Are you working too much?

By Eva Kenny

E-flux’s new book, Are You Working Too Much? Post-Fordism, Precarity, and the Labor of Art, is a collection of texts from their online and print journal that have, over the past year, dealt with the subject of art as work and art-related workers in the post-Fordist economy.


Post-Fordism is a term that refers to the conditions of contemporary work as it has changed from a factory production line based model. In the latter part of the twentieth century, shifts towards making the workforce more flexible in terms of hours, more specialized in what they do or make as dictated by market demands, and more precarious in terms of rights and benefits as well as an increase in the growth of service industries are generally agreed to be characteristic of Post-Fordist labor conditions. Given that every part of the political, public or civic sphere is now dominated by the economy, it makes sense that the art world be submitted to the same analyses and in fact, the case is made here that art work and art workers are actually paradigmatic of the new conditions of labor.  Occupations that previously would not have been considered artistic, like medicine or governance, have learned from art how to be quixotic and virtuosic or, in Diedrich Diderichsen’s expression, “intense.” This develops the argument made by Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello in The New Spirit of Capitalism: that capitalism has learned from and incorporated many of the critiques directed at it by avant-garde artists and counter-cultural critiques from the 1960s onwards. In the essays by Diedrich Diderichsen, Mariane Von Osten and Hito Steyerl in particular, there’s a historical look at the changes in the roles played by art and by capitalism in the popular imagination. Diederichsen’s text “People of Intensity, People of Power: The Nietzsche Economy,” describes an advertising company in Dusseldorf in the 1970s that employed an ex-Fluxus artist with “the specific task of interfering with business as usual.” The artist’s brief is to show advertising executives how to be intense and nonconformist: intensity, previously the preserve of artists, is brought into the mainstream to disrupt traditionally managerial thinking and encourage a more creative work environment. When there is a stable Fordist father figure delegating and deciding at the head of the company / firm / state, Diderichsen explains, this system works very well, but Boltanski and Chiapello and the essays in this book diagnose the opposite problem, one of the over-identification of capital, from the top down, with its critics. The question posed by this book, on the back cover, is this: what’s good about art when what used to be good about it (“flexibility, certainty and freedom”) is now what’s bad about the capitalist system?


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