Capitalism is Abstract Art: Strategy to dismantle superiority

Daniel Gasol
January 12, 2022
Eugenio Merino, "In God We Trust. Everyone Else Pays Cash", 2015.
Eugenio Merino, "In God We Trust. Everyone Else Pays Cash", 2015.

The whole set of rules, moralities, procedures, mechanics, legislations and routines1 that make up our life experience, organised and reproduced from a position of domination, highlight "time" as an important factor in production as a result of the old relationship between knowledge and economy. For the West, the victory of the Capitalist Bloc during the Cold War2, creating an appearance of well-being, entailed the establishment and normalisation of the Capital system in the field of the production of knowledge and, more specifically, of the knowledge related more to symbolic life than to the material one. For contemporary Capitalism, where we live together in an attempt to survive, symbolic life has shaped the central axis of economy by incorporating meaning as the proper exercise of works seen as "cultural". Because for Capital, every knowledge must produce economy, thus determining our ways of grasping relationships and transforming our sensitiveness and understanding of knowledge that must "compulsorily" generate capital gain3. According to this logic, which has determined social, human and animal organisation, knowledge is important as long as it is able to generate economic profitability4, and it seems that there is not a single place where a system not based on the effects of commercial relations may exist, obviously including contemporary art. It is in this way, based on the sale of a knowledge that must be legitimated by circuits of power that state "what we should pay attention to", that so-called creativity is eroded by assuming the meritocratic, identitarian, self-disciplinary and exhibitionist work system determined by hierarchies that allow for the admission of this very same conditioned creativity. In fact, as individuals related to art, it is not difficult for us to find proof of this statement in our everyday life, where we have assumed a vocabulary employed in industry such as "production" or "cultural industries", with formulas to present works to institutions and calls for artists as is proper of a Capital logic that focuses on budget as an exercise of sustainability. Therefore, it would be a mistake to view contemporary Capitalism only in economic terms, for Capitalism is not only a financial system but a mechanism that has hijacked an existence that Foucault coined as Biopolitics5: a life subjugated to politics based on a production that is not able to generate contexts for creation as an exercise of freedom. In fact, the Capitalist Bloc, with its contradictions and incompatibilities, produced and financed so-called Modern Art in order to diversify discourses that rejected the homogeneous narration, becoming itself a centre for a narrative and cultural production that reduces creation to a financial exercise and therefore a class-biased one.

Capitalism as the language to which we submit, which insists on the fact that creativity is at the centre of art, has altered the position of creation by subordinating it to productive processes6, denying other possible scenarios by means of models, schemes and guidelines with no other alternative. Nevertheless, aren't the laws, rules and regulations nothing but organisational codes that are the result of social abstraction exercises? Aren't bureaucracy, quantification and economy abstraction nothing but exercises to shape a mental representation of life and not a reproduction of reality7, by generating a language devised for a specific order? It is by means of this cognitive exercise presented by Capital to give a meaning to life, with bureaucracy as a paradigm that wants to make reality fit into a whole set of rules created by the masters, that so-called creativity is based on debt and expectation, in what is not yet but could be in a future made up of the fiction of the promise… However, Capitalism, as an historical organisation created by people that base social verticality on their exercise of knowledge accumulation, may be transformed by understanding that knowledge must celebrate freedom by looking for ways of facing the problems that we undergo and that annihilate rights by means of class and merit privileges. We rarely speak from a cultural position about how it is part of a mechanised system of order and functioning in terms of globality and significance of social order… Naively, we insist on the fact that reality is created and built up by means of exercises of power such as language, discourse, political organisation, gender, sexuality, the body, family structure, economy or education, but reality is not built, it rather organises itself by means of gathering information as a process of codification and abstraction, creating relations and formulas of existing and to exist. Therefore, seeing workers as artists that carry out the Capitalist cultural project by means of exercises of self-responsibility and formality, by practising codes, rules and order for an abstract execution of existence, allows us to catch sight of the system from a distance, understanding that the Capital project is to devise life by imposing a homogeneous and formal representation of problems by means of adapted processes that are to be faced.

In Estructuras de poder8, Max Weber discusses how so-called liberalism, under an ideological light that calls on our freedom of speculative individual practice, created an expansion of economic institutions with bureaucracy as a system of execution intrinsically linked to capitalist structure, provoking an exponential increase in administrative, legislative and fiscal measures aiming to dismantle the collectivisation processes of the land and factories. Therefore, how the Capital project not only invents the rules to carry out a specific procedure as an imposing dogma based on dominating institutions is revealing, but also how statements such as "the market has a life of its own" is all by itself an artistic exercise to develop and create a determinant social scenario in the same way as artists such as Miró, Tàpies or Dalí did by means of their own codes of reality.

Understanding Capitalism as an exercise of abstraction created by and for the power that excuses ethical responsibility, and presenting it as an aesthetic-social discipline of abstract encoding on life allows us to view the system as a generated unreal hologram that self-exhibits a hypothetical promised land that can be reached by means of a proletarian endeavour. It is from art as a space for freedom where we have the duty to approach other ways that will destroy the vertical pyramid; because it is not a question of being on top, but to draw up a strategy to dismantle superiority. Perhaps, one of them could be to view the system as an artistic abstraction that we may remove by means of practices that overcome the imposition of a stable encoding.



  1. Hibou, B: La burocratización del mundo en la era neoliberal. Dado Ediciones: Paris, 2020.

  2. The so-called Cold War (1974 and 1991) was a military, social, economic and ideological confrontation carried out particularly by information structures that highlighted the virtues of the Capitalist Western Bloc (under the leadership of the USA) and the danger of the Communist Eastern Bloc (under the leadership of the Soviet Union). Vázquez Montalbán, M: ¿Qué es el Imperialismo? Ed. La Gaya Ciencia: Barcelona, 1976.

  3. Surplus value is the economic expression of the value that waged work produces over the value of its labour force, the basis of every ideology of capitalist accumulation. Marx, K: El Capital, Libro I, Cap. 22. Ed. Akal: Madrid, 2000.

  4. In a financial context, economic profit is the return that must be received from an investment. Op Cit Hibou, B.

  5. Foucault, M: Nacimiento de la Biopolítica. Ed. Akal: Madrid, 2009.

  6. It appears to be paradoxical that we, women and men creators, are subject to a creation that oppresses our freedom to generate knowledge.

  7. Bordieu, N: Radicantes. Ariadna H. Editores: Buenos Aires, 2009.

  8. Weber, M: Estructuras de poder. Ed. Coyoacán: México D. F., 2006.


(English translation: Béatrice Krayenbühl)