an Audience is more than Customers
a Gallery is more than a Showroom
Art is more than a Product
Culture is more than a Byproduct of Wealth

Then, why are artists expected to be business persons who make profitable products to show at prestigious galleries for their rich clients to maintain artist careers and life?

Let’s not forget “Artist” is a real job, and artists’ labor is labor. (not an investment, or magic)

Let’s talk about artists’ unpaid labor.

Videos by Bryana Bibbs, Lynn Basa, Nayeon Yang, Breanna Robinson, Eseosa Edebiri, and Marie Baldwin

So we put our lives on the line for writing.
No one
held us at gunpoint.
That’s the tragedy.
Twirling the world around the waist like a pink hula hoop
we ate,
we drank,
waited all those years.
In the end,
we shot at each other.

– “Made in the 70’s” by Eunyoung Jin

Translated by Nayeon Yang

Inverse Proportion: Art as (not) Labor

is a project to realize art practice as practical “work.” I want to discuss the inherited social framework that fails to recognize artists’ labor and their rights to get paid for it.

As I study the relations of labor and capital, it is natural to question the odd equation: Artists’ finite resources, such as physical and emotional energy + time + money ÷ Art = Living condition. The more I work on art, the more destitute I get.

“To survive as an artist, you need a wealthy partner.” This was a joke from an established artist at her talk when I was a student ten years ago. Recalling this “joke” now, I cannot laugh even slightly. It is still too close to reality, like when I heard “To survive as a woman, you’d need to meet a rich man” in my childhood. I am still in a society where I cannot be independent and where I need to rely on someone’s “generous” support, even though I work more than 60 hours (art+day jobs) a week. In this sense, the artists’ labor is similar to women’s household labor and caregiver’s labor, which are not recognized as valuable “labor” in a patriarchal society; artists’ resources, such as their labor, time, and money they earn from day jobs, are too often taken for free to feed the art industry. I want a society where a joke like “meet a rich partner” doesn’t need to descend to the next generation.

Nayeon Yang
Nov. 2021


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