While the desire to transform society through the power of art is a fundamental characteristic of art practice at least as far back as the Romantic art movement of the nineteenth century, we today still struggle with the question of how art can effectively change society. Now we know from Karl Marx that it is primarily work that changes society and the world as a whole. So the best way to investigate the transformative power of art in contemporary society is by looking at the specific position of art production in our current societal context.
In the framework of classical modernity, artistic production is characterized by innovation, creativity, non-alienation, and originality, and thus opposed to repetitive, automatized, non-creative industrial work. This gap that traditionally divided artistic and non-artistic labor is arguably becoming narrower than it was in the times of >< modernity. Artistic practices and their labor processes have become hard to distinguish from the non-artistic practices and processes in at least two ways. The post-industrial “creative industries” presuppose the innovative, project-oriented and, in a certain way, autonomous working process. But on the other hand, the artists, designers, or writers use the means of production that they do not own or control. This relates in the first place to the Internet; being the common working place for the “creative class” it is at the same time owned and controlled by big private corporations. One can see here the same conflict between the common, collective space of work and the private form of ownership that was and still is characteristic of industrial work.
As the traditional dichotomy between intellectual and manual work is gradually erased, artistic labor is becoming more and more representative of the functioning of society as a whole. This raises new questions concerning the role of the artist in society and the political dimensions of art. The artist loses his or her traditional role of the social outsider, preventing the artist from being able to see society as a whole from an external position as it were, from the outside of society. However, at the same time it allows the artist to experience complicity and solidarity with all members of society who are involved in any kind of productive and unproductive (service) work. The critical analysis of one’s own artistic practice allows the contemporary artist to draw conclusions concerning the functioning of contemporary working relations, methods, hierarchies, conditions, and limitations in general. In our time art has become a productive force and the artistic professions have become mass professions. We have entered the epoch of the mass production of art.
This current gathers artists and thinkers who analyze the contemporary stage of artistic work either theoretically, or within their own art practice. Such an analysis also implicates strategies of questioning, resisting, and changing the present conditions of artistic work and of the place of the artist in society. Every production is at the same time self-production. If a society changes its mode of production, it transforms itself. It is that kind of societal transformation that is offered here for discussion.