art for hire

Economically, art has been viewed as a resource, a commodity, a process, a secondary good, a technology, and as capital. The role of art as a producer of and storage for cultural capital has historically been the most important for society as a whole. Today, however, the general stock of cultural capital is declining. Other trends in the current information economy include a greater appreciation for art as a source of innovation than for art products as commodities in themselves; recognition of the ability of art to serve as a source for minority communities seeking a niche in the global economy; and an increase in efforts to quantify cultural capital. The problem of the decline of cultural capital should be a matter of concern to civil society as a whole.

--Sandra Braman (University of Illinois), Art in the Information Economy, 1996

We should all be rewarded for our work.

Fair compensation for one's labor is a relatively modern concept. Historically, worker antagonism, militant unionism, and various forms of sabotage have often been the result of management mistreatment. Theorists on work have developed the idea that workers perform better when their jobs had a beginning and an end and when they saw themselves as producing something of value. Others have claimed that performance is higher when employees feel that they are being fairly compensated for their efforts (Cohn).

Artists have complex relationships to the patronage systems that enable their survival and the economic systems of which they are a part. Too often, artists are portrayed as standing "outside" the system they are living in...but careful consideration reveals they are complicit in a system of cultural production. Artists can help to reveal the system of which they are integral parts. Through careful consideration of the sources of economic support and the uses to which their creative work is put, artists can become more active agents in how their work is received and impacts society.

Inquiry Questions

1) What determines the value of an object? How much is your "labor" worth?

2) What patronage systems existed in the past for supporting artists?

2) What patronage systems exist for contemporary artists?

3) What relationship do you see between the way in which society is structured and the production, appreciation, marketing, and distribution of art and other cultural products?

4) What do you value about works of art? How much is your "labor" worth as an artist or "cultural worker"? Is there a market for what you do as a creative person?


1. Public Art (2D Studio Fundamentals, UNIT VII: Compositional Strategies)


Hans Haacke, Jeff Koons, Joseph Kosuth, Louise Lawler, Martha Rosler, David Salle, Andrea Fraser


Bourdieu, P. (1993). The Field of Cultural Production. Columbia University Press, New York.

Braman, S. (1996). Art in the Information Economy. Canadian Journal of Communication, 21 (2), 1.

Cohn, Gordon. Improving Employer-Employee Relationships: A Historical Perspective. Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (URL:

Haacke, Hans (1984). Museums: Managers of Consciousness. originally in Art in America, no.72 (February 1984), 9-17.

Howe, J. (2005). Paint By Numbers. WIRED magazine, (New York: The Condé Nast Publications Inc.), Vol. 13.04, April issue, pp. 84, 88-89.

Kimmelman, Michael (2005). Art, Money, and Power. New York Times, May 11, pp. B1-B6.