Art and its Contexts
The 8th midterm Conference of the
European Research Network Sociology of the Arts
4-6 September 2014, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca
Sociology of
Artistic Work
and Challenges
Pierre-Michel Menger
Collège de France
& Ehess – Cespra
[email protected]
An atypical area
Basic properties of the organization of artistic
work : division of labor, strong individualization of
work and careers, flexibility in team work, essential
tension between obsessive patrimonialization and
innovation through creative destruction
Separability of the monetary and non-monetary
dimensions of work : substitution or
complementarity? Intrinsic rewards as psychic
income vs highly skewed monetary rewards
The success factors are more indeterminate than
for many comparable occupations. The puzzle is
analytically attractive, because the combination of
factors provides sufficient variability to be
explored methodically
Research and its cumulativeness
 Data on the career of artists and their works and
performances are plentiful – due to the properties
of work organization (bilateral contracts, project
organization, variable architecture of teams,
durability of works, extensive documentation of
the production).
Access to the result of labor, the work in itself
becomes possible: the analytical equipment is not
designed to study meanings (an area oflow
falsifiability), but the work as a process (sequences,
bifurcations, revisions, negotiations)
Sociological and historical studies of the artistic
work as a process have much to share
Selectivity bias
Research cumulativeness
Strong convergence between sociological analysis
and economic analysis of work and organizations
in the arts. Example: the 6 key arguments of
Richard Caves’ Creative Industries (2000)
Nobody knows (uncertainty on success)
Art for art’s sake (intrinsic motivation and creativity )
Motley crew (job differentiation, coordination and
teamwork )
Infinite variety (competition based on originality,
horizontal differentiation))
A list-B list (critical evaluation, vertical differentiation,
rankings, celebrity tournaments)
Ars longa (works as durable or super-durable goods)
Sociologist can fully endorse that characterization
Thanks to fruitful multidisciplinary work, many
puzzles have been solved: the issue of talent; the
attitude toward risk; structural excess supply;
simultaneous growth of employment and
unemployment; the surprising tolerance of
inequality; the rationales of public support for the
The Challenges
 Proliferation of data - new methods of
Training and employment : how they relate
What is known about errors and failures?
Evaluation and informational asymmetries: how to
document them
Technological determinism and the impact of
technological innovations on artistic work
Rejunate the analysis of cultural industries:
economics of production, big data management.
The consumer now works too
Is artistic work soluble in the creative industries’
revamping of art and culture?
Contributions to the sociology of labor, work and
employment : marginal or significant?
In what kind of work does
an artist engage?
Division of labor
Work and organization
Permanent organization : economic (Baumol’s law)
and sociological issues - disutility of artistic work in
organization, motivation, incentive, vertical
division of labor and scope for autonomy.
Careers, women's work and discrimination in
organizations: the case of orchestras (Faulkner;
Allmendinger & Hackman, Goldin & Rouse)
Prevalence of the project based organization in the
arts. A strong case for studying how functional and
numerical flexibilities are intertwined
(Stinchcombe, Christopherson & Storper, Menger,
=> Reassess the divide between subordinate
employment and self-employment and the
relationship between organizations (contracts, subcontracting)
In what kind of work does an
artist engage?
The variability in the working process as a lever to
Howard Becker's paradigm of horizontal
differentiation (cooperation through convention) –
insights and limitations of the model.
Vertical differentiation: functional stratification of
jobs (star jobs, guardian jobs, foot-soldier jobs cf.
Baron & Kreps, Stinchcombe, Menger)
Longer credit lists as a result (technology, project
based economics, signal of employability) and as a
symptom (contributorship vs authorship in
Team composition: diversity and optimal matching
mechanisms - Uzzi & Spiro, 3 criteria: size,
proportion of newcomers, rate of repeated
Key role of network analysis: the plasticity of
organizational forms and their constant
reconfiguration – artistic labor markets and
patterns of collaboration as a strong case for
investigating employment based on reputation and
In what kind of work does an
artist engage?
Study of labor and work organization as a
contribution to research on artistic
The case of the "baroque revolution in classical
music" : freelancing and repeated collaborations
(François, 2005)
Work in the visual arts : the triangle painter-dealercritic (White); the painter-dealer-critic- museum
curator quadrilateral (Moulin) ; the painter-dealercritic; painter-dealer-critic-museum curatorfreelance curator/production manager pentagon : a
self-reinforcing process of internationalization of
art markets (fairs, networks of art dealers and
alliances of galleries) and a redefinition of the
relationship between financialization of the art
market and the « price as index of quality » rule
pervading the recognition process of artists.
The role of agents in the literary production and
the interconnection of the literature market and
the film and audiovisual industry (Bielby and Bielby;
Thompson, Merchants of Culture)
The art work as a repository for information on
innovations in the working process
In what kind of work does
an artist engage?
Artistic occupations : similarities and
differences with high-skilled workers
In all occupations classifications, artists are
ranked among the professional-technical
managerial professions. Decrystallized
features however :
1) lower income than the average income level
of professionals in their occupational category,
higher rates of unemployment and
undermployment, higher rate of multiple
jobholding(Menger, Throsby)
2) a high position in the scale of job
satisfaction, prestige and desirability of an
occupation (Jencks, Rosen).
3) high levels of concentration in the major
urban centers ( ecology of artistic work as a
case of agglomeration economics –
transaction cost saving power of
agglomeration in activities with a high rate
of changing content of work : Stinchcombe,
Rate of urban concentration of professionals in the
arts, and managerial and technical occupations
La concentration d’une sélection de groupes professionnels
dans les métropoles américaines selon la taille de celles-ci.
Comparaison entre trois métropoles des USA et les villes
mondes (d’après Markusen&Schrock, 2006)
Table1.Selected occupational group specialization by metro size class,2000 (quoted from Markusen and Schrock, 2006, p. 1308)
Notes: Occupations shown exhibit relatively high rates of skewness across US metros. Specialisation index of 1 indicates
equal share of occupation in size class as in overall economy.
Source: Authors’ calculations based on data from US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2000.
Table2. Occupational specialisations, by group, US world cities and all metros, 2000 (quoted from Markusen and Schrock, 2006, p.
Source:see Table1.
In what kind of work does
an artist engage?
Artistic occupations : similarities and
differences with high-skilled workers
 Implications
for statistical identification:
accuracy (national statistical systems) against
elasticity of the definition of professionalism
– dedication to work as an intentional
identity (Unesco), sectoral redistribution
(creative workers in Australia and Europe)
 How
do we define an artist today?
Rewards, experience and
Three arguments to illuminate the paradox
of a professional world with high
attractiveness and low average incomes
The compensating differentials argument: a highskilled occupation that provides more satisfaction
offers psychological rewards that come in
subtraction from monetary income.
Among the characteristics that explain job
satisfaction, high autonomy and the variety of
tasks performed (the low level routine) play a
major role
Cross-sectional data show a very strong monetary
penalty of young artists and a poor fit of wage
equations: initial training has little explanatory
power in the analysis of interoccupational wage
differences as well as of interindividual differences
in income. The capital of professional experience
has a much higher explanatory power.
Risk-taking and learning
Discussion of the three arguments
1. The argument of compensating differentials
faces the fact that considerable interindividual
differences occur within the same artistic
profession. the satisfaction.
Should we conclude that job satisfaction has a
weak coefficient of dispersion while monetary
income are highly skewed?
Artists easily subsribe to La Fontaine’s moral
in his fable The Farmer and his children, "the
surest way to fail is to want success at any
price" (see the paradoxes of instrumental
rationality analyzed by Jon Elster in particular).
But it would be an extreme reasoning to
balance income inequalities with the psychic
income mechanism as a perfect compensating
Risk-taking and learning
Discussion of the three arguments:
2. High autonomy and low subordination are related
to work organization : work is essentially independent,
or is sometimes (in France) equated with a salaried job
in the performing arts.
Yet freelancing without recurrent relationship with an
employer, transfers the business risk down onto the
worker. Distribution of individual quantities of work is
nearly as skewed as that of income. Income is
generated by an amount of work that greatly varies
according to reputation. The price of labor may well
include a risk premium to compensate for the
discontinuity of employment, but does not vary
depending on whether the artist works much or little
within a period of time. Only unemployment insurance
benefits or side income sources can offset this risk.
Risk-taking and learning
Discussion of the three arguments:
3. Labor income is usually explained as the product of
four factors: effort level, capital of knowledge and
skills, abilities and a random factor (current economic
conditions, local labor market and sectoral variations,
quality of job matching).
Yet the amount of work in the performing arts varies
according to one’s reputation. And the amount of
labor embodied in an art work (novel, composition,
sculpture, etc) can be extremely variable. The
relationship between quantity and quality of the output
varies from one art to another and from one project to
another. So the level of effort is difficult to calibrate.
Moreover, working situations may change from one
projet to the other, which increases the impact of
chance (a good actor in a bad movie, an opportunity to
meet with a partner who proves ideally matched or
not, etc.)
Risk-taking and learning
The resulting analytical puzzle
Due to the properties of the artistic work - variability,
differentiation, originality, innovation – the work
situation must have a high learning content
If the skills needed to get professionalized were easy to
define, detect and transmit, the training system would
do a perfect job in filtering the huge number of
candidates for a careers in the arts.
Contrasting cases: classical ballet vs literature vs visual
Wage equations tell us that experience plays a greater
role. How does experience work?
Experience mixes training and information. It allows
you to accumulate skills on the job, but it also informs
you about the abilities or lack of abilities you are
endowed with.
Valuing work through
An artist’s abilities and the value of his work are not
assessed in absolute terms.
Ordinal measurement of quality
Use of tournaments and contests: charts, castings,
auditions, rankings, from the overtly commercial one
to the noblest, Pantheons and various Halls of Fame)
Career dynamics
How a career unfolds : comparative tests, and
elimination of noisy random factors
Accumulation of work experiences, with an
optimum in their diversification (inverted-U)
Dynamic amplification of interindividual
differences in aptitude that are initially difficult to
Segmentation into reputation levels after a
number of tournament-like trials
Selective matchings : higher individual productivity
in well-matched teams whenever the production
function is not simply additive
Inequalities and competition
Strong income inequalities : living and
working under the Pareto law
Creative work needs interindividual comparisons
(impossibility of creation in a solipsistic world)
The ordinal ranking of individual qualities shapes
audiences’ preferences => the whole market
organization increases the concentration of
demand on those deemed most talented.
Income inequalities are disproportionate to the
differential ability.
Talent is nothing but a pure differential, yet the
reputational segmentation ascribes the ordinal
rankings’ results to a causal substantial and selfevident force, in retrospect.
Should we admit that an artist has started driven
by intrinsic motivation (getting non-monetary
benefits) and remains strategically insensitive to
uncertain monetary rewards during his career
while experiencing huge income inequalities in
his occupation? Or is her behavior able to
change? Or is she strongly motivated from the
outset by the « foolish hope of high rewards »
(Marshall) ?
Competition and motivation
The skewed distribution of any sort of reward, as
expressed by the Pareto law (80% of income and
recognition received by 20% of individuals)
should draw many individuals away from such
trades. But …
Intrinsic motivation occurs especially in activities
where the individual ignores if he possesses the
abilities needed to succeed.
And it can lead individuals to overestimate their
chances of success. Because competition in creative
work takes place under the principle of originality and
innovation, differentiation is horizontal, before the
ranking game starts to rearrange it in a vertical one.
Competition must remain sufficiently uncertain to
balance two factors:
Creativity is exhausted by external control situations
and quite specific goal assignments.
But rewards (income, allocation of attention and
esteem by others, social recognition) have
informational properties: they inform the individual
about the value of its trade, ex post. This informational
feedback can be accommodated in various ways and
corresponds to the process of learning and acquiring
information I mentioned earlier.
Behavior and its variability
The odds of achievement under uncertainty: work
and its diversification
Autonomy and control over one’s work quite often
require a diversification of the job portfolio : surveys
show how artists can combine various jobs with
various monetary and non-monetary reward profiles
A good test of this risk management scheme based on
job diversification is to examine how artists make
choices: when demand for the kind of work that may
enhance their reputation is sufficient, they dismiss less
formative projects, i.e. those that provide them with
poor information about their potential, and that put
them in contact with partners of lesser quality.
The three original features
of the artistic work
Redefining inequalities in achievement opportunities
 The distribution of artists by level of professional
success can be defined as the distribution of
opportunities to diversify their business. Initial training
provide artists with skills to also perform para-artistic
(e.g. teaching). By contrast, in the realm of creative
activities, artists are ranked according to the value of
their skills, abilities and outputs.
 So the first originality of artistic work refers to the
aptitude to combine and hierarchize work experiences
that variously mix effort, skills, abilities and chance.
 The second originality is to encourage individuals to
engage in highly uncertain activities driven by
dynamically selective competition without forgetting
the power of intrinsic motivation.
 The third originality has to do with considerable
occupational inequalities as well as with an unusual
tolerance of inequality, and with a characteristic mix of
solidarity and competition in the professional
community. Risk pooling and collective bargainings are
the reverse side of highly individualistic behavior under
pressing competition.
Inequalities and
Investigating inequalities
The cumulative advantage mechanism: its magnifying
impact in project-based working systems with high
functional flexibility.
Chance as a built-in featureof .
Networks, intermediation and informational
asymmetries in art markets
Tolerance of inequalities: the veil of ignorance as a
requisite and a lure : the dream of a world without
social gravity
Social heredity in artistic occupations : data and
Challenges in researching
artistic work
How do training and employment relate in various
artistic occupations? We need more specific
investigations into artistic training.
What is known about errors and failures? The
challenge of studying chance and risk in the
working process and its various collaborative
Rejuvenate the study of cultural industries in the
digital era : production, data management,
How is the consumer now involved?
The emergence of new professions and the
reconfiguration of collaborative chains.
=>Intermediation (the changing value chain in the
arts) and the evolving evaluation practices =>
reputational mechanisms (web) far from immune
to strategic manipulation
Challenges in researching
artistic work
The impact of technological innovations on
artistic work and remuneration
Breaking artistic work down into various
kinds of tasks, in order to calibrate and
separate routine and non-routine tasks and
to compute what will be delegated to
What sources of data have emerged to
study networks and collaborations?
Artist or creative worker?
 The
composition of the category of artistic
professions: an evolutionary social
 An
example : the French INSEE
occupational taxonomy
political economy of occupational
categorization: the emergence of creative
new geography: agglomeration
economies and connected world cities
 Artists
in the revamping of national and
local cultural policies
World Cities
Les 20 villes les plus connectées dans le réseau des villes mondes (cité d’après
Derudder et al., 2010, p. 1868)
Table3. The 20 most connected cities in the WCN in 2000 and 2008 (quoted from Derudder et al., 2010, p. 1868)
Authors vs salaried
Three scenarios for the evolution of work and
remuneration of artists and authors :
 1) ) a community of producers in an economy
of pure sharing: the issue of labor
compensation is not resolved
 2) a market economy based on a new
management of property rights: two forms of
copyright remuneration (single, pooled)
 3) a hybrid economy (e.g. Lessig, Remix, 2008):
the law of property rights evolves without
being delegitimized
The example of music. Getting paid as a service
provider (interpreter) or as a composer. Records
and concerts, are usually complementary goods,
but gradual substitution takes place.
=> growing attraction of the project-based
organization of work and and its
compensation schemes against the rent served
to an innovator and its monopolistic rights.
Collaboration in teamwork and project-based work.
Shifting risks and elimination tournaments – see
next slides
Study of contracts in the
audiovisual industry
Study of contracts in the
audiovisual industry
Les échéances d’acceptation
Study of contracts in the
audiovisual industry
• The contributions of the study of
artistic work to the sociology of labor,
work and employment : marginal or
• Arts : a much more credible area of
scientific investigation
• Studying the arts : the lure of
adventurous and hazardous
extrapolations (pioneers, forerunners):
sometimes suggestive, sometimes
rhetorical, sometimes far-fetched
• Safer argument : the arts, a fruitful
area of investigation for the exploration
of the multiple meanings of work

Syndicalisme et précarité. Le cas des artistes salariés intermittents