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, as well as art workers’ 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. 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 child care, 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. 202

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.