The MA students of the arts and professional artists must assess the arrangements implicated by financialization affecting their practice: what are the options, futures and risk, the evaluation and speculation of their intangible assets like reputation, loyalty, taste, memory, affective capacity, and singularity. Is it too much to call these assets, what could easily be defined as simple skills or attributes? I must be clear, at first, that not any of these changes appear in public discussion or as straightforward vision for institution or a funding body. However, my interest is on the nearly imperceptible change on thinking and affective capacities that have been set forward. These are difficult to perceive but resemble clearly enough the switch from the entrepreneurial to investee position for the artists and the artist students.
In institutional contexts, assetization and investee function have become a necessity with ongoing management of value and ‘portfolio’, even volatility. It is a process of ‘colonization’ by finance (Birch & Muniesa 2020). The universities are becoming hubs where one of the strategic tasks is to promote self-assetization and in the education of the performing arts, assets appear in participatory and care activities, collective and processual practices. The MA students and artists are conditioned as investees.
For centuries the artists’ practice has been focused on creation of aesthetic objects for the clergy, producing commodities for the state or inventing services for the entrepreneur-society. The changes reflect the major changes in the capitalistic production, from the early renaissance to today, like in any production or distribution of knowledge. It is no coincidence that the institutional critique and the followed conceptual art practice coincide with the emergence of contemporary finance since the early 1970s. The artistic practices are risky, dependent on trust and hedging volatility. They need communities and instead of producing commodities, today’s collaborative practices or like performance art and live art, the focus is on contracts – like futures or options.
The artists and the MA students of fine art and performing arts need to regard the aspects of options, futures, and risk in their practice. The so-called knowledge production within the arts coincides the shift from commodity production to option and futures contracts. I could say to contracts where attributes have a key role, and not necessarily the items produced. Since artistic practices are directly connected with the (often) urban social sphere, the artists positions are also defined with the general change, in this case toward the logic of finance, contractual instead of entrepreneurial. The critical task in the education and in the artistic institutions is to actively inquire these conditions, and how they are incorporated to practice and communities.
In the performing arts we clearly talk about intangible assets, but they generally have a significant role for the artistic field, such as the general intellect but also reputation, trustworthiness, or loyalty. These intellectual activities turned into tradeable assets and intellectual property the shift is from ownership to regimes of contract. One of these contexts is a classroom, and the other is a performance event, which both have a certain, often clearly defined duration, beginning and an end, but also some contractual agreements on content, relationships, or knowledge distribution. In the classroom these contractual agreements connect with other social relationships and community building, research, and continuity of artistic practice.
The implication of financialization, such as the asset form are part of the “set of arrangements that permeate everyday life,” write Kean Birch and Fabian Muniesa. All human activities can be capitalized as asset values and assessed for future earnings or adjusted their risk. My claim is not to say that such capitalizing would take place in the classroom or where artists are working in the community, because such intangible assets are not easily priced. But my interest here is that they can be, and that since there is such option it will affect on the regard of social relationships, trust, care, future practices, and reputation. It effects on the arrangement of the possible valuation, not only the material or singularity of objects, things, or canons. As Birch and Muniesa continue on asset form, it “appears in speculative appraisal to be the key to such process of enrichment.” Care, knowledge, reputation, trustworthiness, intangible performance can be speculated, and they may receive a form of security. This is what may be titled as a form of colonization, or endocolonization of intangible assets in the arts.
In the context of Finland, one of the significant changes in the past decade in funding for research and the art has been the emergingly significant role of private foundations. There is a significant number of them, and some has been functioning since the WWII, but their significance has become increasingly important for art and research funding after the turn of the millennium. Few of these are founded on the success of a particular corporation, like Kone Foundation (in cranes and elevator industry) or Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation (media). In other words, their funding is based on international finance. My intention is not to promote an idea that this would be the basis for introducing a financial logic to arts and science, because this is clearly not their intention. Rather, I am proposing that their significance is on the need that connects with assetization of the intangible nature of the arts and research, in general, in the post-industrial society. Moreover, this shift also represents a larger change from the industrial welfare society that Finland was to a nation-state deeply linked with global market driven by decentralized markets. We could say that such foundations have a similar role as did Soros foundation for the former-East countries in Europe after 1989.
There has been several, and still functions, several large, independent foundations that support arts and sciences in Finland, like the Finnish Cultural Fund. However, the main source for the artists has the been Taike, which gives the artist year grants, working grants and the artist pension. Taike funds are collected from the ministry and lottery.
Supposedly financialization has no ideology. Similarly different players within these structures claim independency, freedom, and diversity. Since foundations like Kone do truly important work in Finland for supporting for free research, art, and culture to flourish in an ecologically sustainable and socially equal Finland or influence decision-making, it is hard to think them as ideologically driven organizations. Kone Foundation is an independent non-profit organization, and its decision making is completely independent of the Kone Corporation, however most of its assets are invested in Kone shares. So, there is nothing specifically different in decision making process in Kone Foundation that, for instance in the Art University strategies, visions, or plans. They are, in fact rather similar promoting environmentally viable values, inclusive society, and supporting arts and research. Instead, to regard these new structures depended on financialization, are often regarded as ideologically driven.
In the artistic practice notion of reputation has always have a significant place. My argument is that the focus has shifted from the reputation based on the past endeavors towards volatility and risk of an artist or grant applicant. It is based on their attributes, not necessarily on their persona or identity. An artist grant, however, is not an investment. Yet, this is what has changed in the past two decades, that artists are not regarded as entrepreneurial player but as investees, that may be risky, even unknown and highly volatile. This is possible if the foundation has sufficiently secure funds for a highly variable spread, so to speak. Here, trends or current topics have more significance than for instance in the state grants, which are more based on the past experience and viable working plan, in other words, they can be seen more conservative.
Of course, most artists apply to all possible foundations, independent and state, but for their minds these grants have different affect. For a young and emerging artist community it is the Kone grant that has more meaning than the Taike (state) grant, even if it would be the same monetary value. So, there are difference in the monies received, there is a difference in the investee logic of the artist or the graduate from the academy. The percentage of successful grand decisions received from Kone Foundation is not higher than from Taike. Yet, the state grant does not have the same sentiment of prestige, as before, but it is in fact Kone that carries the affect of ‘bold’, young, and innovative.
The investee logic of the artist, their attributes is founded on these attitudes and reputation. The decisions are not made in terms of investment or bureaucratic calculation, but it is the behaviour and logic of the artists and researchers with thematic drives that does that. The investee logic penetrates the affective terrain of decision-making. Like the Academy of Finland, the largest funding body supporting research in Finland, or European Union, Kone foundation has opened up its decision process and arranges meetings for artists and researchers how to make a successful application. Such a transparent practice has also another meaningful aspect, which is to get to know the undercurrent topics and interests of the volatile applicant body. This is the often hazy and blurry, multifaceted, and intangible field of contemporaneity, what is relevant today – or which is noise, and which information, black or blank swans of the artistic practice and research today.
Again, my interest is not to criticize a private foundation to do that. Even if they disconnect themselves from any ideologies, the investee logic seems clear to me – yet, for sure, it is not the only one, but it is there. My interest is actually in the classroom, where I often have around ten MA graduates from different cultural and social backgrounds. How can they know how to function here? Occasionally it seems that the investee logic is something intuitive, almost like a survival strategy since artists famously are poor. So, to have a MA in the artistic field, signifies certain disinterest of making money. Moreover, the students seem to be more attracted of the grants from Kone foundation than the state grants – even though the positive results have about the same rate. I believe it is not based on information but on noise, and it follows a logic of investments, contracts, in fact. A Kone grant will provide better reputation in the future, in other words, credit.
This is based on the previous decisions of the foundation which are often presented with colourful images and interesting narratives of the new projects that foundation has given a grant – or, in other terms, that is included in the portfolio. The State grant do not do that, and struggle to follow the new investee logic similarly with the Universities that need to focus more on publicizing their strategies and visions. What is interesting in these narratives is that they all include lot of noise and unclear futures. They do not resemble a typical and solid research grant. All decisions have a particular kind of volatile aspect in them. I think it is the volatility that attracts the MA graduates and artists.
It also means, that noise and volatility that are always the integral parts of any artistic or creative practice seem to be received positively. A risky project may indeed be invested, even without a clearly defined outcome or impact on society. I think this is tremendously attractive to artists, aside from the heightened value in reputation, trustworthiness (if succeeded in the endeavour) and social connectivity. All this resembles a futures contract or options. It means that artists and funders are keen or recognizing volatile attributes in the social sphere and individual practices, and at this, following the logic of investment. So, it is not artists that take a role of an oppressed producers, but a necessary part of such contingent play. They also clearly understand the investment logic that has become significant structure for culture and knowledge production.
Obviously, it is never stated that grants would have the nature of a futures or options contract, but it is so that such ‘bold openings’ or support for innovations follow this paradigm – not the one of merit, but of hedged volatility. It is not that artists would have better knowledge of information, they might as well be nothing but noise, but in the spread, what we don’t know to be true, may be as valuable. It often appears in the visions and strategies termed as ‘freedom’, where plurality is part of the dynamics. The artists know as much as the foundations, that creative innovations that are volatile, bundled with plurality of attributes gains from incompleteness, indeterminacy and the unexpected. The work is the hedging of this risky endeavour. It may not be ideological, but clearly these terms define a paradigmatic shift in thinking of arts and research, knowledge production turned to circulation, resembling more a decentralized market than subsidising of the arts by a nation-state.
#assetization, #performance art, #arteducation, #pedagogy, #non-standard, #assetization, #investee-condition
Birch, Kean and Fabian Muniesa (eds). 2020. Assetization: Turning Things into Assets in Technoscientific Capitalism. Cambridge: The MIT Press.
 Birch & Muniesa 2020, 11
 Birch & Muniesa 2020, 14