Skip to main content


By 15 avril 2021avril 27th, 2021Non classé


October 13th-14th-15th, 2021,
Ecole Normale Supérieure and École du Louvre, Paris

Organising committee:
Armance Léger (ENS-PSL, ED 540, EA 7410 SACRe)
Morgan Labar (ENS, département ARTS, EA 7410 SACRe),
Killian Rauline (École du Louvre)

This symposium aims to renew discourses on idleness in the arts, focusing on artistic practices of deliberate (and sometimes suffered) process of un-working, from the mid 1940’ to now.

Keywords : Idleness, Laziness, Un-Work, Non-Work, Refusal, Rest, Do/Undo, Creative process, Artistic productivism, Strategy, Depression, Contemporary art, Lockdown

“Do not ever work” This was the injunction drawn by a young Guy Debord on Paris walls in 1953 and taken up as a slogan by striking workers and students in May 1968. Though more than half a century has passed since then, it resonates just as strongly today. Never have the terms “degrowth” and “slowness” so often been used.  Over the past 20 years, Paul Lafargue’s The Right To Be Lazy (1880) and Bertrand Russell’s In Praise of Idleness (1932) have been reprinted numerous times and publications critical of the added value of work have multiplied–Jenny Odell’s highly-praised How to Do Nothing (2019) among them.

According to André Breton, poet Saint-Pol-Roux had a writing board placed at the entrance of his mansion indicating “The poet is at work” when he went to bed. Since then, late capitalism has led to the end of sleep (Jonathan Crary) and now consumes even our unproductive time. If the art world is haunted by great figures inclined to idleness, it is now the stars of new media who regularly tout the value of meditative and suspended moments. In many cases, what claims to be a recalcitrant, resistant practice has not withstood the sweeping tide of capitalism and has started to be used as yet another sales strategy–as well as a way to divert attention aways from accusations that companies and individual participate in the brewing financial, social, and ecological crisis. (A form of ‘idlewashing’ if you will?) The sudden suspension of most activities during the world-wide lock-down brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has raised new questions about a model of society based on accumulation, thereby encouraging forms of creation and reflection that tended to be marginalized before.

Artists have begun to ask themselves and their publics: To produce or not to produce? To create or not to create? To produce and to create, but less? Since the 1950s, poets, painters, sculptors, performers, filmmakers and choreographers have chosen to un-work [désoeuvrer], in the active and transitive sense of the word. These artists attempt to create works by doing less, doing other things, or not doing anything at all — turning insteal to travelling, partying, and cultivating boredom as a desirable state.  They invent gestures and artistic processes that cause us to question their very status as artists.

Idleness is not a steady or singular state.  If pushed too far, it can slip towards melancholia or even depression. Long associated with the figure of “the dandy,” it designates an activity as much as an attitude. Paradoxically it implies the slowing down, if not the total stopping, of artistic practice. As an ethical or political position, it carries a firm refusal of productivity and the labour ideology. Conceptualizing artistic unproductiveness therefore requires us to address how the artist’s activity and status in both the art world and society at large is structured by institutions, distribution networks, production circuits and the market.

We invite proposals from artists, writers, and researchers from a broad range of practices and disciplines. We also welcome proposals for papers, workshops, round-table discussions or performances along the following thematic axes :

  • The artist as (non-)worker

This section questions the (social) status of the artist and their production in the capitalist world.

– Is the artist a professional like any other worker? What about the amateur, the dilettante, or, to use a very contemporary term, “the maker”?
– Can we think about artistic practice as radically dissociated from labour?
– What is the value of artistic “work” in the contemporary world?  Does artistic “work” carry a specific value within the contemporary economy (social, political, and financial)?
– What do we make of artists’ organisations that promote idleness (e.g. Maurizio Cattelan’s Oblomov foundation or Pierre Huygue’s Association des Temps Libérés).
– How do we conceptualize art strikes/what do we make of the importation of working-class practices into the art world (from the Art Workers’ Coalition in 1969 to the “Art on Strike” collective formed in 2019 or the Alytus Biennial which in 2008 became the Art Strike Biennial)?

  • Idleness as a strategy

Many artists have turned to idleness as a strategy. Thus, one might ask :

– Is doing nothing in order not to make a profit a way to counter the commodification of art?
– How does the increasing rarity of production affect the art market? The success and notoriety of the artist?
– Conversely, can deliberate overproduction provide a way of reclaiming artworks that have become “victims of their own success”?
– What power does the suspension or cessation of artistic production have to reshape artistic institutions?
– Does idleness undermine the way the symbolic value of art is produced?
– Does idleness thwart the idea of ‘a masterpiece’ or, on the contrary, does it reinforce it?
– Does idleness have the same meaning in the 1960s as it did in the 2000s? Is it a reactivation of the bohemian myth? Is it still possible in the 2000s?

  • The (art)work of un-working

In the early 1980s, Painter Simon Hantaï stopped painting for more than two decades. At the end of this period, he would declare to anyone: “they believe that reading is not painting.” 

– Can idling still be a form of creating? Does un-working create room for art-works?
– For a long time, idleness has been associated with melancholia and, later, spleen. Do these associations continue to resonate today? Is there a relationship between artistic idleness and depression?
– What are the implications of forced idleness (whether we think of the recent lock-down or structural mass unemployment) for the creative process?
– Under what conditions does idleness and un-working become an oppositional gesture (resistance to the market, etc.)?
– To what extent does  idlenes contribute to the mythologizing of artistic figures ?
– How much does napping matter in the practice of art?

  • Recuperating idleness /un-working

Weber’s description of productivity as an ethical injunction feels more relevant than ever before. But from now on, it is no longer about being just productive; we must also learn to be creative permanently–while doing less. The injunction to creativity replaced the injunction to productivity, echoing what Luc Boltanski and Ève Chiapello identified as the “new spirit of capitalism”: the reclaiming the “artist critic” of capitalism.  With the global lock-down, this has been massively transposed into the domestic sphere. Being “creative” at home and from inside is the new ethical injunction. 

– How is idleness reinvested or co-opted by the market and the corporate world?
– What is the place of idleness in the logic of profit maximization?
– Do the multiple injunctions to “make the most of lock-down” constitute an ideological form of idleness?
– Neoliberalism induces new subjectivities and calls upon individuals “to conceive of themselves as a corporate business” (Dardot and Laval). Is there any room for idleness in this system?
– Does idleness allow us to thwart the ethics (and henceforth the aesthetics?) of self-entrepreneurship?

Submission method and dates:

The proposals for papers, in French or English (400 words), should be accompanied by a title and a brief biographical notice.

They must be sent no later than May 30th, 2021 in word format to: 

We will notify those whose proposals have been submitted on June 30th, 2021.

A selection of papers will be published.

The symposium will be held in French and in English. On May 25th, 2021 a preparatory one-day conference will be devoted to artistic practices of idleness and un-working between 1945 and 1975 in Europe (at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris).

Menu Général