The Artist-Economist and
Immaterial Equilibrium Economics
Watch an interview with the Artist-Economist for more information on who the artist-economist is, the new theory of immaterial equilibrium economics and the market for and price of art. Read the transcript below.
The Artist-Economist is the result of my identity developing from an economist, to an artist, and ultimately to the Artist-Economist. As a result of my experiences of infinite space as a media to make art, I realised that this changed the way I viewed economic theory. The Artist-Economist was born.
The “Artist-” prefix reflects a new epistemology and provides a methodology for gaining knowledge in addition to books, existing theories, or logic.
The new economics, or “Immaterial Equilibrium Economics”, is the result of relaxing the conventional economic assumption of finite resources and introducing infinite space into economy theory.
As the Artist-Economist, I have used a lecture format to create live art works. There are currently three performance lectures that so far form the curriculum of Immaterial Equilibrium Economics. Click on the title of each work for more information on each piece.
- Performance Lecture 1. An artist talks with an economist (2015) – a one-person performance lecture involving a debate between an artist and an economist and the emergence of the Artist-Economist. Performed at the University of Brighton MA graduate show (July 2015), Marlborough Theatre Brighton (Brighton Fringe, May 2015), Project 78 Gallery St Leonards (De La Warr Pavilion offsite event, July 2015), and St Georges Church, Art in Romney Marsh (September 2015).
- Performance Lecture 2. Human essence, non-Euclidean geometry and commodity market equilibrium (2015) – Performed at the Shag performance evening at Muxima Café, Bow, London (December 2015).
- Performance Lecture 3 (2016) – Framing in art and the ‘in-ness’ of ‘out-ness’: Artist-Economist Propositions on Brexit – Performances COMING SOON
An interview the Artist-Economist
Interview by Chris Smith.
Transcript of the video below.
0.00 – Who is the Artist-Economist?
Well the Artist-Economist is the development of my identity. I had a long career as an economist for 25 years. And then in the last 6 years I’ve become an artist. As I had experiences as an artist I realized that these were changing the way I viewed economic theory. So that’s when I grew into the idea of the Artist-Economist, an economist who has had certain experiences with art that have changed my view of economic theory.
0.55 – Would you say you were an economist who likes art?
I was already an economist that liked art but I would say that I had fallen short of having a real art experience, a real creative experience. I was a consumer of art, a passive consumer. I never saw myself as a creator, as a maker. And so I was a very logical, spreadsheet, legal, straight line type of economist that didn’t really think outside of classifications and coding systems. Although I enjoyed looking at art, it was a very different experience than actually becoming an artist where I did start to create things. Where I became aware of a much more fluid, much less linear way of thinking and being that allowed me to become aware of this identity.
2.08 – Noticing that the title you call yourself, the Artist-Economist, artist comes before the word economist. And seeing that you were an economist, was there some transformation or awakening that came about that led to this?
Yes I think very much. Obviously I have had a 25 plus year career as an economist, so as in life we assume these identities. So I have a very strong identity as an economist. But I think that six years ago when is started making art, that identity started to evolve. But I think it’s very important that it is that way round. Artist-Economist. I don’t think it’s Economist-Artist because I think the point is that becoming an artist, and the experience of being an artist, actually changed the way in which I see economics. Changed the assumptions that underlie my views of economic theory. So that “Artist-“ prefix is very important. Artist-Economist. And I’m actually a great believer in the fact that whatever your career, specialization or expertise, if you then went and studied art, the knowledge of your specialist subject you would have, the experience you would have, would deepen as a result of your experience as an artist. So I think the “Artist-“ prefix is a very important concept. A very important way of gaining knowledge that isn’t necessarily available from books. I do feel that I understand more as the Artist-Economist from having this experience as an artist which wasn’t gained from books or logic than I had as an economist which was based on studying existing knowledge and data. So yes, the way round that is is very important, Artist-Economist.
4.39 – What is the new economics?
The new economics, or what I call “Immaterial Equilibrium Economics”, is an attempt to reflect the new assumptions that I am working with as an economist now. Because conventional economic theory, and indeed most economists, work from the assumption that there are a finite amount of resources. That the supply of resources is finite and that demand is unlimited. And that the market mechanism will adjust price to ensure that demand equals supply and the market will be in equilibrium.
My experience with infinity as an artist has been very real. As an artist I try and work with infinite space as a medium to make art. And I’ve had some experiences with infinity and infinite space that convince me that infinity is real. And then once I realized that, I went back to economic theory. The starting point in economic theory is that resources are finite and that the basic problem of economics is how to allocate finite resources. Actually, if resources are not finite and there is an infinity, an abundance, in the universe that I can have access to, then it completely changes what economics is about because economics can no longer be about how to allocate scarce resources. Indeed it questions the whole concept of demand because, when I experienced infinity as an artist, I had such a sense of wellbeing, such a sense of satisfaction. Being perfectly content. Not needing anything. Really aware that I have everything I need to be happy and the idea of ‘demand’ just doesn’t make sense. So, the new economics – or Immaterial Equilibrium Economics – is about infinite supply and the end of demand. It completely changes economic theory.
7.30 – So with your experiences with art, making art, becoming an artist, and understanding what art means, could you describe one of those experiences that would help explain the experiences you say you’ve had with infinity?
Well when I started out as an artist I was fascinated by space. When I looked at any object, if I looked at a chair, I was really interested in the space underneath the chair. And I was fascinated by work by Bruce Nauman and Rachel Whiteread that really explored those spaces by making sculptures out of those spaces. So I decided that I wanted to work with space as an artist myself. But of course the problem with working with space is that space is actually infinite and there is no border. Any border that we make around space is actually an arbitrary one. As I worked with space, I started having the real sensation that space was infinite.
There are a few ways in which I have come to demonstrate infinity. One of them is the reducing cube where if I define a cube space, say, in front of me between me and the camera. This is a real space that exists, probably about 20cm by 20cm. Now if I was to picture that cube halving in size, and halving in size again, and again, and again, and again, it would eventually keep going smaller but it would never reach zero. That mathematical paradox that it never reaches zero. And probably somewhere around this point would be a point where the cube would keep going infinitely smaller but never get to zero. And I very much like that kind of framing of one point of infinity. In reality, there is an infinite number of points of infinity in this space. But by framing one point, I can touch it, I can put my head in it, I can put my body into it if I wanted to, I can put my hand into it. And I can have a sensation of infinity. So that’s kind of one demonstration and I sometimes do large scale demonstrations where I make a 2 metre cube and I stand inside it and I can experience infinity that way.
Another experience of infinity is walking in a circle. And I’ve tried experiments with that where I’m walking in a circle. I was inspired by Robert Smithson when he talks about the horizon. Never actually reaching the horizon but always being on the horizon. And this concept of being there and here at the same time. And I was really fascinated by that. I imagined walking around the world. If I was to set off from here and start walking in a westerly direction. To keep walking around the world, assuming that I could cross the sea. I would always be walking towards the horizon. It would appear to me as if I was on a flat surface walking towards the horizon. I would never reach the horizon but eventually I would come back to this point. I would come back to the point where I started. And I really like that idea.
I’ve done some performances where I’ve just been walking in a circle and talking as I walk about the experience. There is a real sense of infinity in that because once you start walking in a circle, there is no start and there is no end. There is no end to walking in a circle. It just keeps going. When I engage in these experiences, I feel that I understand infinity. Not only understand but live and experience infinity in a way that is quite difficult to do when you are just thinking about infinity conceptually.
12.35 – Coming back to the question of this new economics, is this economic theory born out of artistic experience?
Yes, very much so. I think that, as an economist before I was an artist, my approach to economics, my methodology, was much narrower. In the name of ‘science’, my methodology was quite narrow and restricted. I think becoming an artist, in terms of my artistic practice, I allowed myself to have a much more unlimited methodology where non-linear, non-logical, really allowing the creative energy to take me in any direction in a way that I had never really worked as an economist. As an economist I always worked with logic and very ordered and structured arguments. I was good at that. But as an artist the experience is very different in terms of opening up a whole new way of looking at things and approaching things. Not just looking at things from one angle. So the experience of being an artist, then coming back to economics and approaching economics in a more open way, has actually been quite a revelation. I think it’s opened up that narrow way that I looked at economics previously.
I think the truth is, there is a point where I realized I really was an artist. When I started making art six years ago, there was a point several years into that that I realized I really was an artist. I thought that I had left my old identity as an economist behind but actually it was as I went on with my experiences as an artist that I realized that there was a kind of politics in what I was discovering in terms of infinity and my experiences of infinity. When I stopped to think about it, that fed back into my economics and that I still had something to say as an economist. The idea of the Artist-Economist feels like a mission, almost, to update economic theory to take into account this dramatic reality.
15.37 – The next question is how does this differ from conventional economics?
Well conventional economic theory is based on the idea of finiteness. A text book definition of economics is that economics is the study of how finite resources should be allocated. It’s the social science of how finite resources should be allocated. Where the new economics changes things is that it takes away, challenges, or rejects, that assumption of finiteness. Because actually if the immaterial really exists, finiteness is a material concept, the immaterial, although it’s intangible, it is real. The immaterial is infinite. Once one has had the experience a real experience of infinity, the idea of finiteness just no longer has any relevance. So an economic theory based on finiteness would seem to be fundamentally flawed and I’m very dissatisfied with that as an economic theory. The implications of conventional economic theory are that there is a limited amount to go around and I need to grab what I can. I need to guard it. To work really hard for myself. Whereas, in truth, if abundance exists, if there really is something infinite inside of me, and it feels as if I have experienced something infinite inside of me, then grabbing things just doesn’t make sense. Protecting this just doesn’t make sense. IN fact, the flow maybe should go the other way. If I feel that I’m accessing something infinite, if I give it away, then possibly then I turn the tap on more. I get more. So reality there is a fundamental conflict between the new economics, Immaterial Equilibrium Economics, and conventional economic theory.
18.25 – I can’t help but want to ask this question at this point about quite an obvious, and I want to use the word dichotomy. I’m not quite sure if I’m using it in the correct way but it’s about how people’s opinions, perceptions, responses, passions are split when it comes to the art world. And the cost of art. What you’re doing and whether you have anything to say about the price of art, how much it goes for, and real value of art. Are you saying anything about that?
Yes I think as the Artist-Economist I’ve got very strong views on the art market because any market attempts to impose a kind of order, a framing, a commoditization of the product for sale. I think that actually, for me, art is concerned with the immaterial. Art is concerned with something much bigger than a product which can be bought and sold. For me, art and creativity are as much a part of being a human being, the experience of living, as breathing, as eating, as having sex. So the idea of having a market and demand and supply and a finite amount of art for sale at a certain price depending on how much demand there is, for me, is a very kind of distorted view of art. Now I don’t criticize artists for trying to make a living like anyone else like people working in a coffee shop, in a bank, or in a shop. Artists have a right to make a living. But at one level, to make a market out of art is just absurd. I think that Immaterial Equilbrium Economics is actually making quite a strong statement about capitalism and about markets. The concept of a market in the presence of infinity does not make sense. A market requires valuing selling, and by definition finiteness. And often fear, fear that I won’t get what I want or fear that I won’t get the price that I want, that actually it akes us away from what art is ultimately about that, for me, as an artist, is about experiencing the immaterial. And ultimately experiencing infinite space.
21.46 – So is your art for sale?
That’s a really good question. Obviously I live in a society where we have to have a certain amount of money in order to live. We have pay rent and buy food. So obviously, like anyone else, I have to earn a living. If I work full-time as an artist, I need to have some form of income from that. That said, it doesn’t sit right with me my work being for sale because actually my work is the immaterial. I can’t sell infinity by definition. There has to be a finiteness to put something on sale. That sounds like a contradiction, and it is, but I feel strongly about that. So no, my work can’t be sold.