Assembly Line Art; Modes of Making Art in the Era of Capitalist Production
This paper investigates the contradiction between large-scale industrial production prevailing in the general economy and persistence within the art system of small-scale handicraft production. I consider how machine technology, factory organization, and proletarian labor play a role in the aesthetic realm, hence how the art system interfaces with the dominant economy.
In the first part of the paper I compare industrial production to handicraft art production, pointing out the different ways these systems typically organize and divide labor, utilize machine technology, maximize or restrict output, and interface with the market. Next, I review previous meditations on the relation between industrial production and art including Constructivist, Futurist, and other manifestos of 20th century art
In the main part of the paper I describe five strategies of art making which adapt aspects of industrial organization. (1) Direct appropriation of the products or methods of industrial production as art objects, as with Marcel Duchamp’s invention of the Readymade; (2) Mobilization of a factory-like labor process to mass produce conventional works of art for distribution via ‘starving artists’ sales; (3) Increasing the productivity of handmade art through a speeding up and intensification of the traditional craft labor process; (4) Increasing the overall social production of art through a democratization of art production techniques including ‘paint by numbers’ kits or TV art instruction programs; (5) Using automatic creative generators of art such as self-acting machines or computer programs to replace human creativity in art-making.
My concern is to describe how artists have modified or adapted industrial production techniques to mass produce ‘conventional’ unique artworks. As such, I am interested in ways the art world has sought to simplify, democratize, and popularize art production, thus overcome the contradiction between industrial mass production and art.