My premise is this: that the ways in which we describe and understand artistic labor are integrally tied to how we imagine what artworks should do in the world. Underlying the idea of artistic production as authentic, voluntary, and self-valorizing, for example, is the utopian promise that art is prefigurative, that it can posit in an experimental, provisional way the liberatory modes of being we wish for everybody. Another idea—that art production is exploitative, alienated, precarious, and ultimately only geared toward profit—still contains the promissory note that art (or art criticism) can and should unveil false consciousness, that art can show with unique lucidity our reality just as it is. On the one hand, artists are models for what labor should be;on the other, they have become a terrifying example of what labor is. Authentic or alienated. These paradigms operate in our discussions of artistic labor just as much as they operate in broader discussions of contemporary art and art history. This makes the reverse of my premise just as true: that how we imagine what art should do is intertwined with our idea of artistic labor. What I hope to show is that it is precisely this feedback loop between artistic labor and art’s utopian claims that makes this type of labor different from other types—which is not to say privileged, but different. And in order to grapple with art’s current problems and unfulfilled promises, we need to first confront how and why such contradictory meanings operate in concert within the expanded field of artwork.