9.5 Theses on Art and Class

In 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, Ben Davis takes on a broad array of contemporary art’s most persistent debates: How does creative labor fit into the economy? Is art merging with fashion and entertainment? What can we expect from political art? Davis argues that returning class to the center of discussion can play a vital role in tackling the challenges that visual art faces today, including the biggest challenge of all—how to maintain faith in art itself in a dysfunctional world.

About the author

BEN DAVIS is an art critic living in New York City. His writings have appeared in Adbusters, the Brooklyn Rail, Slate, the Village Voice, and many other publications. He was previously executive editor of Blouin Artinfo and is currently a senior writer at artnet.


“Just when it seemed that contemporary art writing and the subject of real-life politics had permanently parted ways, along comes the young New York critic Ben Davis with a book that brings them together. No cheerleading here, no swoony prosody, no easy kiss-offs; just smart, ardent, illusion-puncturing observation and analysis on the intersection of art, commerce, and—the elephant in the art-fair VIP lounge—class. None of this would matter much if he didn’t tell us why we should care, but he does. Under all his excoriations lies a faith in art as an agent of transformation toward a post-neoliberal, post-greed society that could be, should be.”
—Holland Cotter, art critic, New York Times

"Like watching an expert pole-vaulter ply his craft, witnessing this critic reach for first principles in this day and age constitutes its own reward... On 9.5 Theses, the verdict is crystal: This is one helluva pamphlet."
—Christian Viveros-Faune, The Village Voice

"...a riveting manifesto..."
New York Magazine

"By reminding artists where they really stand, Davis hopes, in the end, to put them on firmer footing, both politically and creatively."
—Dushko Petrovich, BOOKFORUM

"Davis is an intellectually clearheaded critic dishing out some tough truths, often backed up with statistics, to the rarefied 'art world.' . . . The book reframes the production and sale of art in tough terms, which is why the collection’s centerpiece, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, should be required reading for art professionals. In this first book, Davis proves himself a critic to be reckoned with."
Publishers Weekly

"While Davis is clearly having fun slicing up contradictions and revealing the hypocrisies papering over them, he doesn't get in the way of his ideas. He's the rare critic who enjoys ideas more than being right. The great twist is that he is right, and in big but precise ways that he articulates accessibly, writing both for art friends and organizing comrades. Refreshing doesn't begin to describe it. With his scalpel, he goes at the problem of contemporary art's "general esoteric character" and its predominant status as a luxury good, calling for universal art education and a workforce of artists-as-teachers. He addresses DIY, the Arab Spring, the war on terror, and Occupy, and he stays urgently on target."
—Jen Graves, The Stranger

"Absolutely worth reading."
—Clara Olshansky, Art F City

"Can you call yourself an artist and an activist at the same time? Or is the artists’ personal brand always in the way? 9.5 Theses on Art and Class, Ben Davis’s new collection of essays, addresses these questions and other similar ones with an admirable clarity that invites debate."
—Rob Horning, The New Inquiry

"Written beautifully and for all of us... this book has a high purpose that many attempt and few fulfill. It is a compelling and convincing reminder of why art matters and what's ultimately at stake."
—Mary Louise Schumacher, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

"Ambitious [and] wide-ranging. [Davis] imagines a future in which the values exemplified by today’s precious, high-priced art look alien, overcome by more egalitarian values."
— Andrew Russeth, GalleristNY

"The book’s analysis of how capitalism divides artists from their allies in the struggle makes it a valuable wake-up call."
— Lauren Weinberg, TimeOut Chicago

9.5 Theses on Art and Class is the first book I’ve read by an art critic that spoke to the world I lived and worked in as an artist. Incisive, irreverent, and intellectually fearless. A truth-bomb of a book.”
—Molly Crabapple, artist

“Bracing, provocative, exasperated, and good-humored, Davis is skillfully committed to getting the best out of art and art theory—and the world.”
—China Miéville, author, The City & The City

“Davis is deeply attuned to contemporary art and the contradictory ways it is expressed and contained within culture more broadly. More than a book of political essays, 9.5 Theses on Art and Class offers a fresh theory that is useful to anyone wrestling with the challenges of what art is or can do.”
—Lauren Cornell, curator, New Museum


Aug 8, 2013: Interview on Modern Art Notes Podcast
Aug 19, 2013: Interview in Frieze Magazine
Oct 3, 2013: Interview in The Brooklyn Rail