Art is a history of doing nothing and a long tale of useful action. It is always a fetishization of decision and indecision—with each mark, structure, and engagement. What is the good of this work? The question contains a challenge to contemporary practitioners—or “current artists,” a term I will use, as contemporary art no longer accounts for what is being made—that is connected more to what we have all become than to what we might propose, represent, or fail to achieve. The challenge is the supposition that artists today—whether they like it or not—have fallen into a trap that is predetermined by their existence within a regime that is centered on a rampant capitalization of the mind.
The accusation inherent in the question is that artists are at best the ultimate freelance knowledge workers and at worst barely capable of distinguishing themselves from the consuming desire to work at all times, neurotic people who deploy a series of practices that coincide quite neatly with the requirements of the neoliberal, predatory, continually mutating capitalism of the every moment. Artists are people who behave, communicate, and innovate in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of daily life. They offer no alternative to this.
The notion of artists as implicated figures has a long history, visible in varied historical attempts to resolve the desire to examine high culture as a philosophical marker, attempts beset by the unresolvable problem that the notional culture being examined and the function of high cultural reflection are always out of sync—meaning the accusation that we are functioning in a milieu dominated by predatory neoliberalism is based on a spurious projection of high cultural function in the first instance that cannot account for the tensions in art, which remain the struggle for collectivity within a context that requires a recognition of difference.
Theories of immaterial labor—an awareness of the informational aspect and cultural content of the commodity—have exerted a profound influence on the starting point of current artists, allowing them to perceive the accusation as framed by the doubts that form the base of art’s work. As a result, the question “What is the good of work?” is at the heart of the work—it is not a symptom or product of accidental proximity. It accounts for the doubts and confusion that exist and explains why there seem to be moments of stress and collapse within any current art structure. These moments of critical crisis are an expression of resistance to the structure—a constant restructuring in response to the desire to avoid work within a realm of permanently unrewarding work.
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