Making Cents of Art

Alison Gerber

November 21, 2013 - 12:00pm to 1:30pm

Harris School of Public Policy
1155 E. 60th St.
Room 289B

Alison Gerber, doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Yale University

This paper investigates artists' valuation of their own practices by looking at artists' investments and expectations around returns on investment. Using data from 80 semistructured interviews and ethnographic observation in four regionally defined art communities, the author explores patterns in artists' accounts of expected 'returns' on investments of money, time, space, energy, and other finite goods. While all artists make investments in their artistic practice, it is in expected returns that we find real variation. Two analytical frameworks – speculation and credentialing – allow artists to account for investments in artistic practice in economically calculative terms. Speculation and credentialing frameworks are both routes to the commensuration of the value of artistic practice with market value, but to commensurations with meaningful differences.

Alison Gerber is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Sociology at Yale University and a junior fellow of the Center for Comparative Research and the Center for Cultural Sociology. Her research focuses on work, culture, and public life. Her dissertation research examines variation in the ways artists define the value of their activities in order to investigate mechanisms that influence monetary valuation and occupational commitment. The project aims to develop a theory of valuation and its variation within occupations, and to illuminate valuation outside of stable employment relationships in order to contribute to our understanding of artists as well as economic and working life more generally. Alison holds a BA and BFA from the University of Minnesota, attended Critical Studies at Malmö Art Academy / Lund University, and holds an MA and MPhil from Yale University. She lives in New Haven, Connecticut.