correlation is not causation.
13
Have any of you read the book yet?
14
"You are very likely to hear an artist decry multinational corporatism, violations of workers' rights, prison conditions, or any of a parade of classic liberal causes; you are precisely as unlikely to run into those same artists at the street march or meeting organized to fight for those same causes.... Which is batshit."

No, it is the above generalization which is batshit.

While I basically agree that it would be good for everyone (not just artists) to be more politically and civically involved, it doesn't need to be couched as an all-or-nothing proposition. Some show up, others don't. And at other times others show up and some don't. You don't need to distort and exaggerate to make a point.

"Precisely as unlikely" is a spurious use of language to give a veneer of precision and objectivity to what is a baseless assertion. (Check out "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell for more on this type of empty rhetoric.)

Back in 2003, while The Stranger was coming out in support of the Iraq invasion (shame on you, Dan Savage) I and my artist wife would go with our artist friends to protests large and small and run into more friends, many of whom were also artists. As a demographic, artists were well-represented.

As an organizer, I used to put on events which used art and performance to underscore and support various political causes. I would send press releases and even basic calendar listings which The Stranger casually ignored. That was their prerogative, of course, but it would be nice if the paper were to venture outside of its ruts and cliques once in a while.

I think what is happening here is Jen Graves is holding a mirror up to herself and mistaking it for a reflection of society as a whole. I'm not as active in the arts or activism as I used to be, but I still show up--Occupy Seattle, May Day rallies, marches against police brutality, etc. Know how many times I've seen Jen Graves at these actions? Precisely zero.
15
Um, please disregard my previous comment as it was incomplete. Here we go again...

"You are very likely to hear an artist decry multinational corporatism, violations of workers' rights, prison conditions, or any of a parade of classic liberal causes; you are precisely as unlikely to run into those same artists at the street march or meeting organized to fight for those same causes.... Which is batshit."

No, it is the above generalization which is batshit.

While I basically agree that it would be good for everyone (not just artists) to be more politically and civically involved, it doesn't need to be couched as an all-or-nothing proposition. Some show up, others don't. And at other times others show up and some don't. You don't need to distort and exaggerate to make a point.

"Precisely as unlikely" is a spurious use of language to give a veneer of precision and objectivity to what is a baseless assertion. (Check out "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell for more on this type of empty rhetoric.) And how would Jen Graves know if the person standing next to her is an artist or not?

Back in 2003, while The Stranger was coming out in support of the Iraq invasion (shame on you, Dan Savage) I and my artist wife would go with our artist friends to protests large and small and run into more friends, many of whom were also artists. As a demographic, artists were well-represented.

As an organizer, I used to put on events which used art and performance to underscore and support various political causes. I would send press releases and even basic calendar listings which The Stranger casually ignored. That was their prerogative, of course, but it would be nice if the paper were to venture outside of its ruts, cliques, and pet causes once in a while.

I think what is happening here is Jen Graves is holding a mirror up to herself and mistaking it for a reflection of society as a whole. I'm not as active in the arts or activism as I used to be, but I still show up--Occupy Seattle, May Day rallies, marches against police brutality, etc. Know how many times I've seen Jen Graves at these actions? Precisely zero.

But I still wouldn't say, "You'll never see Jen Graves at a protest." That would be mere supposition based on an incomplete data set. And that's neither accurate nor fair.
16
"The problems he coolly identifies are structural, not personal." The defensive reactions of the artist commenters here seem to miss that incredibly key point.

In a capitalist context artists are "set up not to identify with the facelessness and directness of street level struggle."

This seems to me like an analysis that could be awesomely useful if people can get past taking it personally.
17
Though I wish I could buy the idea that artists are only interested in aesthetics... I think the only thing artists can truly unite behind is the individual voice, and more to the point, truth. Truth has no universal voice, and even trying to find truth in an individual voice is a constant struggle for an artist. This pursuit of truth flat does not translate into a group protest. Groups don't agree on a truth; they dilute and compromise and ignore disparities for the greater good. So the artist either pumps his/her fist to what she/he will consider less than truth (which is to say: a lie) or stays home and keeps trying to express his/her viewpoint and (gasp) even hoping to make a difference without compromising his/her own truth. That's what it feels like. It's not some purist ideology. It feels much closer to a physiological imperative. Must people continually insist everyone be built the same? Can't I do it my way and you do it yours?
18
An artist, unless they are born wealthy, has, by definition, two full time jobs- one to make money, the other to make art.
This tends to cut into your free time.

I have known my share of "street marxists", professional protestors, and agents of direct street level struggle over the years- and most of them were either trustafarians, or had nice solid middle class jobs that allowed them the luxury of spending their paid days off protesting.

Although, if you look at the history of the anti-war movement, the gay rights movement, the feminist movement, and most of the "street level struggle" of the last 40 years, visual artists have actually figured prominently on the frontlines of all of them.
19
A correction to my post: when I quoted Turl a second time, I cited both Turl's words "art is not just an intellectual game") and his quotation of Davis's own ("[a]rt is part of the world"). It's hardly a sentence Davis can claim as a novel creation, but I was slightly mistaken when I wrote the comment.
20
It is clear that some of the commentators above have not read Ben Davis's book.

Moreover, while I might not agree with Ben Davis on absolutely everything I do agree that visual artists, in terms of their relationship to the art market, are "middle class" (in the Marxist sense of the term): They autonomously produce commodities that are then sold in the art market. They do not own the means of production (so they are not capitalists) nor do they (as artists) pull wages in exchange for their work (so they are not workers).

Of course, because it is so hard to make a living as an independent artist, MOST artists are also working-class. But those jobs generally have very little to do with making art (and even when they do the workers have little to no autonomy). The work of being an artist begins when you leave your barista, bartending, teaching (depending on the school) or gallery assistant job.

I am also somewhat perplexed that Paintwhiskers quotes my very positive review of Ben Davis to make his or her point.
21
Artists and intellectuals belong to a separate class. There is much more in common between artists and intellectuals of different countries than with members of the middle and working classes in the same country of residence of the artist.
22
I guess only true Marxists get to define all terms- but, speaking as a visual artist, I DO, sure as hell, own the means of production- I own all kinds of equipment, tools, buildings, a forklift, and my "studio" is indistiguishable, in most ways, from about 3 combined capitalist small factories- one woodworking, one metalworking, and one sewing and textile production.
This is not uncommon- I know other artists who, by necessity, have accumulated the equivalent of small factories. Many of them even have employees.
And still, miraculously enough, we make, at the end of the day, about what a seven eleven clerk does.
Yes, it is possible to be working class, AND own the means of production, and still not have enough money to buy the stuff middle class people do.

I know quite a few artists who fit Turl's description, having barista, or bartending, or assistant jobs.

But I also know quite a few artists who make variations on their artwork for money- furniture, jewelry, tableware, glasses, pottery, or who use the same tools they use for their artwork to repair or do contracting or make products. These people never enter into the relationship between workers and bosses- instead, they are mini-entrepeneurs, much of it gray market, under the table, and non-recognized by either governments OR Marxists.

So- I think realistically, an artist can be Working Class, Middle Class, AND a Capitalist Overlord all at once. But, of course, without having health insurance, a pension, paid vacation, or, usually, any savings to speak of. All the evil characteristics of the evil Boss, without any of the benefits. Sounds like America in the 21st Century to me.
23
I haven't read Ben Davis's book and may not be making much, but at least I passionately love what I'm doing.
24
Dear Mr. Turl,

My intent was chiefly to question Grave's critical voice - which seems here to be little more than slavish endorsement. Her editorial style of presuming for her readers ("you must love capitalism forever"), and issuing a silly, patronizing ultimatum, flies in the face of open intellectual inquiry. None of us are free of bias. I can't fault Graves for that. I can, however, take issue with disregard for even a semblance of objectivity.

No, I've not read Davis's book - yet. It is newly published, I've only just heard of it, and I have reading, work, and other obligations ahead of it. Grave's problematic presentation of the author and his work aren't automatically pretexts to close myself off from challenging viewpoints. I don't, however, believe that a critic is insulated from examination of her own writing. It is, after all, a work in itself.

I quoted your review because the words cited told me, and most of my associates, nothing we did not already know. "[T]he narratives of everyday life" include every scale and context of human existence. Neither you, Davis, nor Graves can know what everyone sees, feels, endures, aspires to, and fights for and against…and by what means. No one who knows me (and I'm surrounded by scholars, activists, and hard thinkers) has yet to tell me that I've "self-exiled out of any movement that isn't aesthetic". I'll listen when one of them speaks up.

I freely admit I'm not a Marxist scholar. In an academic debate with you, the odds are overwhelmingly against me. Were I more concerned about establishing my own hegemony, this would bother me. Instead, I thank you for noticing and responding to my comment.
25
The title and its premise could have been better stated. You don't need to be an activist to be working-class.

But yes, artists can do more to connect culturally and politically to their communities. Artists err too often on the side of introversion. Meanwhile, there is an untapped artistic possibility of engaging with the community as a part of one's practice and process.
26
Consider the similarities and contrasts between Joan Baez and Bob Dylan: the inter-art parallel is relevant, as both are truly dedicated to their art. Joan Baez was an activist in Vietnam War protests and civil rights events. Bob Dylan made occasional appearances at best. Yet it was Bob Dylan, with his bleak tortured view of the human condition (he grew up in northern Minnesota, after all!) who contributed more to the progressive movement than any other artist; more, one could almost say, than all the other artists put together. And while political activists criticized Bob Dylan for being AWOL at their events, Joan Baez accepted him for being who he was destined to be. Judge not!
27
Oy. Jen Graves, I love your writing and I will definitely read this book. Thanks for an intriguing article, I love ideas that upset people.