Out this month: The Primacy of the Image in Northern European Art, 1400-1700: Essays in Honor of Larry Silver

It is a joy and an honor to be included in this impressive Festschrift for Larry Silver. The volume is out this month from Brill. I’ve written an essay about Crucifixion engraving that Albrecht Dürer pulled from a plate of gold. You can view the engraving here.

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My review of Andy Merrifield’s “The Amateur” at Frieze

I’m very happy to review Andy Merrifield’s new book, The Amateur: The Pleasures of Doing What You Love (Verso, 2017) in my debut article for Frieze: 

For Merrifield, bearing the standard of amateurism is not an idle wish, but an urgent political project. He challenges us to consider: what kind of world could we create if ‘following our passions’ wasn’t an empty sales pitch or a manipulative goad from people trying to extract our labour for cheap, but something we had the time and resources to do?

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The Uses and Abuses of Leisure

I’m very happy to be in the current issue (no. 35) of The Baffler. My article, “Did the Fun Work?” is an assessment of the role of leisure on contemporary society. What do we expect from leisure? What constitutes leisure? Is leisure, in fact, the opposite of labor?

The issue’s theme is “The Bad Society,” so that provides a sense of where I come down on these questions. But I don’t want to be merely an armchair curmudgeon. With many people feeling worn out and alienated by the oppressions of neoliberal capitalism, leisure seems like a positive antidote. But I urge us to examine what leisure has become. Is leisure, in its present state, something we want more of? Or might we want to remake it?

A snippet:

As neoliberalism reduces happiness to its uses, it steers our interests toward confirming our own feelings via external assessment. This assessment just so happens to require apparatuses (smartphones, laptops, Apple watches) and measurement units (faves, shares, star ratings) that turn us into eager buyers of consumer products and require our willing submission to corporate surveillance.

Finally, thanks to Stephan Walter for the brilliant illustration.

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New writing from the beginning of 2017

Is a full quarter of 2017 already behind us? It’s hard to believe. Over the past couple of months, I’ve been on a bit of a writing tear, fueled both by my own inspiration as well as some exciting commissions by various editors. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

At Jacobinwhere I am proud to be a contributing editor, I have two recent articles. The first is an affirmation of the pedagogical and civic virtues of lecturing, a mode of communication that draws lots of ire because…it’s old? Yes, there are many ways to screw up lecturing, but, I argue:

The type of labor demanded in the lecture hall — and the type of community it builds — still matters. Under an economic system that works to accelerate and divide us, institutions that carve out time and space to facilitate collectivity and reflection are needed more than ever.

Then, in the wake of Susan Fowler’s whistle-blowing about rampant sexism at Uber, I wrote another article in which I discuss how the conditions she endured are really shouldered by all of us:

She did what most of us probably would do in her situation: she endured. Fowler focused on aspects of the work she enjoyed despite her employer’s failure to respond appropriately to the reported misconduct. Even an accomplished worker with highly marketable skills like Fowler has little choice. Most people require a stable income to survive, and quitters forego the right to unemployment benefits.

Finally, at The New York Times, I offered similar thoughts about the allegedly toxic workplace culture at Thinx. While erratic managers and demeaning conditions are unfortunately common, these practices were scandalous at Thinx due to the company’s feminist, body-positive branding:

If Ms. Agrawal had paid her staff higher salaries, or had taken the more radically feminist step of making Thinx’s majority-female staff cooperative owners, she might have lost business to more ruthless competitors. Instead, she was able to pay her staff what she did because of a socially entrenched gender wage gap, a weak job market for young workers and her employees’ willingness to work long hours and sacrifice pay for a cause.

Thanks for reading…there a some more articles in the pipeline; I expect they’ll be coming out in the next weeks and months.

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On Dutch Still Life

Since I was a child, I’ve been fascinated by the opulent “banquet,” or pronk still life paintings that were briefly popular in the Dutch Republic. In the latest issue of the Revue d’art canadienne / Canadian Art Review (also known as RACAR), I consider why painters trained their meticulous capacities for observing and rendering on these piles of luxury goods. From the introduction:

As this study suggests, profuse naturalistic detail loaded these works with a visual excess meant to appeal to spectators informed by new methods of natural inquiry, keenly attuned to technical craftsmanship, and inclined to the thrall of visualizing economic affluence. As a representational mode, the naturalism manifested in pronkstilleven was itself a luxury commodity invested with a social capital that exceeded even the value of the painter’s skill, materials, and labour.

Jan Davidsz de Heem (Dutch, Utrecht 1606–1683/84 Antwerp) Still Life: A Banqueting Scene, probably ca. 1640–41 Oil on canvas; 53 1/4 x 73 in. (135.3 x 185.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Charles B. Curtis Fund, 1912 (12.195) http://www.metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/436637

Jan Davidsz de Heem (Dutch, Utrecht 1606–1683/84 Antwerp)
Still Life: A Banqueting Scene, probably ca. 1640–41
Oil on canvas; 53 1/4 x 73 in. (135.3 x 185.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Charles B. Curtis Fund, 1912 (12.195)

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New writing at The New Republic

A colleague I have written an article over at The New Republic about the political economy of modern “dynamic” offices: “Life at the Nowhere Office:”

The result is that your office diffuses much like a gas following the laws of entropyThis anywhering of the office renders our attempts to disappear by implementingout-of-the-office replies instantly moot and futile. Work will fill the space available to it. And with no space spared, it will find you wherever you are: not just your work office, but also your home, your yoga studio, your children’s kindergarten. And what is more, in addition to our physical selves we now have to manage this professional avatar as well. And due to the ongoing metrification and financialization of work we are increasingly stripped of the clutter that makes us us. All of our quirks and idiosyncratic features have no use, as they can either not be numbered or would just make us look messy and thus unproductive.

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“Do What You Love. And Other Lies about Success and Happiness” releases this week

My book, Do What You Love. And Other Lies about Success and Happinesspublished by Regan Arts, releases in the US on August 11.

The book is an expansion of an essay in Jacobin, “In the Name of Love,” critiquing the contemporary notion that only by doing waged work that we love can we achieve success and happiness. Considering the arguments I make in both the essay and the book, I wanted to make sure that I was respectful of all workers and not slip into cynicism.

Corey Robin, a writer and scholar whom I respect greatly, kindly blurbed the book:

Work has its apostles. Miya Tokumitsu is one its most elegant apostates. Immune to all the happy talk of self-actualization on the job, she cuts quickly and cleanly through the mass of pablum, propaganda, and delusion that infects so much of our discussion of today’s economy. She’s that rare observer of the contemporary scene: historical, sociological, and never, ever boring.

I can only repeat what I said in the first post of this (very sporadically updated) blog, which is that I am still a bit staggered at the breadth of response to my writing about contemporary cultures of work, especially since this topic is well outside my academic area of focus, which is Northern Renaissance art(!).

I know all too well how precious time is, and want to say again how moved I am that there are people out there who devote any of theirs to reading my work.


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