Notes on Liam Gillick’s “The Good of Work” (2011)

Notes on Liam Gillick’s 2011 essay The Good of Work.

The author introduces this essay by characterizing the history of art as the “fetishization of decision and indecision – with each mark, structure, and engagement”, and asks “what is the good of this work?”:

The accusation inherent in the question is that artists are at best the ultimate freelance knowledge workers and at worst barely capable of distinguishing themselves from the consuming desire to work at all times, neurotic people who deploy a series of practices that coincide quite neatly with the requirements of the neoliberal, predatory, continually mutating capitalism of the every moment. Artists are people who behave, communicate, and innovate in the same manner as those who spend their days trying to capitalize every moment and exchange of daily life. They offer no alternative to this.

Gillick’s description of the “current artist” echoes that of Katy Siegel’s Live/Work essay – in which the artist is indistinguishable from the “regular” worker. Gillick goes on to explain that:

The reason it is hard to determine observable differences between the daily routines and operations of a new knowledge-worker and those of an artist is precisely because art functions in close parallel to the structures that it critiques.

The general style of Gillick’s essay is quite difficult for me to read, so I am not sure if I am fully grasping all of the points made in the text.

What I do find interesting though is Gillick’s notion of overproduction – “operating freely, openly, and on demand” – as a form of “active withdrawal” from the “simple commodification of art”. This “active withdrawal is for Gillick an alternative to the more common practice of withdrawing labor in order to limit supply and thus “consolidate specificity”. “Active withdrawal” is “viewed as a problem within the gallery structure”.

While I am unsure if Gillick is advocating overproduction and availability as a strategy for “active withdrawal” from commodification, I do think that this way of “operating freely, openly and on demand” is more a practice of the “minor” artist, who has to work harder to be “seen”, that of the established or “major” artist, who has already gained recognition. In this case “active withdrawal” would actually be more akin to the opposite practice of “attention seeking”, or a “thirst” for opportunities and recognition.

I think that I will revisit this essay at a later date, as I am sure that there are more insights to be gained here.

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