Extensive Modernity: On the Re-functioning of Artists as Producers

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Abstract

The chapter proposes a novel reading of the ties (continuities and discontinuities) between 'modern' and 'contemporary' art, introducing the concept of 'extensive modernity'. The chapter builds on my research on artistic labour in relation to globalisation, conducted since 2008, which is why I was invited to contribute to this edited volume.

The chapter opens with a question: can art cease being 'modern' while the demands of a capitalist art world persist? If not, how has 'the modern' changed from the 20th to the 21st century? The analysis contextualises and addresses these questions historically, revisiting Walter Benjamin's notion of 'the author as producer' developed in his essay under the same title (1934). The argument proposes a critical update of Benjamin's emphasis on production so as to outline the key characteristics of the art field in 'extensive modernity'.

The analysis suggets that the driving illusion for art in extensive modernity is that art self-identifies as a participatory democracy (a promise of what I call 'the postmodern parenthesis', the heyday of which was the 1980s) when, in reality, the contemporary ar field is primarily a participatory economy. I pay particular attention to a NEA (National Endowment for the Arts, USA) Report which introduces an important parameter of this economy in stating that artists are not "outsiders" but "make things and perform services", which is why they can be defined as "workers". The radical identification of artists with workers made in the 1960s and 1970s in the West has consequently been neutralised in the context of the creative economies that formed under the hegemony neoliberalism, post-1989. The criticality of modern art as originally encountered within the struggle against alienation has then been subjected to a re-functioning that has contributed to the rise of post‐Fordism and the genesis of the self‐managed individual that today we find at the heart of artistic labor.

The analysis of the re-functioning of artists as producers in extensive modernity, effected through a transference of responsibility from making art to participating in the art world in various ways and capacities, suggests that if an avant‐garde can be said to exist today (and there has been much discussion of such an avant garde), its claim to a transformative politics for society as a whole can no longer be legitimised through the artworks it delivers as labour 'outputs' - no matter an artist's good or indeed radical intentions. Rather, this avant garde must consider through what practices it can destabilise its connection with the participatory economy of art workers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationA Companion to Modern Art
PublisherWiley-Blackwell
Pages245-261
Number of pages17
ISBN (Print)978-1-118-63984-9
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Keywords

  • Modernity
  • art producer
  • Walter Benjamin
  • Contemporary art

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