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22 December 2018

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Hey, just getting to this now. Are you still listening I wonder?

Work, as I am interested in and as I talk about it, is all about relationship. And as such, work is only meaningful as long as it is in service of someone (“solving someone’s problem” as many marketing and startup heads say).

Does art do this? Sometimes. A good art, in theory, would *always* be directed at someone in particular, and shifts that someone’s perspective, challenges her assumptions, and helps her grow.

Actually, I think good art is an excellent medium to this kind of work, of helping people grow. And for the creators to grow at the same time; it’s a beautiful illustration of mutual service and gifting that happens in human relationships. It’s a beautiful example of what WORK, in general, can be.

The problem we have today is that the word “work” has been co-oped by the system of current capitalism, wrongly focusing on output-per-hours.

We “work” when we punch our timecards. “Work” is our title, not so much what we do (sitting in the corner office, or on the beach, typing a blog post, or scrolling through social feeds.) Instead of focusing on whose needs we are meeting, work is about how much we are doing, whatever the purpose and whoever is needing the outcomes. We answer to directives spat out of our bosses’ mouths, not knowing who is benefitting from what we do. We know, though, through our “work” we somehow need to jointly justify our meager salaries, in dollars and in hours.

At national and international scale, this becomes GDP, and economic growth (the ultimate “winning” measure of our time) is based on how much more we are “producing” per year.

So factories churn out clothes no one wants to wear, bread and rice sit around on the shelves and warehouses *not* feeding the hungry. We destroy native forests and convert them into sellable products (timber, oil, bottled water). We are happy as long as we are “working” that gets us some money, and money, originally a shorthand for the services rendered for someone, has become only the means for buying stuff.

I would personally like Work of Art to be, at least partially, to help us reclaim the meaning of work and expand it from the current equation of “hours and dollars spent and earned.” To the realm of service, communion and personal and social growth.

What does this mean, tangibly? Art can challenge our notion of what work is, and show that to Work (of Art) is to relate. To work (of art) is to help someone. To work (of art) is to give, with a clear intent and purpose, and without necessarily expecting a direct payment for it. To work (of art) is to contribute to the common sense of wellbeing in the wider world around us.

Can I make this a focus of my work? I think I can. Will you?

I’m totally with most of what you’re saying here. You called it, essentially. But there was one thing you said here that really stands out for me,

“We “work” when we punch our timecards. “Work” is our title, not so much what we do (sitting in the corner office, or on the beach, typing a blog post, or scrolling through social feeds.”

There’s this other thing that capitalism has done with the advent of social capital and a reliance on a “marketplace of ideas” and that is turn leisure time into “work” as well, or “labor” more specifically. From here, I’ll use “work” to talk about effort taken exclusively to gain personal capital, and “labor” as any effort that benefits any external forces.

Because that “writing of blog posts and scrolling through social feeds” is most assuredly labor. Labor that few of us are able to turn to work and are heavily encouraged to do for free. Even encouraged to do at the expense of proper sleep and our own time use for no compensation financial or otherwise.

It’s not enough any more for us to work at a job to make people we’ll never meet rich, we’re also expected to dive into our digital realms and argue and vote and like and create content that exists on platforms we don’t own that act as a free backdrop to show and sell advertisement space in or around.

So in many ways, we modern people are always working. Even when we’re making art, when we showcase it on a platform, and have it evangelized we still end up creating value and relational currency for the owners of that platform. The social growth we create is still in position to be co-opted by powerful forces that will use what we’ve offered and transform it to their own wealth. It’s crazy.

So while I do feel that it behooves us to take back our work and do art because we believe in our communication and flat out NEED to create, I now recognize how important it is to control as much of the “means of production” as one can when making and sharing anything.

Your last line underscored the importance of this thread, and it made me come back here despite all my notions about how “inconvenient” and “user-unfriendly” this is, and my inclinations to prefer face-to-face conversations (or use whatever medium is most easily available. which is why it took so long for me to reply!)

Yep. The ancient and middle age people too always worked, though. The problem today is that we are slave to money and without money we can’t survive (which wasn’t the case in the beginning—all was given, and exchanged, as we needed, and we were happier to give freely what we had, too.) So we separate work/labor into what we earn money from, and what are more dispensable/less important (even when that’s not the case, like making art). I want them integrated. Work-play-life-integration is where my thoughts on this started years ago in seattle, and after forgetting it for some time I’m coming back to it…

But maybe your point was that all of our labor, even the “unessential” creative work (or just leisure, and soon, sleep as well) is now coopted, commodified and colonized by the rich corporations, and to that I completely agree (without the conspiracy theory undertones haha).

What does the alternative look like? My guess is that it’s inevitable that the current system collapses within our lifetime. So something will by default emerge. It would be nice to know, though 😀

Hahah I thought I left out the conspiracy theories. I’m just talking good ol’ marketing and gamification of essential activities. Facebook did that trick we do to kids when we tell them to “make picking up their toys a game.”

I’m just hammering that point that our facebook arguments, product research we do on amazon, videos we click “like” on on Youtube are labor. These activities add value to the platform that is not shared with those of us that use it. When they figure out how to get ads in our dreams they’ll be sure to invest in sleeping pills and mattresses.

“Google Mattress. Sleep everywhere”

Work/Play/Life integration sounds pretty good. Honestly, I think that’s what I strove for in Phnom Penh and largely built in many ways. But the desire for more still permeates my experience. I have located difficulty in my thinking.

Doing well comes with a need to do better. Doing nothing feels like being absolved of responsibility but I’m finding it sets me on paths chosen by much larger, capitalistic others. And while it’s not bad for someone to make money from the work I do, I now feel a great deal more responsibility for whom I allow to do so.

For me the Work of Art is to frame the magic moment. But also to discover it, to live it, to breathe and ingest and enjoy and note and engage with it. Maybe just being with it and noticing is the work and the art: both.

From our email thread…

I’m thinking that the ‘Work of Art’ question is a very, very big one indeed. Because maybe it’s about making people see that the relevance that Art has on their lives is one in which they find real meaningfulness… outside of this other stuff that gets us kind of depressed.

What is winning?

What is real?

What is art?

What is work.

Many questions.

I have been moving things around in the folders at Book of New Things… there are artworks in my personal folder, and there is a schedule now with a Brussels issue called ‘The Work of Art.’

If anyone wants to write for that, the copy deadline will be 10 days before the publication, so as to give me time to work with you on it, and see what else we can make to go together in a nicely curated set.

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