Art/Work: White-collar Creativity, 1960-1970 Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • Rogerson, Ben
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of English and Comparative Literature
  • My dissertation examines mid-twentieth century American art that poses artistic autonomy against the drudgery of white-collar work. Employed in increasing numbers in the cultural industries after World War II, artists feared that they were becoming conformist breadwinners rather than independent bohemians. Translating these concerns into crises of form, the artworks that I study present themselves as if they were produced under the conditions of managerial capitalism - film editing that follows corporate logics of efficiency, for instance, or novels that reduce dialogue to bureaucratic formulae. To resolve such crises, these artworks imagine new forms of creativity liberated from the workaday world. I argue, however, that these artists come to realize that their valorization of artistic independence is not opposed to the economic values reshaping midcentury American labor but is, in fact, derived from them; their celebrations of flexibility and self-direction, in other words, make them prototypes for modern no collar workers who are freed from the traditional nine-to-five office grind at the peril of becoming disposable workers. Over the course of four chapters, I cover artists working in four different media who recognize the costs of the new work arrangements: Billy Wilder celebrates Hollywood independent production in The Apartment, only to lament workers' disempowerment in his later films; Richard Yates's novels reassess the ethic of artistic suffering once entrepreneurial, literary publishing imprints appropriate the rhetoric of risk; John Berryman's poetry volume The Dream Songs comes to understand foundation fellowships as inducements to self-exploitation; Lee Friedlander embraces photography commissions at the expense of career stability. Ultimately, I contend that these artists--ostensibly free agents--anticipate the precarious laborers who inhabit a neoliberal world of contingent work arrangements, institutional distrust, and vast economic inequality.
Date of publication
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Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • Flaxman, Gregory
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2014

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