What happens when art becomes work? Artmaking today is a job, an occupation, a profession for ever-increasing numbers – but a strange one, in that it doesn’t always come with a paycheck. Turning art into work pulls issues of quality and value front and center; it props open a door and invites conflict. How that conflict plays out – what artists think, how they think it, and whose ideas win out – sculpts their work. It shapes the things that artists do and what they feel is right to do, appropriate, and legitimate. It shapes the objects they make, which ones are shown, and which are highly valued. It shapes how artists ask to be paid and whether they are.

This text, the second chapter of a book manuscript, provides context for an argument about social processes of conflict around value in working life. It compares historical and contemporary artists’ stories and shows how an extant, valued field of activity – a tradition – is rationalized and modernized, eventually becoming understood as an occupation: a job.