Inverse Proportion: Art as (not) Labor

is a project to realize art practice as practical “work.” I want to discuss the inherited social framework that fails to recognize artists’ labor and their rights to get paid for it.

As I study the relations of labor and capital, it is natural to question the odd equation: Artists’ finite resources, such as physical and emotional labor + time + money ÷ Art = Living condition. Art seems to be a factor that makes this inverse proportion. The more I work on art, the more destitute I get.

“To survive as an artist, you need a wealthy partner.” This was a joke from an established artist at her talk when I was a student ten years ago. Recalling this “joke” now, I cannot laugh even slightly. It is still too close to reality, like when I heard “To survive as a woman, you’d need to meet a rich man” in my childhood. I am still in a society where I cannot be independent and where I need to rely on someone’s “generous” support, even though I work more than 50 hours (art+day jobs) a week. In this sense, the artists’ labor is similar to women’s household labor and caregivers’ labor, which are not recognized as valuable “labor” in a patriarchal society; artists’ resources, such as their labor, time, and money they earn from day jobs, are too often taken for free to feed the art industry. I want a society where a joke like “meet a rich partner” doesn’t need to descend to the next generation.

Nayeon Yang
Nov. 2022

Inverse Proportion: Art as (not) Labor


Participatory/collaborative project: collections of artists’ work hours, expenses, income, and work-in-progress videos

Project Website

This project has been made possible by SPARK Grants from Chicago Artists Coalition and 2023 Individual Artists Program Grants from DCASE (Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events)