Michał Kozłowski, Jan Sowa, Kuba SzrederCONCLUSION: DISCUSSION OF ORIGINAL HYPOTHESES IN LIGHT OF RESEARCH RESULTS HABITUS, MOTIVATION AND EGALITARIANISM OF ART WORKERS
Michał Kozłowski, Jan Sowa, Kuba Szreder (eds), „THE ART FACTORY. The division of labor and distribution of capitals in the Polish field of visual art. A report by the Free/Slow University of Warsaw”, Warsaw 2014, p.30-37translated by
Christopher Smithedited by
Daniel Maloneeditorial support:
Hypothesis: Art workers are highly qualified and highly motivated (the work is seen as a calling), which explains their willingness to make sacrifices.
Hypothesis: The values in the field of art are love of art, creativity, independence, self-sufficiency, autonomy and innovativeness, which legitimize the consequences of symbolic battles and motivate the actors.
Hypothesis: The habitus of producers of culture may be captured through a hybrid model which combines traits characteristic of various professional patterns: competitive and rational micro enterprises, disinterested creators oriented toward joint action, self-organization and cooperation of enthusiasts, hobbyist amateurs and the like.
Workers in the field of art are highly qualified and strongly motivated. From a certain point of view it could be said that what are involved here are soft skills that are difficult to measure. But even if this is true of the rules of art itself, it does not apply to the competencies of the art workers. This does not have to do only with interpersonal competencies, which are highly prized (although treated by some as a suspicious surrogate for purely “artistic” competencies), or familiarity with recognized artistic taste. Work in this sector requires a combination of many varied competencies from highly different fields. This does not mean that everyone combines all of these competencies, but many of the workers have more than one specialization. Some of them possess classic artistic craft qualifications, which also have a measurable market value (graphics, photography and so on) and enable commercial activity alongside artistic activity; some possess high theoretical competencies, i.e. a broad-ranging contemporary education in the humanities, which is a particularly necessary condition for curators to operate in the field but is also often shared by support staff and artists. Writing a doctorate is nothing unusual in this community and is positively evaluated. Moreover, the dominance of the project method of work involves art workers in contemporary capitalistic forms of management, and the grant-based rhythm, including its related risks, dominates performance. Flexible—that is to say precarious—forms of employment apply to over half of the workers surveyed. Many workers in the art world take on various jobs requiring differing qualifications, which is also valued on the contemporary labour market.
Art workers are also very strongly motivated in the sense that economic incentive is not the only, or even the main, motivation for them to take up work. It may be assumed that this differentiates them strongly from workers as a whole. While we do not rule out that a sense of calling may also exist among other workers, nonetheless, in wage labour based societies at least, work is first and foremost (although clearly not exclusively) a method to gain means to live on. As art workers themselves declare, their willingness to make sacrifices— which primarily means to work for free—is often connected with the special status they ascribe to the work they do and, more broadly, to work performed in the art field. Although, as we will see, the structure of this motivation is somewhat more complex, it can certainly be said that the prospect of financial success in the future is not a sufficient explanation of their motivation to perform difficult and unpaid or low-paid work. It should also be said that the average income of employees in the art world falls above the national average per person. Thus a calling does not mean sacrifice for everyone. A fifth of them earn a monthly income per person above PLN 3,500, but a large group (about 40%) earn less than PLN 2,000 per month. Most commonly reported, however, were incomes between PLN 2,000 and 3,000 per month. On top of this, the average per person is increased by the fact that very few of the workers have dependents (children or the elderly) they must support. For at least a portion of art-world workers, the motivation to work entails financial sacrifice. It can be assumed that many of them could earn higher incomes in other sectors. At the same time, it should be pointed out that very few of our group follow the model of the romantic creator, who performs all of his or her work disinterestedly and limits oneself solely to creation, rather the former is maintained by other “non-creative” work. Many of them “compensate” economically for the free work of their “calling” through gainful “commercial” work.
The values which the subjects find in working in the world of art gravitate around an ethos ascribed to art since at least the Romantic era, although with certain significant modifications. The subjects do not use the category of “genius” or the jargon of creativity. They prefer to point to substance and competence as the key to functioning in this work environment. On the other hand, they ascribe a very high degree of creativity to their activity when they are asked about this in the survey. They also rank their profession very highly on the overall societal ladder of creativity (here placing themselves at the top in the company of scholars). This also applies to support personnel who, unlike artists and curators, are not credited with authorship. Art workers highly value their own autonomy, which they strongly link with creativity. They thus do not understand creativity as a skill of coping under conditions of compulsion but specifically in the spirit of activity free from compulsion, close to the Ancient concept of praxis. Autonomy is also tied however to freedom and lack of inhibition, which is after all characteristic of the artistic ethos.
Very often the subjects mention the immanent importance of art, although they are not so eager to explain the nature of this significance. They do not overestimate their social usefulness. Instead, they stress the specificity of their task, which in many respects differs from ordinary professions. They regard creativity as the most important thing, but still insufficiently rewarded (particularly financially). They believe that art often requires sacrifices, and that this is unavoidable. The majority of them indicate that they hold down more than one form of professional activity. Although they often indicate that this results from economic necessity, at the same time they say this gives them satisfaction. Having multiple competencies is a virtue, enabling them to avoid the monotony and limitations resulting from specialization in the division of labour. The multiplicity of tasks and skills has a disalienating character—which may also be tied to a certain form of the Romantic ethos, close to the German notion of Bildung—of the comprehensive self-development of the person, the key to which is participation in culture and art. Striving toward this ideal is never stated outright, but is clearly outlined. Thus at the same time we are dealing with both a belief in the objectified but unspecified value of artistic production, and a sense of fulfillment tied to participation in this process. The subjects seem to feel in some way singled out because of their own professional activity, and this gives them a sense of satisfaction and strong motivation.
An additional source of motivation may be the fact that the moral economy of the subjects coincides to a great degree with the rules for the functioning of this field, as perceived by them. They basically regard the distribution of resources as just. Criticisms of the prevailing state of affairs implicitly assume a deontology of art; they simply regard it as insufficiently realized. In other words, there is not enough art in art, the values of art should be reinforced, and values and assessments from outside may pose a threat. For example, it is not good when instead of artistic quality, recognition or involvement in a project is decided by interpersonal skills (“networking”) rather than “pure” artistic competence or substantive qualities. Similarly, art and culture are undervalued by the society. When they complain about their situation, they tend to blame factors external to the art world . The only exception is when they say they are overburdened with work. But the dominant view is that if art is not valued highly enough by the state and the society, it is understandable that art workers will suffer as a result.
An additional motivating factor for work may be that among workers in the field of art, there is a high degree of fluidity between professional and personal life. If the closest co-workers are also close privately, the significance of the professional stakes is magnified by the personal dimension. This also results in a higher degree of identification with the work environment and its common purposes.
Hypothesis: The field of art is culturally egalitarian, which means that differences in position and prestige are not strongly accentuated, hierarchies are flattened, the dress code is indistinct, and there is a lack of titles, degrees and the like, but this is combined with a strong financial hierarchization.
The question of whether the artistic work environment is culturally egalitarian, that is, whether it declares and practises egalitarian values (at least at a symbolic level) is difficult to answer unequivocally. Thus it is difficult to determine the relation this supposed cultural egalitarianism bears to the actual inequalities, particularly in income but also in prestige. It is readily observable that in the contemporary art world there are fewer symbols of status (titles, honorifics, visible distinctions) than there are for example in academia. This is also reflected in the political declarations of the subjects, where a leftist or liberal orientation decisively predominates (and a right-wing orientation is barely represented at all). If we assume that a leftist or liberal outlook (unlike a rightwing outlook) is characterized by mistrust for hierarchy, it may also be recognized that this community is characterized by much greater egalitarian sensitivity than that found in the rest of society.
Meanwhile, if we examine the opinions of the subjects on how the income ladder in society should look, we find that although it is much flatter than reality, in its own way it is more meritocratic than egalitarian. The worker should still earn the least, while the scholar should stand at the top of the pyramid. This well depicts the relativity of artistic egalitarianism. It is no different when we examine the predominant relations in the field of art. Here also the most valued and the best paid should be those who contribute the most creativity to the cooperation.
The subjects declare that neither sex nor age affects the position held in the work environment. It is difficult to say, however, whether this represents a depiction of egalitarian principles or a failure to perceive inequalities. A contemporary egalitarian culture can more often represent a sensitivity to perceived inequalities than common declarations of a prevailing equality. In this sense, the perception of the world as a place of equality and fairness by most of those surveyed may suggest instead that not much importance is ascribed to equality in this community or that they perceive existing inequalities as fair, therefore of little relevance . It is telling that the focus group interview, more than the in-depth survey, revealed highly non-egalitarian relations between the sexes, but this also raised our doubts about gender-related inequalities (for reasons explained below). Regardless of this, women more often work at support positions and are more numerous among the lowest-paid art workers. In terms of the overall differences in income, workers in the field of art are not a very egalitarian group: about 1/5 earn an income above PLN 3,500 per month, and 1/3 below 2,000. No doubt it would be easy to find professional groups where the differences are much greater. But this relative equality of the surveyed group results in part from our inability to access people located at the pinnacle of the income pyramid: a very small group with statistically very high earnings, the access to whom is severely restricted.
It may be stated that our art workers are not very egalitarian subjectively (in their postulates) but also do not tolerate drastic objective inequalities (in relation to other professional groups). If they are susceptible to exploitation, it is not because of an “egalitarian” superstructure and a “hierarchical” reality, but rather because they receive part of their payment in a feeling of mission, satisfaction, involvement and the aura that art exudes. They are what constitute the fabric of the illusio of work in art (the relevance of which we discuss on the further stages of).