The birth

The term Phunst was coined by Austrian artist Wolfgang Herbst in 2015. The main idea came after reading an article in Falter, an Austrian weekly, talking about how people are making  fast money in the art market (Matthias Dusini: “Don’t believe the hype!”; Issue 37/15).

In view of the close relationship between art and capital, Herbst wondered whether, instead of just always money, the term “art” might be associated with other, more significant concepts – such as imagination, philosophy or even perhaps physics? And if so, what might be a graphic representation of such an association

He finally had the idea of replacing the “K” at the beginning of the two German words Kunst (art) and Kapital (capital) with the letter combination “Ph” from ancient Greek, giving birth to the term Phunst.

For what?

Even though, from a philosophical perspective, the mechanist world-view is long since obsolete, it still continues to dominate our daily lives. The advocates of this view mainly use mathematics as a tool to support it, believing that everything can be reduced to numbers.

Without wishing to discredit mathematics in particular or science in general, we need to recognise that this approach does not address the elementary questions of life, nor has it ever provided any answers. With this in mind, while we should by all means make use of scientific methods (where appropriate), we need to take care not to let this approach become the determining factor in our lives. If you want to find out something about life, you are better off reading Shakespeare than Gauss.

This applies similarly to economy. The market economy is not the remedy for all our ills! As the name says, it is concerned with the economy, and its validity is limited to that area. To expand its principles to cover art, culture, education or the healthcare and social system is not progress but a regression.

Phunst aims to oppose and resist the tendency towards “reducing to numbers” and “commercialising” all areas of life. It is not right that success and failure are defined merely based on financial parameters or that every human behaviour is measured, statistically averaged, evaluated in economic terms and subjected to social standards. That is clearly unacceptable, especially in the fields of culture, art and education.

It is naive to believe that (with the help of Phunst) we can fundamentally change the world. But we can certainly move a few pebbles. And if everyone helps, we can move a mountain in the end. Somebody just needs to start. That is the belief behind Phunst.

The goal ever recedes from us.
Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment.
Full effort is full victory.

Mahatma Ghandi


Phunst is neither an aesthetic framework nor any new category of art but an attitude. In many ways it resembles the idea of the “extended definition of art” envisioned by German action artist Joseph Beuys. Especially the aspect of each individual’s social responsibility. That is the basic principle of Phunst: it seeks to address each and every person and not just the elite of society.

Details as well as commentaries and discussions of the theory behind the term are presented and regularly updated in the blog under the heading of Diggin’ deeper … (see the item Discussion).

Potential misunderstandings

Phunst is not directed against individuals but against a certain mechanism. It is directed against the system of exploitation, in general and in its specific forms (e.g. exploitation of artists and works of art for the purpose of maximising profits).

You cannot blame anybody for purchasing a work of art that increases in value after a couple of years. Nor can you reproach an artist for achieving good prices in the market. Every artist lives from selling original works of art and therefore has a legitimate interest in being appreciated.

The problems start, though, when art is reduced to a mere object of speculation. Once it no longer makes a difference whether speculative investments are made in shares of stock, precious metals, currencies or works of art, the point has been reached where Phunst wants to clearly stand apart.

Phunst is not a political movement, nor does it seek to oppose art but rather merely certain neo-capitalist practices in the art market and in culture and education policy.

short and pithy

“In my day artists wanted to be outcasts, pariahs. Now they are all integrated into society.”

– Marcel Duchamp

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