A part of Gillick’s “accusation” is that the artist is the perfect “knowledge worker.” This has important implications for a question central to Marxist aesthetics. Some recent discussion about the artist’s class position (see Davis, 9.5 Theses) have focused on their entrepreneurial nature—that their personal fulfillment and their professional fulfillment have significant overlap. Gillick, too, contests partly that the “accusation” is that artists offer little to no alternatives to the neo-liberal model of entrepreneurship. Artists “communicate and behave in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of everyday life.” Resulting “moments of stress and collapse” in their practice are a natural outgrowth of the resistance to a possible “realm of permanently unrewarding work.” Gillick seems to advocate not for expression in art but instead for a contextual “breakdown of the barriers between work, life, and art.” He reminds us that the fact that "it is superficially hard to determine observable differences between the daily routines and operations of a new knowledge worker and an artist is precisely because art functions in a close parallel track to the structures that is critiquing.” 


The attempt to fit artistic production into neat categories of commodity relations, since at least the 1970s, has been a complete quagmire that ignores the immaterial, discursive, (perhaps neo-Trotskyite), practice so endemic to “contemporary art.” Gillick explains that “art is a series of scenarios/presentation that create new spaces for thought and critical speculation.” Further “art is” not a functioning relationship of producer and consumer structured by a pre-determined imperative to work, but an “ethical equation where assumptions about function and value in society can be operated upon.” For Gillick, they are at best “capitalizing” upon an immaterial labor or good, a situation afforded to them by the “constant restructuring” of the “models of the recent past.” “The notion that artists are a perfect analogue for the flexible entrepreneurial class is a generational concept that merely masks a lack of differentiation in observation of practice and the devastating fact that art is in a permanent battle with what came just before.” Some have even advanced the proposition that artists should be paid for their work/time when included in exhibitions. But how do we engage them in such a materialist position in light of this? How do we use precise terms to pin down commodity relations when at every turn the practice "defies the logic of capital"?  


Gillick writes of the artist's capitalization of the mind – the “accusation” is that they are “in thrall to the processes of capitalization.” He then defines this by investigating scenarios of control the artist apes from capital. These structures include leisure, deadlines, ethics, research and documentary practice, the limitation of the commodity, and the promise of a better life. Capitalization is sometimes predatory. I lean towards its definition as “interest capitalization” because that is the most predatory of the various uses of the term in finance. The principal balance in this case is the loan that culture, Modernism disburses to the art, the license to work in the free zone of play and immaterial scenarios. The artist then moves through a practice in Gillick’s characteristically “discursive” manner, constantly looking to take the advances made and “capitalize” them back upon of the balance of his territory of “continually mutating” exchange. 


AuthorMike Pepi


I’ll try to deal with Gillick’s concepts of capitalization of the mind, the “accusation”, the artist as immaterial laborer or knowledge worker, and his definition of responsible didactic criticism as they appear in his essay Doing Nothing. Gillick opens all of these with the following estimation of “current artists”, a term he uses to avoid the thorny associations with “contemporary art”: “The challenge made is that artists today… have fallen into a trap that is pre-determined by their existence within a regime that is centered on a rampant capitalization of the mind.”  One definition of capitalization in finance is the addition of the accrued interest of a loan back on to the principal balance. There are other definitions, but I find this one brings up notable parallels to the artist’s vested contingencies and the power that is ceded and gained through them.

There will be more entries, but let me begin by stating that Gillick leads me towards a definition of capitalism vis-à-vis aesthetics as a system that erects “barriers between work, life, and art.”