Invisible Labor in the Art World

Last night at the Art In General gallery space in Tribeca, artist Lisi Raskin led a discussion about invisible labor. It was a thought-provoking discussion, and I found it interesting to hear the term “invisible labor” used in the art world. To Raskin’s credit, she pointed out issues of unpaid labor in the field, as well as acknowledging the extent those contributions have on artists’ work.


“When I’m talking about invisible labor, I’m talking about unpaid interns,” Raskin said to a group of over 40 people in attendance. Parents, friends and partners, she said, are also often left out of the conversation about the resources it takes to create art.


This brings up the question of authorship. Raskin recognized that people who work in galleries – either underpaid or unpaid – lend creative energy to her work. “Can we reshape authorship to effect social change? What is the invisible labor of making?” she asked to prompt the discussion.


Responses and comments from attendees, including the night’s co-facilitators Ava Ansari and Molly Kleiman, ranged from frustration at the widespread practice of paying gallery workers unlivable wages to acknowledgements that only people of a certain class are able to accept low-wage or unpaid art jobs.


It was a discussion that certainly fueled more questions than answers, but the evening was successful in creating space for questioning a labor issue within the art world that is generally accepted as standard practice.


The most interesting question came from an event attendee who asked, “What does free mean and how does it relate to the word freedom?”


Raskin’s show Recuperative Tactics runs through May 31 at Art in General.