The Work of Art
Value in Creative Careers
Culture and Economic Life
Published by: Stanford University Press
192 pages, 140.00 x 216.00 mm
- ISBN: 9781503603820
- Published: November 2017
Artists are everywhere, from celebrities showing at MoMA to locals hoping for a spot on a café wall. They are photographed at gallery openings in New York and Los Angeles, hustle in fast-gentrifying cities, and, sometimes, make quiet lives in Midwestern monasteries. Some command armies of fabricators while others patiently teach schoolchildren how to finger-knit. All of these artists might well be shown in the same exhibition, the quality of work far more important than education or income in determining whether one counts as a "real" artist.
In The Work of Art, Alison Gerber explores these art worlds to investigate who artists are (and who they're not), why they do the things they do, and whether a sense of vocational calling and the need to make a living are as incompatible as we've been led to believe. Listening to the stories of artists from across the United States, Gerber finds patterns of agreements and disagreements shared by art-makers from all walks of life. For professionals and hobbyists alike, the alliance of love and money has become central to contemporary art-making, and danger awaits those who fail to strike a balance between the two.
The stories artists tell are just as much a part of artistic practice as putting brush to canvas or chisel to marble. By explaining the shared ways that artists account for their activities—the analogies they draw, the arguments they make—Gerber reveals the common bases of value artists point to when they say: what I do is worth doing. The Work of Art asks how we make sense of the things we do and shows why all this talk about value matters so much.
This chapter introduces the reader to the book's focus on valuation, explains its use of artistic practice as an object of study, and situates the research in economic sociology. It provides an overview of the research the book is based on and points to the questions that drive the rest of the book.
This chapter presents the historical context for the remainder of the book, and argues that an occupational turn has changed the art field and the valuation of artistic practices over the past fifty years. It considers the ways that artists' engagements with markets and demands for remuneration have changed over time, and shows how artistic practice has come to be understood as a job by a majority of artists. The chapter shows how the assumption that art is and should be work has structured conflict over the valuation of artistic practice.
This chapter presents two instrumental accounts of value that are widespread in art worlds: pecuniary and credentialing accounts. The contours of each are discussed, and their relative legitimacy and legibility in and outside of art worlds are considered.
This chapter presents two additional accounts of value that are widespread in art worlds: vocational and relational accounts. The contours of each are discussed, and the chapter ends with a discussion of the ways in which new accounts are institutionalized.
This chapter argues that the four types of account discussed in previous chapters together create and define the field of art practice. It shows how a historically, culturally, and nationally specific landscape of value is constructed through the interaction of broadly shared accounts, and explains how artists and others use its boundaries to determine whether or not a given individual, practice, or artwork is legitimate. It focuses on the relationship between vocational and economic accounts, and contrasts the book's findings with the expectations of a Bourdieusian framework.
This chapter discusses the interactional context of interview and ethnographic research on valuation and explores the methodological ramifications of dependence on secondary sources. It argues that agentic valuation practices, including revaluations and conflict over valuation, are difficult to observe in public speech but readily accessible in interactive contexts.
This chapter looks at the ramifications of an emphasis on conflict between aesthetic and economic goals in public life by investigating one artist's tax audit. It shows how insisting on a dualism between artistic and materialistic concerns hurts artists, and it argues that the book's findings allow for a fuller understanding of artistic practice and meaning in working life.
This methodological appendix discusses the process of the research behind the book and the choices made by the author in data collection and analysis.
"The Work of Art offers an intimate investigation of the economics of earning a living making art: where the money comes from and where it goes, and how artists justify, to themselves and others, their strategies for supporting their work. Alison Gerber makes a solid contribution to sociology, to economics, and to our understanding of the practicalities of an artistic career." ~Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds
"Alison Gerber's The Work of Art is a welcome treatment of how artists develop their self-conceptions and their production practices. This account expands our insight into a cutting edge area of economic and cultural sociology, examining the art world where questions of valuation and good work are highly salient, and provides an exciting approach to how material objects are given value. Personal and powerful, Gerber's work will alter how those who care about the lives of artists think about the role of money and identity in the creative process." ~Gary Alan Fine, author of Everyday Genius
"The Work of Art is an important and much-needed contribution to the neglected question of how artists value their work and time. It is a well-written account that paints a nuanced portrait of art as work and pushes forward sociological thinking about valuation, especially in nontraditional employment." ~Elise Herrala, American Journal of Sociology
"For those who are interested in the practice of art, the art world, and how artists see themselves,The Work of Artprovides a fascinating account with its innovative approach. Revealing that artists ultimately lead 'decommensurated lives,' where they coexist with different and competing values,The Work of Artilluminates how artists make sense of this in their careers and own lives. A wonderful and insightful read not only for artists but for all people who are trying to navigate the values of the market and what it means to be human."––Lee Trapanier, VoegelinView
"The Work of Art is an important contribution to the sociology of art, and may also be of great use as a case study in economic sociology. It is a lively and accessible book, and a useful window into a topic that people rarely discuss with the candor elicited in Gerber's ethnographic interviews." ~Nicholas P. Dempsey, Social Forces