Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Responding to Jan Verwoert's "Why this town is big enough for more of us" *

I remember first reading Jan Verwoert’s essay, “Life Work”a couple of years ago and feeling both disturbed and drawn to this cult of the art world's inability to separate work from life. Is this really what the subversion of the division of labour leads to: the absolute collapse of our pleasure from our pain?  As we all still operate within a capitalist society, this collapse of pleasure and pain into a single stream towards achieving value is further complicated when we remember that labour remains the root of value. 

I had left an office job then, the last real job I held, fulfilling my obligations to be somewhere between 8:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. Monday to Friday with mandatory overtime plus working as a full time art critic, serving on boards, and organizing various events. The balance of life and work was out the window. I worked all day just so that I could work all night (made all the more ironic as I was employed by a new business and lifestyle magazine that was targeting the balance of work and life). 

I didn’t know I would begin devoting my life to work, but I knew I was not going to devote my life to working twice. The day job financially supported the precarity of my moonlighting, thus undermining the labour value of what I had actually been achieving.

The alluring cult of the art world then is something more than just exchanging services for financial compensation. It must offer something of value if people are willing to work for free. Dare I say there lies buried in art a purpose that keeps us running, influencing our ways of being, our ethics, and intentions. Here is another non separation: the trinity of the body, mind, and spirit. I am not religious in any official sense, but I do believe in more. More questions than answers, more narratives than doctrines, and more voices than outlets.  

Frameworks is a starting point to more. The model boils down to reframing conversations  between people who care. The first event was led by Jan, who generously challenged how we perceive the values and obstacles in our life work. He could only do so amongst a group of strangers by being an intent listener, as one can only engage with what is going on in a room if there is the will to listen.

The one resounding fact, as eloquently echoed in “Life Work”, is that, “no matter how fast the art world grows, we – ‘we’ being those who have become part of each others’ lives through what we do – will continue to inhabit the worlds that we together create for ourselves.”  We can only begin to shift the system if we collectively shift, and that includes listening to and revaluing how we have been talking to each other through our life’s works.


Jan Verwoert, “Life Work” Frieze Magazine Issue 121, March 2009

*First published on Frameworks Scotland