Flexibility, Risk, & Precarity

In reading Jackson’s article about “Just-In-Timer’s”, I am stuck on the comparison of the contemporary artist and the current state of worker’s conditions. I find it troubling to view the global worker’s plight (excepting Scandinavia I guess) as some kind of “healthy” risk. It troubles me to view our state of precarity as “flexibility”, as though there was some wonderful freedom about living a few dollars away from homelessness, starvation, and illness. Is it just the working class Southside Chicago gal in me?  I just find this point to be oh so middle class, elitist and maddening. Why? First of all, let’s look at the idea of artistic flexibility in contemporary art. Jackson talks about performance art to be more specific. Hey, I LOVE artistic flexibility, love breaking apart the labels and messing with the “rules”. Jackson refers to Cage’s 4’33” as an example, only one of my favorite works to teach to my art students. This risk, flexibility, freedom, etc all comes from a place of CHOICE. Artists (mostly well educated, lucky dogs), make the choice to mess with convention. They make the choice to practice or not practice, to make their art about process and idea instead of something precious and rehearsed. This is a beautiful thing. I mean that with all my heart. I adore being an artist today with so much to play with. I adore teaching art and freeing the minds of young artists to explore and experiment and fuck shit up.

Precarity, for the contemporary worker is NOT through choice. We do not choose to have our jobs outsourced, to have our schedules so “flexible” that we cannot trust our income enough to pay rent each month. We do not choose to be ill without benefits because our flexible jobs don’t allow us to qualify. We do not choose to earn a non-livable wage. We do not choose to struggle to maintain a second job because our schedules vary so widely week to week, it is impossible to manage two opposing schedules. We most certainly do not choose lack of educational access (you know, like those expensive art schools). My people (young adult offspring, art students, neighbors, community, etc) want the stability of basic needs, such as housing, food, child care, health care, and education.  If basic needs can be met, TRUE flexibility can happen. People can job share, control their work schedules, work from home, work from the streets, and other such forms of flexibility that the worker controls. Precarity is a state of helplessness, through powerful actions done TO us. The worker is the victim and lives in a constant state of instability and fear. The risk is too great to balance with any sort of freedom one finds. If we take precarity OUT of the equation, like say, the Finnish have, If one’s basic needs are being met, then one has the freedom to truly experiment and take wonderful, exciting risks through personal choice.

My adult children and students, who would LOVE to go to art school, don’t manage higher education because they are working heinous “flexible” jobs. They don’t earn enough to get by and instead limp along with their families. They don’t have the luxury of making art as much as they’d like, because striving for basic needs takes precedence. No one wants to live the myth of the starving artist. Fuck that. We want to work hard, earn a decent living, and make our art with abandon. We want protection and financial stability. We want to stay healthy long enough to find new artistic rules to mess with. We want to choose to rehearse or not rehearse that performance, use art materials or garbage, and make our art about ideas or aesthetics. We want our voices to soar past the trauma created by precarity. We want a new state, to move on from Fordism & Post-Fordism to a new ism.  We want an ism that gives us equity and care so that we have strength in our starting point. Then real freedom can happen. Then the Southside artists will show you what artistic freedom is all about.

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