The Art of Laziness: Contemporary Art and Post-Work Politics

The Art of Laziness: Contemporary Art and Post-Work Politics
Edited by David Attwood and Francis Russell
A+A Publishing and University of Melbourne

In the forward accompanying ‘The Art of Laziness: Contemporary Art and Post-Work Politics’, Dr Edward Colless, Head of Critical and Theoretical Studies at the Victorian College of the Art writes, ‘Two principles, despite their apparent paradox, quickly become agreeably clear in this anthology… that laziness can be an artful pursuit; and that, because of that artfulness, this pursuit is a type of work.’ True to Colless’ description, by critically analysing societal behaviours and theories, and investigating artistic practices, the publication affords a unique critical position – reconsidering what it means to be lazy, for the purpose of examining the correlations of art and visual culture to anti-work politics and the impact that work ethic has had on our understanding of art in a contemporary age.

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During a time in which creative portfolio careers and the gig economy are being examined for their inability to meet the Federal Government’s current wage subsidiary packages, the book affords a fresh approach on construing ‘non-linear careers’. David Attwood and Francis Russell argue, that ‘despite being remunerated in the most paltry sums, artists engage in an extraordinary range of labour activities and processes of self-development… Often functioning as a casual or unpaid writer, publisher, web developer, curator, social scientist, historian, activist, events organiser, environmentalist and/or journalist, the contemporary artist is encouraged to prove their social wealth by functioning, albeit unconsciously, as a means of softening the blow of economic austerity.’

Piecing together the responses of artists and writers to the overarching theme, the book’s chapters open with Francis Russell questioning whether laziness inherently relates to speed, and in the emergence of ‘slow art’ whether laziness can offer a new perspective on art and late capitalism, and conclude with Croatian conceptualist Mladen Stilinović’s seminal text, ‘The Praise of Laziness’ which asserts that ‘there is no art without laziness’.

The chapters between feature prominent voices of Australian art – including Andrew Brooks who engages with the racist logic of the term laziness, while Diana Baker Smith recounts the often exploitative relationship between art institutions and young arts workers. Rex Butler’s chapter examines John Nixon’s practice as to whether post-avant-garde art is ultimately lazy, in that it often prioritises keeping art alive as a cultural form. Darren Jorgensen argues that negative representations of the share house, the dole bludger, the junkie – the lazy – should be reconsidered because they offer possibilities for living, creating and finding pleasure.