Wages Against Artwork

How can socially-engaged art challenge the rise of decommodified labor?

Wages against artwork : decommodified labor and the claims of socially engaged art

La Berge, Leigh Claire. Duke, 2019
261p bibl index, 9781478004233 $99.95, 9781478004820 $26.95, 9781478005278

In this provocative treatise, La Berge (English, Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY) examines the rapid shifts that constitute the dynamics between art, labor, and social change. Her premise is that cultural workers’ downward spiral of earning power is accompanied by the ever-increasing demand for their productivity. She names this phenomenon “decommodified labor.” La Berge argues that socially engaged art built on social justice platforms can destabilize traditional structures of economy and autonomy by creating independent structures that critique current trends and encourage economic equality. She presents intriguing chapters on art student workers, artist-formed collectives, animals as socially engaged artists, and the artwork of children, looking at works outside the mainstream to sidestep the downward spiral of the economic burden of working in the arts. This timely book serves as a compelling starting point for discussions about the inequality and economic divide that are invisible yet dominant in contemporary art. A must read for those engaged in cultural production, the book includes valuable and extensive notes and some black-and-white illustrations.

Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty and professionals.
Reviewer: J. Natal, Columbia College Chicago
Subject: Humanities – Art & Architecture
Choice Issue: May 2020