[...a short thing on work...]

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this is a short response to the 43000 blog posts i’ve read recently in which artists have justified themselves making a living in part by claiming never to work less than 29 hours a day and to have only once been on holiday in the last 14 years, and that was actually just a walk to the aldi at the end of the road to buy toilet paper.

Yeah, you know, fine. Whatever.

But also, here’s a thing: work is not a moral good.

In fact when you start to talk as though it is, to justify yourself on the basis of how much work you do, even just to yourself, you’ve already implicitly bought in to the pernicious, inhuman ideology from which a strivers vs skivers narrative springs in order to justify attacks on the weakest and most vulnerable members of society. The value of a human being does not lie in how much supposedly productive activity can be extracted from them before they break. And it doesn’t even make you good at hard-nosed business-savvy take-no-prisoners capitalism either.

Here’s what Bill Gates says about lazy people:

I choose a lazy person to do a hard job, because a lazy person will find an easy way to do it.

Which is to say that even for the techno-capitalists’ techno-capitalist, laziness can be a productive force, promoting invention and efficiency.

Any boss of any kind who mistakes getting people to work hard for getting people to work well is a shit boss. And that still holds if you’re your own boss, as many artists are. christ – it still holds if you’re a programmer trying to get something out of a computer – the brute force alogrithm is the least elegant, the least sophisticated, the least intelligent and the least efficient.

Here are some things that i’ve done, without which i would be unable to make some of the work i’m making now:

sat and looked at the sea
got a little bit drunk with some old anarchists in Bradford and listened to their stories of organising creative demonstrations against the national front
cycled up a mountain
stared blankly into space
got really drunk with some actors
listened to Bjork
set up a radical performance reading group
sang my daughter to sleep

All of these things have proved to be necessary for me as an artist and it is necessary for me to make space to do things like this in order for me to be an artist. But they are clearly not work in any sense of the word that anyone who’s ever had to, you know, go to work would recognise. And it would be disastrous for me to start thinking of them as work, because that would instrumentalise them , fetishise them, and alienate me from the experiences and actions themselves, and consequently from what they would produce in me as well.

Now, maybe you deserve to earn a living as an artist. Personally i think all people deserve a living (whatever that is) even if through a combination of circumstances they are unable to work productively (whatever that is) but that’s just because i’m a human being who thinks that human beings should be treated like human beings. But anyway, if there’s value in your art, it’s in your art, yeah? Not in your doing 78 hour weeks.

ps – i know there’s a general line of attack that people like to make which portrays artists as scroungers who can’t make their way, whose work is invalidated if it is publicly funded and doesn’t appeal to all people ever and who are somehow morally lacking if they are not supported entirely through their engagement with the market. this line of attack is ideologically motivated and is concerned with trying to devalue all activity which isn’t directly economically productive, even if it might have many indirect economic (and non-economic) benefits, and to confuse democracy with the untrammeled operation of the market. explaining to people who make this argument how hard you work won’t make the tiniest difference. reject the premise and deconstruct the ideology behind the argument people.

One Comment

  1. Posted December 18, 2013 at 1:09 am | Permalink

    Great piece of writing, really enjoyed it. Thank you.

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