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"autonomy" blog

Dave Beech / FREEEE /

"Artists struggle to make a living but the precarity of someone who has made sacrifices in order to produce the art that they choose is not equivalent to the precarity of the unskilled labourer holding down two or three part-time jobs just to stay above the bread line. Artists are creative labourers whose personality is performed in a virtuoso display, but this is not equivalent to the fast food worker who is instructed by her employer to add personal details to her uniform because the marketing department believes that this will add to the customer experience. Artists tend to continue with their work in some way when they leave the studio, by visiting galleries, reading theory, attending conferences, hanging our at private views, networking with critics and curators, taking notes, making sketches or taking photographs of things that catch their attention, picking things up that might come in useful and so on, but this is not equivalent to the retail worker who is expected to work beyond their contracted hours in the shop, who is under pressure to retrain in their own time and at their own expense, and who comes up with ideas for products or display from which the shop owner ultimately profits. While artists might justifiably belong to the precariat, we should not proceed, therefore, without differentiating between what we might call different levels of precarity, different intensities of precarity and even different modes of precarity. In fact, capitalism is a precarious system. The capitalist who ventures a fortune on a business enterprise can find themselves ruined by it. By and large, however, capitalist invest money over and above what they need to reproduce their own standard of living, and their precarity is a rather limited one. Some artists can be as poor as church mice, but for other more well heeled artists, or artists cushioned from necessity by wealthy parents, their precarity, we might say, is more formal than real. Economic and social distinctions must be brought to the idea of precarity. Consider the romantic avant-garde artist who chooses precarity against a regular job. In this context precarity equals freedom, freedom from wage labour. Precarity is riddled with distinctions. Being precarious because you are a working–class wage labourer in a region that has lost all its industry is rotten; becoming an artist despite the fact that income for an artist is rarely secure is a different matter. "



I agree that precarity as a term for lumping together many groups is risky if not damaging. There are different kinds of precarity, and the risk of any massive grouping in the name of solidarity is that the 99% becomes "we're all middle class now". I'd argue that difference must always be highlighted and that solidarity does not have to mean reduction, this is surely the fundamental point of intersectionality.


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