“Now, if we view artists as entrepreneurs who are acting in their own material interest, then the knowledge they have gained in bars and at art school would be their constant capital and their seasonal production in any given year would be their variable capital. They create Mehrwert to the extent that, as self-employed cultural workers, they are able to take unpaid extra time and often informal extra knowledge away from other daily activities - some of which are economic and essential for survival - and invest them in the conception, development, and production of artworks. The more of this extra time is in- vested the better, following the rule that living labor as variable capital generates the surplus value, not the constant capital. The more they develop a type of artwork that calls for them to be present as continuously as possible, often in a performative capacity, the larger the amount of Mehrwert they create - even if that Mehrwert cannot always be automatically realized in the form of a corresponding price.
A model like this may elicit the objection that the two kinds of capital involved are merely components of a single person, so that exploiter and exploited are one and the same. In fact this situation defines the limit for the transfer of the Marxist terminology to the production of art, especially in terms of the parallel between the employer's purchase of labor power and the artist's commitment of his own labor time and extra labor time. But whether a season's production comes across as promising or idiotic often depends on the newly acquired, additional intelligence of the project and its producer, and its Mehrwert depends on how large a proportion of living labor was involved. Now it goes without saying that the artist who has distanced his activity from practical studio work as well as from extra work in nightlife and seminars, and who, as a purely conceptual entrepreneur, has a large number of assistants who perform these activities for him, creates an entirely different M ehrwert, one that is not produced through self-exploitation.
Let us imagine, then, that I decide to take my own variable capital, the commodity of artistic labor power that I have acquired from myself and my assistants, and - on the basis of the constant capital of my artistic competence, the "tech- nology" of my artistic command of the material - I invest this in a particular manner. Like any other businessperson, I will try to do so in such a way that the proportion of additional labor power invested by me or by my assistants is as valuable as pos- sible. My goal is to produce a value that not only can be realized in the form of the highest possible price in the everyday world of relations of exchange with gallery owners, collectors, and museums, but one which also maximizes its rate of new labor and variable capital involved, and above all of additional unpaid Mahrarbeit (or surplus labor) in the Marxist sense.
In this respect, the specific expectations that contemporary artists must fulfill if they wish to be successful coincide with Marx's formula for Mehrwert: they are to produce works that are as fresh and new as possible (variable capital including Mahrarbeit [or surplus labor]), but they are to do so on the basis of an already existing reputation and knowledge (constant capital), when the proportion of constant capital becomes too large, my rate of Mehrwert formation begins to fall. This is the case, for example, when too much training time must be accumulated in order to then produce something through living labor (my own or that of my employees). This is the economic disadvantage of the intellectual artist (who labors excessively at school), or the artist who acts from an especially deeply felt sense of his or her own biographical imperatives (who labors excessively at the bar). Indeed, the same model of "everyday value formation can easily be applied to the present day self-employed cultural freelancer who works outside the art industry. However, the rate of Mehrwert formation also falls when the artist in question is dead or when only old works continue to be traded. In that case (but not only in that case, since this is now happening with young living artists as well), the laws of speculation take over.”
An excerpt from “Art as a Commodity” by Diedrich Diederichsen
Chapter ll from “On (Surplus) Value in Art”
Arabic Translation by Maryam Sleiman, Sarah Ibrhaim and Salsabil Salah
Arabic Proofread by Hussein al-Haj
Evolution of Work
C- The Night
A monologue by artist Ali Sharif from Oyoun La Tanam (Eyes that Never Sleep) written and directed by Raafat al-Meehy - produced in 1981.