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Artists as Workers: Rethinking Creativity in a Post-Pandemic World

Andrea Baldini
p. 33-48


Artists have been one of the occupational categories that has suffered the most from the economic crisis due to COVID-19. Artists’ “portfolio careers”, generally based on freelancing and self-employment not protected by regulations and welfare, are one of the main reasons of this financial emergency. Their odd forms of employment are rooted – among other things – in a peculiar understanding of artistic work, which I call artistic work exceptionalism (AWE). AWE sees artistic work as essentially different from regular jobs. It finds its conceptual source in Western philosophical aesthetics, which presents the making of art in contrast with regular jobs. In this paper, I take issue with AWE and show its limits and negative implications. By placing emphasis on the heretofore neglected relationship between art and work, I argue that, in principle, creating art is (or should be regarded as) in continuity with other forms of employment, and therefore there is much to be learned from other professions at the level of artistic labor reforms. I call this view artistic work normalism (AWN). In defending AWN, my goal is not to desecrate artists’ occupation. Quite the contrary, my theoretical framework stems from a desire to recognize the social value of the arts. I propose two different approaches to the economics of art promoting artists’ well-being and the exercise of creativity: strengthened public art funding and the financialization of art.

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Testo integrale

1. Introduction

1A recently released report by the New York State Comptroller shows that, as of December 2020, “entertainment and recreation employment declined by 66 percent from one year earlier”1 in New York City. One should notice that this decline is in an important sense unique: no other sector of the City’s economy suffered so much from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Though NYC is the world-leading art center, other studies confirm that this is a global trend afflicting the artworld virtually everywhere. According to the UNESCO, during the first pandemic year, the film industry alone has likely lost circa 10 million jobs.2 Losses for the music industry are expected to be around $10 billion in missing sponsorship, and the publishing market is likely to shrink by 7.5%.

  • 3 Selvin, Solomon 2020.
  • 4 Becker 1982; Bourdieu 1996.

2Reasons why the arts have been hit harder than other sectors are surely multiple. Some may very well have to do with the specific nature of artistic appreciation. Visiting a museum or going to a concert are high risk activities in pandemic times.3 However, the way in which modern societies deal with artists’ occupational status plays an important role in the pandemic crisis of the cultural sector. In general, we conceptualize artists’ activity in opposition to canonical jobs that people choose as their professional careers. By following the idea of art for art’s sake, creating art is seen as a non-economic and non-utilitarian pursuit.4 I call this way of construing artists’ professional identities artistic work exceptionalism. As a consequence of this exceptionalism, in the modern world, artistic work is generally a form of freelancing, legally unprotected and unregulated. Its structural insecurity is partly responsible for the toll that artists had to pay during the pandemic – an aspect that has been overlooked.

3Generally embraced as a model maximizing artistic freedom, artistic work exceptionalism is dominant in the philosophical scholarship. In this paper, I take issue with such a view. Contrary to common opinion, current circumstances hinder artists’ creativity by exposing them to significant financial uncertainty. I then defend artistic work normalism, that is, a view conceptualizing artistic work as canonical work. In doing so, my goal is not to desecrate the arts. Quite the contrary, my intention is to develop a theoretical framework for promoting artists’ well-being and the exercise of creativity for the benefit of society. In the remainder of the paper, I discuss the theoretical underpinnings of artistic work exceptionalism (section 2). I then show its limitations and why we should reject its implications (section 3). Finally, I develop my version of artistic work normalism while placing emphasis on its possible positive repercussions at the level of policies and laws protecting artistic work (section 4).

2. Artistic work exceptionalism

4Common understandings of artistic activities usually place them outside the boundaries of conventional behaviors. Artists are, according to this view, alternative persons carrying out atypical deeds. In effect, artworks are essentially different from ordinary objects insofar as they do not serve any utilitarian function. And it is a corollary of this theory that artistic work essentially differs from ordinary jobs, and that artists’ careers do not resemble those of ordinary folks such as bakers, lawyers, or teachers. From this perspective, parallels between artistic and non-artistic work are misleading. As a consequence, policies and legal tools designed to protect regular workers should not extend to artists. As anticipated, I call this view artistic work exceptionalism (AWE).

  • 5 UNESCO 1980.
  • 6 Soussloff, Jeffri 2014.

5AWE is nowadays the dominant view about artistic work. By saying that is dominant, I am not claiming that AWE is the only existing view. For instance, official heritage discourse often regards artistic production as one aspect of a group’s culture, just like craftmanship, education, or entertainment.5 Some legislations, especially in Europe, occasionally treat artists as regular workers. However, in philosophical aesthetics, to which this essay primarily contributes, those contrasting approaches are virtually absent. Formalism, expressivism, institutionalism, and all major theories of art embrace “the absolute status of the artist and the autonomy of his or her activity and products from other social practices and norms”,6 that is, AWE.

  • 7 Shusterman 1992: 49.

6Perhaps, only pragmatist aesthetics is an exception in this respect. By challenging Modern separation of art and life, pragmatists offer an alternative framework, which is more suitable to conceptualize artistic work in non-exceptional ways. In effect, the “narrowing construal of art […] reinforces a vicious division in modern society between practical labor (deemed to be intrinsically disagreeable) and aesthetic experience (held to be enjoyable but functionless)”.7 While traditionally pragmatists have been more interested in rescuing the aesthetic dimension of everyday deeds, my pragmatist take shifts the focus on the ordinary aspect of artistic work.

  • 8 Menger 2001; UNESCO 2019.

7In general, I take my argument to apply to the arts intended in an inclusive way, ranging from popular or commercial art kinds (cinema, comics, television, etc.) to the fine arts (painting, sculpture, performance art, etc.). Conceptually, contemporary theories of art tend to be rather open to practices that transcend the boundaries of traditional arts. Empirically, recent studies on working conditions in the cultural sector highlight similar structural difficulties among the different art kinds8 – though variations of degree and exceptions may very well occur. However, that is not incompatible with my argument, which modestly claims that AWE is philosophically dominant.

8Ideas grounding AWE have been circulating for a long time. In Western philosophy, we can trace back their conceptual origin to Plato and his writings. In effect, in a famous passage of his dialogue Ion, Plato – talking through Socrates – explains the following view of poetry and of poets’ activity:

  • 9 Ion, 534c. Translation within brackets is mine.

[The poet] is able only to compose that to which the Muse has stirred him, this man dithyrambs, another laudatory odes, another dance-songs, another epic or else iambic verse; but each is at fault in any other kind. For not by techne [craft and knowledge] do they utter these things, but by divine influence; since, if they had fully learnt by techne [craft and knowledge] to speak on one kind of theme, they would know how to speak on all.9

9Composing poems does not depend on one’s techne, that is, craft and knowledge, contrary to what happens for ordinary jobs such as sailing or blacksmithing. Poets need the interventions of the gods to create their works, and in doing so, they act like those participating in Dionysian rites, rather than professionals. Artists are, in this sense, extraordinary.

  • 10 Kant 1987, §46-50.
  • 11 Kant 1987, §46.

10In his Critique of Judgment, Kant examines artists and their activity offering further philosophical grounds for AWE. In discussing the creation of beautiful art objects, he argues that they cannot be produced by learning and then applying rules: such rules cannot be, in effect, specified.10 Artists are endowed with a special ability, their “genius”,11 which allows them to create art. Just like Plato’s poets, they are unaware of what they are doing. The inspiration that essentially characterizes artistic work sets it apart, once again, from other regular occupations.

  • 12 Kant 1987, §1-5.
  • 13 For a discussion on Kant’s notion of disinterestedness, see Zangwill 1992.

11For Kant, by following no rules, artists are free and autonomous, and bring into existence fully original creations serving no purpose other than being beautiful. In his view, aesthetic appreciation is essentially disinterested,12 which has been generally interpreted as involving a non-instrumental attitude towards artworks.13 For this reason, these artifacts are essentially entities devoid of any practical function. Works of art are then very special objects: their non-utilitarian nature contrasts with that of regular products of labor, which we exercise to survive and succeed.

  • 14 Bourdieu 1996.
  • 15 Luhmann 2000: 235.

12Kant’s views on the genius and the nature of art have been extremely influential and have been significantly driving the transformations of the artworld in the last two hundred years. In particular, sociologists have linked the idea of the autonomy of the artist and the artworld to the emergence of an independent artistic domain, separated from other spheres of human action.14 And such an analysis sees the exceptionalism of artistic work not only as a constitutive feature of the modern system of the artworld, but also as its full realization as an autonomous field: “the evolution of art is its own accomplishment”.15

13AWE informs many regulations about artistic work across different countries and periods. Historically, for instance, in Victorian-era UK the “Rogues and Vagabonds Act” excluded actors from counting as proper members of society.16 In the contemporary world, one of the major consequences of AWE is the scarcity of guilds or unions controlling and administering the profession.17 Of course, some legislations extending protections of regular workers to artists exist. The system for intermittently salaried workers with multiple employers in France is an example doing just that for a selected group of performing artists.18 However, this is an exception rather than the rule.19 As UNESCO recently reported, in general, artistic workers globally suffer to an unusual degree from lack of legal protection.20 In this sense, the “COVID-19 pandemic has revealed and magnified the creative industries’ pre-existing volatility”.21

14It is my view that AWE is extremely problematic. By placing artistic work outside the boundaries of traditional occupations, it favors conditions that are negative for artists, and fail to promote the exercise of creativity. In the following section, I develop two arguments against AWE.

3. Against artistic work exceptionalism

  • 22 Adler 1983; Bain 2005; Hausman 1975; Lindström 2016; Lingo, Tepper 2013; Menger 1999; Throsby, Zedn (...)

15My first argument against AWE is consequentialist. Considerations about consequences seem intuitively good justifications for AWE. In effect, more flexible and less structured forms of employment seem to better adapt to the peculiarities of artistic work. However, this is far from true: no indicator suggests that AWE produces good outcomes. As mentioned, empirical research shows that artists tend to structurally suffer from financial troubles, and this in turn has a significant impact on their level of well-being as well as on their productivity and possibility to freely exercise their creativity.22 AWE, in this sense, harms both those producing art, who live difficult lives, and those appreciating it, who can enjoy only a part of what artists could do under different circumstances. For this reason, we should reject AWE. Let me offer some evidence to back up this conclusion.

  • 23 Hausmann 2010; Menger 1999; Throsby and Zednik 2011.
  • 24 Hausmann 2010: 17.
  • 25 Caves: 2000; UNESCO 2019.
  • 26 Hausmann 2010: 17.

16In effect, artists generally develop what scholars call portfolio careers, that is, forms of self-employment or freelance work, which are generally unstable and underpaid.23 It is against this background that, for instance, we can understand the “sharp increase in business start-up activity in the cultural sector”24 across different contexts. In spite of showing signals of growth and dynamism, this trend has brought significant problems to artists at a global level.25 Most of them, in effect, “are faced with work and income insecurity while also experiencing difficulties with their self-image”.26

  • 27 Stewart et al. 1986: 9.
  • 28 Bain 2005; Lindström 2016; Lingo, Tepper 2013; Menger 1999; Throsby, Zednik 2011.
  • 29 Lindström 2016: 43.
  • 30 Adler 1983: 178.

17These structural financial troubles have of course a negative impact on the well-being of artists. Sociologists report that artists often describe their lives by emphasizing their monetary struggles.27 Economic insecurity in turn leads many of them, as cross-country analyses show, to look for additional employment:28 “artists rank among the highest in the percentage of workers with secondary jobs”.29 Their double careers are at odds with the level of education that artists generally possess. In the US, for instance, research reveals that “the level of education attained by [artists] is otherwise characteristic only of professionals: engineers, physicians, dentists, teachers, etc.”.30 Their formal training clashes with artists’ widespread need for a secondary job.

  • 31 Bain 2005; Foster 2012; Menger 1999; Pralong et al. 2011. For a significant exception to this trend (...)

18Studies of artistic work in different countries suggest that secondary jobs are often perceived negatively in terms of an artist’s sense of professional identity and production.31 Breadwinning occupations generally become more relevant for one’s self and social recognition. Moreover, being employed in a non-artistic job usually subtracts hours to creative activities. Therefore, artists with double-careers cannot create full-time. This in turn significantly relates to a second negative consequence of AWE: the sheer quantity of artworks produced under this economic regime is plausibly smaller than what we could have under different circumstances where artists could just dedicate themselves to art. Moreover, one could also add that the quality of artistic production may very well be negatively affected by the working conditions of artists.

  • 32 Young 2020.

19James Young’s recent philosophical critique of copyright presents a consequentialist argument that also corroborates my critique against AWE.32 Copyright and, more generally, IP laws governing the sharing and distribution of artworks can be understood as very much in line with AWE – if not its quintessential implementation. Thanks to their exceptionalism, copyright laws claim, artists have special rights over their products. Under these circumstances, ideally, artists should be able to support themselves just by exploiting their creativity without the need to work as if they were regularly employed somewhere. However, this optimism about copyright is misplaced: hard facts tell us quite the opposite story.

  • 33 Young 2020: 4-6.
  • 34 Young 2020: 4.
  • 35 Young 2020: 4.

20In effect, data show that under current intellectual property regimes, the income of artists has significantly decreased.33 For instance, in the UK, in spite of a favorable trend in the publishing industry, writers’ real income is not only less than half of the national median income, but has also declined of 29 percent between 2005 and 2015.34 While generating a multibillion-dollar market, musicians – on their part – earn “$0.00029 each time their songs are played on Spotify. [They] would need to have their songs played 4,053,110 times in the course of a month in order to earn the US national monthly minimum income of $1,160”.35

  • 36 Young 2020: 5.

21Numbers also confirm that, quantitatively, copyright deters creativity rather than promoting it: publication of books and composition of music did not increase with the emergence of copyright laws. Quite the contrary, “study of composers in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reveals that, in many nations, the number of composers (relative to the size of a nation’s population) dropped after copyright laws were enacted”.36 Arguably, if my reading is correct, one could suggest that the consolidation of AWE through copyright has pushed people away from practicing the arts.

  • 37 Fayard 2021.
  • 38 Arendt 1998.
  • 39 Fayard 2021: 210.
  • 40 Fayard 2021: 210.

22The second argument against AWE, instead, brings to the table a distinction between labor and work, which is at the core of scholarly research on employment.37 Such a distinction is inspired by Hannah Arendt’s discussion of active life (vita activa) in The Human Condition.38 Arendt arguably sees labor as a repetitive and dehumanizing activity, always “alienated”39 for it is largely determined by financial mechanisms. Work, on the contrary, is an enriching occupation generally “associated with the process of humanization and liberation”.40

  • 41 Butler 1988; 2010.
  • 42 Harding 2013: 21.
  • 43 Harding 2013: 21.
  • 44 Harding 2013: 36.

23More recently, Harding has developed a more systematic take on this conceptual distinction. By drawing on Butler’s theory of performative identity,41 Harding sees labor as an activity that does not allow a person to fully realize oneself. In her view, many modern forms of employment are forms of labor: by reducing workers to “zombie-machines [they] limit the possibilities for achieving the self I/we wish to be(come)”.42 Work, on the contrary, “encompasses workplace possibilities, over and above laboring, of constituting selves recognised as humans”.43 This variety of activity is therefore positively related to processes of identity construction: work helps us become who we want to be.44

  • 45 Barley, Bechky, Milliken 2017.

24As anticipated, my view is that AWE tends to reduce artistic work to labor, alienating artists rather than helping them fully realize themselves as who they are. In order to provide evidence for my – I admit – controversial claim, let me refer to some recent analysis of the so-called gig economy.45 Gig workers are contingent workers finding their jobs through platforms and apps offering services. Contrary to traditional employees, they never meet their employers. Most on-demand mobile workers such Uber drivers and Airbnb hosts are gig workers.

  • 46 Apouey et al. 2020; Fayard 2021; Mrvos 2021; Snider 2018.
  • 47 Fayard 2021: 212.
  • 48 Fayard 2021: 213.

25Gig economy companies often embrace an entrepreneurial rhetoric depicting gig workers as generally empowered.46 However, research shows that the situation is different. Rather than being offered the possibility of being flexible and adaptive, which one may very well take as empowering, gig workers are exposed to “a transient and fragile context”.47 Under these circumstances of low wages and deregulation of welfare protections, they live lives similar to those “zombie-machines” entrapped in some form of labor.48

  • 49 See Etzioni 2018.
  • 50 Unlike other gig workers, artists show exceptionally high job satisfaction (Steiner, Schneider 2013 (...)

26This analysis of gig workers suggests at least two possible and complementary strategies in favor of the claim that AWE reduces artistic work to labor. First, artists could be described as gig workers, and researchers often conceptualize them in that way. The term “gig worker” was originally associated with short-term hiring of performing artists, who are arguably prototypical gig workers .49 Facing structural financial insecurity and lack of welfare protection is, as we have seen, part of an artist’s daily life. This in turn tends to transform the making of art into something similar to gig work by being a response to market trends rather than an expression of one’s free creativity.50

  • 51 Fayard 2021: 212. Emphasis added.
  • 52 Of course, some artists may develop second careers that could qualify as work rather than labor. Ho (...)

27Second, primary subject involved in the gig economy are aspiring painters, sculptors, performers, and so on. “Driving for Uber [for instance] is often depicted (including on Uber Blog) as a second job for its drivers, who enjoy it because of the social interactions it affords or, for people like artists, the chance to pursue their dreams”.51 Here is the upshot of what I am suggesting: for those circumstances of economic fragility essentially linked to AWE, in order to fulfil their goals, artists often have to engage in forms of occupation that are not self-fulfilling.52 This in turn has a negative impact on their well-being and sense of identity. But if AWE is negative for artists and societies alike, what should it be the alternative? In the following section, I consider just this question.

4. Artistic work normalism: a two-fold proposal

28By criticizing AWE, my goal was to prepare the ground for a better philosophical framework for conceptualizing artistic work. The desiderata of my pragmatist proposal that I consider relevant here are two: first, it ought to promote artists’ well-being and, second, it should also offer conditions encouraging the exercise of creativity. If achieving those desiderata, this alternative will not merely serve the need of creative individuals, but also those of societies at large. Among the many lessons that the pandemic has taught us, in effect, one of the most important is that the arts are essential for us as humans.

29Drawing on my critique of AWE, I wish to defend a view that rejects the supposed exceptionalism of artistic work: artistic work normalism (AWN). AWN says that the issues that artists face during their careers are not essentially different from those faced by other workers, and therefore there is much to be learned from other professions in terms of strategies and policies. What motivates AWN is the belief that approaching artistic work in ways that are informed by histories of other workers – their struggles, their battles, and their successes – will improve the lives of artists and will foster the arts in general.

30As anticipated, AWN is not an attempt to disparage the arts by comparing them to other supposedly lesser occupations. The sacrality of art is a costly myth, which has put artists – often not fully aware of the price that they are paying for their exceptionalism – in a very difficult position in the last two centuries. My proposal wants to displace this occupational hierarchy. Once again, the pandemic has showed how wrongheaded dominant perceived occupational rankings are. In a time of absolute need, the world had to recognize that not only doctors and researchers, but also nurses, bakers, and farmers – among others – play very important societal functions. And for this reason, they should be accordingly rewarded.

  • 53 Stewart et al. 1986: 10.
  • 54 Chhum 2013.
  • 55 Beardsley 2021.
  • 56 Falvey 2021.

31A version of AWN, I believe, is what informed some of the most successful stories of recent employment reforms in the arts. Consider for example what happened in the 1970s to the musicians of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. After unionizing, performers were capable of negotiating very effectively.53 The key to their successful negotiations was musicians’ acknowledgment of the normalcy of their occupation, at least in two ways: first, by unionizing and, second, by admitting that their occupational role was not nobler than others, but as important as. Also, the already mentioned system for intermittently salaried workers in France works along these lines. It treats groups of artists such as actors, musicians, and dancers just like technical crews – who were the original beneficiaries of the legislation.54 Thanks to their normal treatment, artists who can enlist in the system enjoy benefits that are considered a “luxury”55 in the global artworld such as unemployment. Highly praised during the pandemic, other governments are looking to adopt a version of the French system.56 Both these cases give us a sense of the positive consequences that AWN could bring about.

  • 57 Proust 2010.
  • 58 Stewart et al. 1986: 22.

32It is crucial that artists first recognize and accept AWN. In effect, often artists themselves “pay no mind to the rules and norms related to wage-earning”.57 Of course, this shift requires some adjustments and arguably losses at a symbolic level. But, as the stories of the Detroit Symphony and of the artists protected by the French system for intermittently salaried workers suggest, by embracing AWN, artists could improve their living conditions and the circumstances of the cultural industry. In effect, artists’ “ery passion makes [them] vulnerable to exploitation”.58 AWN appears then as a suitable candidate for counteracting that self-destructive tendency.

33This proposal is two-fold insofar as it suggests two different approaches to the economics of art. The first one is perhaps the most obvious and historically more recognized. It has to do with the creation of dedicated public policies for funding and supporting the arts. This may very well come in the form of increased possibilities of unionization, perhaps related to health benefits and unemployment insurance, just like in the French system of intermittent workers. Public patronage and subsidy could also play a relevant role in bettering the conditions of artistic work.

  • 59 Carroll 1987.
  • 60 Beardsley 1973: 51.
  • 61 Banfield 1984: 68.
  • 62 For a critical dismissal of aesthetic arguments, see Carroll 1987.
  • 63 Carroll 1987: 27.
  • 64 For a discussion of neutrality in public art funding, see also Brighouse 1995.

34The normative justification for state funding of the arts is notoriously controversial.59 However, I believe that AWN offers a more suitable framework for finding reasons to publicly sponsor the arts than AWE. By considering artworks as essentially non-utilitarian objects, exceptionalists usually offer what one could call aesthetic defenses of public subsidies to the arts. Some argue that it is a prima facie duty of the government to promote a society’s “aesthetic welfare”, which in turn is defined as “all the aesthetic levels of the experience of members of the society at a given time”.60 Others have appealed to the notion of “aesthetic need” as a basic necessity of human life.61 However, these arguments have been disputed.62 Some have questioned the existence of an aesthetic need grounding a public interest in the aesthetic welfare.63 Moreover, even when assuming such a need, justified policies would only fund certain types of art, that is, those affording aesthetic experiences, thus favoring groups with certain taste over others.64

  • 65 Feder 2020. See also Badiou 2005.
  • 66 Feder 2020: 196.
  • 67 For similar proposal, see Borghini, Baldini 2021: 12.

35Instead, by liberating the arts from non-utilitarian constraints, AWN opens up possibilities for justifying state funding of the arts on the ground of a plurality of functions and values. In particular, it is hospitable to what one might call “didactic justifications”.65 These offer instrumental criteria that allow for funding an art project, for instance, “on the grounds of its role in building a national identity”.66 Didactic justifications, I believe, track criteria that already inform some funding schemes placing emphasis on the internally negotiated needs of the communities of stakeholders that are the primary audiences of art projects.67 AWN offers then suitable grounds for a general theory of art that can make room for such justifications.

  • 68 Velthuis, Coslor 2012; Taylor 2013. The recent craze for NFT is arguably an attempt at finally turn (...)

36The second strategy that AWN suggests is perhaps more radical and embraces certain recent developments in the financial economy. I can certainly admit that some artists may dislike to depend on state sponsorship or to have to unionize. What about these artists? Artists preferring more flexible and adaptive forms of employment should embrace, I suggest, the financialization of art. That is, they should start considering their works as assets that can be managed, exchanged, protected, and invested as any other variety of assets. Of course, the financialization of art is already at play, but artists are largely passive players.68 A better understanding of financial mechanisms such as investment funds, hedge funds, diversified investments – which are completely ignored in art schools – could enhance their professional lives and careers. In effect, by systematically and knowledgeably taking advantage of the financial turn in the arts, artists could build careers that are forms of work rather than labor, as it happens for entrepreneurs working in other economic fields.

  • 69 This essay has benefited from the help of many colleagues. I am indebted to Roberto Donà for fuelin (...)

37The artworld is in need of deep structural changes. The pandemic tragically showed us the fragility of a system that exploits its primary actors: artists. The emergence of such an unbalanced professional field, I have suggested, can be traced back to – among other things – a theoretical understanding of the nature of artistic work: AWE. I have then suggested a pragmatist-inspired alternative, AWN. This in turn refuses the traditional economic exceptionalism of the arts, while aiming at correcting some of the structural issues afflicting the well-being of artists and hindering the exercise of creativity.69

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Stewart, W. et al. 1986, Professional Standards and Managerial Realities, “The Journal of Arts, Management and Law”, XVI, 2: 8-35.

Taylor, M. 2013, Financialization of Art, “SSRN Scholarly Paper ID 2208046”,

Throsby, D., Zednik, A. 2011, Multiple Job-Holding and Artistic Careers: Some Empirical Evidence, “Cultural Trends”, XX, 1: 9-24.

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Unesco 2019, Culture & Working Conditions for Artists. Implementing the 1980 Recommendation Concerning the Status of the Artist, Paris, UNESCO.

Velthuis, O., Coslor, E. 2012, The Financialization Of Art, in K. Knorr, A. Preda (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Sociology of Finance, Oxford, Oxford University Press: 471-487.

Young, J.O. 2020, Radically Rethinking Copyright in the Arts: A Philosophical Approach, New York, Routledge,

Zangwill, N. 1992, Unkantian Notions Of Disinterest, “British Journal of Aesthetics”, XXXI, 4: 149-152.

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3 Selvin, Solomon 2020.

4 Becker 1982; Bourdieu 1996.

5 UNESCO 1980.

6 Soussloff, Jeffri 2014.

7 Shusterman 1992: 49.

8 Menger 2001; UNESCO 2019.

9 Ion, 534c. Translation within brackets is mine.

10 Kant 1987, §46-50.

11 Kant 1987, §46.

12 Kant 1987, §1-5.

13 For a discussion on Kant’s notion of disinterestedness, see Zangwill 1992.

14 Bourdieu 1996.

15 Luhmann 2000: 235.

16 Stewart et al. 1986: 20-21.

17 Adler 1983: 178.

18 Beardsley 2021. During the pandemic, the system has also clearly showed its limits. See


20 UNESCO 2019.

21[link not available: 01/02/2024]

22 Adler 1983; Bain 2005; Hausman 1975; Lindström 2016; Lingo, Tepper 2013; Menger 1999; Throsby, Zednik 2011.

23 Hausmann 2010; Menger 1999; Throsby and Zednik 2011.

24 Hausmann 2010: 17.

25 Caves: 2000; UNESCO 2019.

26 Hausmann 2010: 17.

27 Stewart et al. 1986: 9.

28 Bain 2005; Lindström 2016; Lingo, Tepper 2013; Menger 1999; Throsby, Zednik 2011.

29 Lindström 2016: 43.

30 Adler 1983: 178.

31 Bain 2005; Foster 2012; Menger 1999; Pralong et al. 2011. For a significant exception to this trend, see Lindström 2016.

32 Young 2020.

33 Young 2020: 4-6.

34 Young 2020: 4.

35 Young 2020: 4.

36 Young 2020: 5.

37 Fayard 2021.

38 Arendt 1998.

39 Fayard 2021: 210.

40 Fayard 2021: 210.

41 Butler 1988; 2010.

42 Harding 2013: 21.

43 Harding 2013: 21.

44 Harding 2013: 36.

45 Barley, Bechky, Milliken 2017.

46 Apouey et al. 2020; Fayard 2021; Mrvos 2021; Snider 2018.

47 Fayard 2021: 212.

48 Fayard 2021: 213.

49 See Etzioni 2018.

50 Unlike other gig workers, artists show exceptionally high job satisfaction (Steiner, Schneider 2013). However, it is also true that many aspiring artists completely change careers at some point in their lives (Cowen and Tabarrok 2000).

51 Fayard 2021: 212. Emphasis added.

52 Of course, some artists may develop second careers that could qualify as work rather than labor. However, as highlighted in the first argument, this in turn has a potentially negative effect on the self-perception of one’s professional identity.

53 Stewart et al. 1986: 10.

54 Chhum 2013.

55 Beardsley 2021.

56 Falvey 2021.

57 Proust 2010.

58 Stewart et al. 1986: 22.

59 Carroll 1987.

60 Beardsley 1973: 51.

61 Banfield 1984: 68.

62 For a critical dismissal of aesthetic arguments, see Carroll 1987.

63 Carroll 1987: 27.

64 For a discussion of neutrality in public art funding, see also Brighouse 1995.

65 Feder 2020. See also Badiou 2005.

66 Feder 2020: 196.

67 For similar proposal, see Borghini, Baldini 2021: 12.

68 Velthuis, Coslor 2012; Taylor 2013. The recent craze for NFT is arguably an attempt at finally turning art into an asset class. See Maneker 2021.

69 This essay has benefited from the help of many colleagues. I am indebted to Roberto Donà for fueling and guiding my interest in the finance of art, and to Enrico Bonadio for his advices on legal matters. Special thanks to Matteo Ravasio and Alessio Baldini for reading and commenting on multiple versions of this essay. Finally, I wish to thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions.

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Per citare questo articolo

Notizia bibliografica

Andrea Baldini, «Artists as Workers: Rethinking Creativity in a Post-Pandemic World»Rivista di estetica, 79 | 2022, 33-48.

Notizia bibliografica digitale

Andrea Baldini, «Artists as Workers: Rethinking Creativity in a Post-Pandemic World»Rivista di estetica [Online], 79 | 2022, online dal 01 février 2024, consultato il 21 juin 2024. URL:; DOI:

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