Since I graduated from art school things have gone pretty good. I’ve found interesting people to collaborate with, my friends with crappy part-time jobs have invited me to come to speak to their college classes (for pay ranging from $50-$500) even though they know my lame ass cannot return the favor, and I’ve developed my skills as an arts writer, editor, event planner, and administrator to a point where sometimes people pay me to do these things.
Now I should state that I don’t necessarily feel I should be paid more money for doing these things. My ideas are very rough and underdeveloped. Even though I have pretty decent follow-through, most of the time I am winging it. I put out publications and press releases with glaring typos. And when I am managing a budget that involves paying others, I almost always combine the budget with favors, unpaid assistance, and other approaches to stretching small budgets super far by basically exploiting peoples labor. And I do so in the most friendly and respectful way possible. I promise.
The shitty part is this: While I am trying to exploit friends, interns, and nice people with a smile on my face and a genuine commitment to producing interesting, provocative and challenging culture…there are people who ARE PAID relatively well to do similar kinds of labor but they do it with a bad attitude, poor follow-through, with lame ideas, and treating people as sucky as possible all along the way.
And while this may get under my skin, I still don’t have an expectation that I SHOULD be paid better to do what I do. Because A) we do not operate in a meritocracy or a friendlyocracy; B) without some sort of social-democratic or socialist system or truly autonomous self-organization (hard to achieve in this complex society) in place, then our solutions will always just be band-aids on a broken way of organizing our lives (with art being a small part of that); and C) the larger cultural and economic logic in which we and the art institutions and the arts-finance-complexes we love to hate thrive on exploitation and competition. So I don’t expect that people who are higher up the totem pole will magically disappear and then all the “ethical” artists and administrators will replace them. Because I think that if that happened then everyone in those positions would be faced with the same dilemma: in a system in which culture is simultaneously so integral to the capitalist economy and also de-prioritized as a “public good” then the harsh market itself is the strongest entity organizing culture. And with that being the case, I don’t expect that my hardworking ass or anyone else’s hardworking asses are going to get what’s fair just because we ask, or we work hard, or we deserve it. Because if an abstract, profit-hungry, labor exploiting, and culture-savvy free-market capitalism can get me to bend over backwards and get me to get other people to do the same – then why would it stop? That is a remarkable achievement. Getting people who know better to still bend over backwards in order to please the market.
So I can make all the “good” culture I want. And others can make all the “lame” culture they want. But if we keep playing into the same logic then how will it ever stop? Asking for extra pay or more fairness in a system that wouldn’t work without exploitation is the same thing as factory workers in the US asking for better pay and forgetting about the people in other countries who get exploited in the end after the jobs are off-shored. We must look at these things in a holistic and integrated manner – not just look for better compensation from a broken system. Our work as radical artists must be to understand and to address the root-causes of ours and everyone else’s oppression. Our radical art should make sense of and interpret the root-causes of the economic and cultural logic’s that structure our lives and imaginations.