File spoon-archives/avant-garde.archive/avant-garde_1998/avant-garde.9806, message 86

Date: Tue, 23 Jun 98 13:11:10-040
Subject: Re: Artists' unions and anti-art

> Well, I don't know how far this argument goes.  First, I am not sure what is
> meant by art not being "valued".  True, so-called "public sculpture" is not 
> much "valued" by the general public who is supposedly its beneficiary, but
> Hollywood films, advertisements, TV, car design, packaging, magazine layouts,
> computer graphics, clothes design, office-furniture design -- these seem to me
> quite ubiquitously popular with one or another segment of the "general public"
> and quite a central item in the culture, no?  And even so-called "fine art"
> is, one assumes, "valued" by people like gallery owners, etc. who make a proft
> off of it.  

I suppose that this discussion might wrap back around into Poetry and Money. Art, it seems, is fundamentally disconnected from -- orthogonal to -- the economic space of workers who produce according to the demands of the market, who adjust their output to maximize consumption or profit. The normal operations of a Union -- negotiating greater benefits from employers in return for altered structures of production -- would seem to be inoperable for "honest" artists, who are expected to report on themselves, on culture, the natural world, and so on. 

An artist is "allowed", even expected, to make unpopular things; a car designer who made an unpopular car would be, by the very logic of his profession, deemed a failure. It all goes back to the fundamental paradox pointed out by Aristotle; we enjoy depictions of things that we would ordinairly dislike -- decaying bodies on a battlefield, etc; it usually takes a long time for the "public" to move to this second level (of aesthetic appriciation).

Perhaps the mostly nearly isomorphic example I can think of are the Journalist unions, which have been successful even in today's antilabor atmosphere. Journalists are often as unpopular as artists and are expected to keep their economic ambitions separate from their work (in contrast to the rest of the economy); if it can work for them, perhaps the artists have a chance as well.

One thing to keep in mind is that the notion, popular today among armchair economists, that skilled workers are resistant to unionization, is a myth. Given sufficiently poor working conditions, any trade will unionize; look at Yale's graduate students a few months back.

-- Simon

> Secondly, there have been times and places where artists have unionized in 
> some form; the Artists' Union is the US in the 30s is one example.  So I am 
> curious about histories, material and philosophical, of such phenomena.

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