The Political Economy of Artistic Autonomy: Rade Pantić, Katja Praznik, Mike Watson

The Political Economy of Artistic Autonomy

A discussion with Rade Pantić, Katja Praznik, and Mike Watson, leading thinkers in the field of the critique of the political economy of art. The event is part of the program of the exhibition the Antinomies of Autonomy and is moderated by VladanJeremić, curator of the exhibition and accompanying program.

The event is organized by the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia.

Rade Pantić focuses on the autonomy of art and the specific economy of artistic production. Namely, the autonomy of art is commonly understood as something which is opposed to the market and consumer demand, as a barrier to the penetration of the capitalistic economic mechanisms into the sphere of artistic production. Pantić shows that the autonomy of art, exactly opposite to a common understanding, is that instance which enables a specific economy of artistic production and its integration into the mechanism of accumulation of capital. Specifically, by giving aesthetic recognition only to certain artists and their works, art institutions produce an artificial rarity of the market supply of art works and thus transform the sector of artistic production into a field of limited production, ie. into a monopolistic sector of production. The consequences of the ideology of artistic autonomy are, on the one hand, the monopoly prices of the works of a small number of artists and their inclusion in the speculative financial markets, and on the other hand, the structural unemployment of most artists and their exclusion from the art market.

Katja Praznik discusses the ways in which the paradox of art as labor that is not recognized as such is linked to and reproduced by a widespread understanding of the autonomy of art and why the bourgeois ideal of autonomy obscures artistic labor as a particular form of exploitation. Considering artistic work as labor and artists as a workers embedded in the economy and subject to the economic relations, Praznik tackles the question of why are autonomy and creativity divorced from fair payment, welfare protection, and artists’ labor rights, and to what extent is this impasse an obstacle for unionizing art workers.

Looking at memes it was argued by Mike Watson that great potential still exists in online culture, if we can overcome digital capitalism, the domination of algorithms, and their tendency to derail a discussion. To do this we need to assert our autonomy in the Adornian sense. But what would autonomous art mean today? And would it necessitate the embrace of abstraction as Adorno argued?

Rade Pantić is the co-editor of Savremene marksističke teorije umetnosti (Fakultet za medije i komunikacije, 2014.) and the author of Umetnosts kozi teorijo: historično materialistične analize (Založba *cf., 2019). He is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Media and Communications, Belgrade, where he teaches theory of ideology, theory of arts, urbanization studies, and studies of Yugoslavia.

KatjaPraznik is the author of Art Work: Invisible Labour and the Legacy of Yugoslav Socialism (University of Toronto Press, 2021) and Paradoksneplačanegaumetniškegadela: avtonomija umetnosti, avantgarda in kulturna politika na prehodu v post socializem (Založba Sophia, 2016). She is an Associate Professor in the Arts Management Program in the Department of Media Study at the University at Buffalo where she teaches courses related to the political economy of the arts, cultural policy, and research in the field of arts management.

Mike Watson is a UK born art and media theorist, critic and curator who holds a Ph.D. in Philosophy from Goldsmiths College. Watson curated at the 55th and 56th Venice Biennale, as well as at Manifesta12 in Palermo. He has written regularly for Jacobin, Radical Philosophy, Art Review, and Artforum. The Memeing of Mark Fisher: How the Frankfurt School Foresaw Capitalist Realism and What To Do About It.

The event is organized by the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia with support of the International Relief Fund of the German Federal Foreign Office/ the Goethe-Institute and with support of the Open Society Foundation Serbia, The Ministry of Culture and Information of the Republic of Serbia, and the City of Belgrade.
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