Cover of The Work of Art by Alison Gerber
The Work of Art
Value in Creative Careers
Alison Gerber


November 2017
208 pages.
from $24.95

Cloth ISBN: 9780804798310
Paper ISBN: 9781503603820


Excerpts and More

Artists are everywhere, from celebrities showing at MoMA to locals hoping for a spot on a café wall. They are photographed at gallery openings in New York and Los Angeles, hustle in fast-gentrifying cities, and, sometimes, make quiet lives in Midwestern monasteries. Some command armies of fabricators while others patiently teach schoolchildren how to finger-knit. All of these artists might well be shown in the same exhibition, the quality of work far more important than education or income in determining whether one counts as a "real" artist.

In The Work of Art, Alison Gerber explores these art worlds to investigate who artists are (and who they're not), why they do the things they do, and whether a sense of vocational calling and the need to make a living are as incompatible as we've been led to believe. Listening to the stories of artists from across the United States, Gerber finds patterns of agreements and disagreements shared by art-makers from all walks of life. For professionals and hobbyists alike, the alliance of love and money has become central to contemporary art-making, and danger awaits those who fail to strike a balance between the two.

The stories artists tell are just as much a part of artistic practice as putting brush to canvas or chisel to marble. By explaining the shared ways that artists account for their activities—the analogies they draw, the arguments they make—Gerber reveals the common bases of value artists point to when they say: what I do is worth doing. The Work of Art asks how we make sense of the things we do and shows why all this talk about value matters so much.

About the author

Alison Gerber worked as an artist before earning her Ph.D. at Yale University. Today she is a sociologist in the Department of Social and Economic Geography at Uppsala University in Sweden and writes about the intersection of culture and public life, from tax audits to noise music.

"The Work of Art offers an intimate investigation of the economics of earning a living making art: where the money comes from and where it goes, and how artists justify, to themselves and others, their strategies for supporting their work. Alison Gerber makes a solid contribution to sociology, to economics, and to our understanding of the practicalities of an artistic career."

—Howard S. Becker, author of Art Worlds