This article offers a contribution to the political economy of creative labor in socialist Yugoslavia, tracing the emergence of a socialist entrepreneur from the shell of an art worker. It discusses shifts in economic policies that restructured the economic and material conditions of art workers from models based on welfare in the early socialist period to a freelance and self-employment labor model implemented during the last decade of Yugoslav socialism. Linking socialist political economy with the study of art, the article analyzes legal regulation and rare artists’ interventions concerning the material conditions for artistic labor to animate the political critique of relationship between art and labor. The study of Yugoslav art workers’ demise reveals the detrimental effects of the bourgeois ideology of autonomy and creativity. Informed by feminist critique of reproductive labor, the argument is based on an analogy between housework and artistic labor to uncover mutual mechanisms of naturalization and economic disavowal of these types of labor. The author demonstrates that, unlike the ways in which reproductive labor is devalued, the exceptionality of creative work and the unique status of artists, which socialism maintained and glorified, made their form of labor vulnerable to exploitation and disavowal. The dissolution of labor identity of artists pitched creativity and subsistence against each other and became significant for neoliberal exploitation of artistic labor after the violent destruction of socialist Yugoslavia in 1991. Separating art from subsistence in the interest of articulating the value of artistic autonomy reintroduced false dichotomies and situated art at the heart of twenty-first-century forms of capitalist exploitation.

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