Wages Against Artwork

Decommodified Labor and the Claims of Socially Engaged Art

Book Pages: 280 Illustrations: 21 illustrations Published: August 2019

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, Cultural Studies, Theory and Philosophy > Marxism

The last twenty years have seen a rise in the production, circulation, and criticism of new forms of socially engaged art aimed at achieving social justice and economic equality. In Wages Against Artwork Leigh Claire La Berge shows how socially engaged art responds to and critiques what she calls decommodified labor—the slow diminishment of wages alongside an increase in the demands of work. Outlining the ways in which socially engaged artists relate to work, labor, and wages, La Berge examines how artists and organizers create institutions to address their own and others' financial precarity; why the increasing role of animals and children in contemporary art points to the turn away from paid labor; and how the expansion of MFA programs and student debt helps create the conditions for decommodified labor. In showing how socially engaged art operates within and against the need to be paid for work, La Berge offers a new theorization of the relationship between art and contemporary capitalism.


“This highly original work of Marxist aesthetic theory is a must-read for anyone interested in art and capitalism. Leigh Claire La Berge's thought experiment on how labor might go unpaid and still in a nontrivial way remain labor intersects in fascinating ways with arguments about reproductive labor made by feminists and brilliantly cleaves through mainstream academic culture's increasingly entrenched alternatives of using either ‘biopolitics’ and ‘real subsumption’ to understand our contemporary economy. I learned so much from this book and it still keeps me thinking.” — Sianne Ngai, author of Our Aesthetic Categories: Zany, Cute, Interesting

“In elaborating a concept of ‘decommodified labor,’ Leigh Claire La Berge offers a fresh and provocative frame that changes how we understand the dynamics of art, labor, and social change. Marshalling a range of case studies on both established and emerging artists, Wages against Artwork is a fantastic contribution to an ongoing dialogue on the arts, on economics, and on how we define the social in socially engaged art.” — Shannon Jackson, author of Social Works: Performing Art, Supporting Publics


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Leigh Claire La Berge is Assistant Professor of English at Borough of Manhattan Community College, City University of New York, author of Scandals and Abstraction: Financial Fiction of the Long 1980s, and coeditor of Reading Capitalist Realism.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface: The Argument  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction: Socially Engaged Art and Decommodified Labor  1
1. Art Student, Art Worker: The Decommodified Labor of Studentdom  34
2. Institutions as Art: The Collective Forms of Decommodified Labor  75
3. Art Worker Animal: Animals as Socially Engaged Artists in a Post-Labor Era  118
4. The Artwork of Children's Labor: Socially Engaged Art and the Future of Work  157
Epilogue: Liberal Arts  198
Notes  205
Bibliography  239
Index  249
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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