Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Discussion: So, did Banksy make this, or some art student who actually preferred cash over a résumé line referencing an unpaid internship?

(Disclaimer about the source: WSJ totally sucks sometimes—I’m looking at you, sensationalist and racial stereotype-perpetuating1 Tiger Mom article—but the article excerpted below is too topical to pass up.)

The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about the rising trend of artists turning to assistants for help creating work:

It's a phenomenon that's rarely discussed in the art world: The new work on a gallery wall wasn't necessarily painted by the artist who signed it. Some well-known artists, such as Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons, openly employ small armies of assistants to do their paintings and sculptures. Others hire help more quietly.
Art-market insiders say soaring prices and demand for contemporary art is spurring the use of apprentices by more artists. The art world is divided on the practice: While some collectors and dealers put a premium on paintings and sculptures executed by an artist's own hand, others say that assistants are a necessity in the contemporary market.
"An artist has a choice to make," says Mark Moore, owner of Mark Moore Gallery in Santa Monica, Calif. "They either hire assistants or they risk not being able to meet their obligations to their dealers. Then the art market, which is fickle and sensitive, gets the impression that the artist has disappeared from the art world."

(Along that vein, here’s an interesting Flavorpill feature about copy artists in China.)

The Renaissance masters did it. The Impressionists dropped it. And the art stars of the 20th Century brought it back.

Collectors and art appreciators, does it matter to you whether the name attached to a piece had a direct hand in its production?

Artists, would you ever hire assistants to produce your work for you? As with Sol LeWitt’s conceptual installations, is the idea behind a piece—rather than its execution—what matters the most? Or does the act of employing others for fabrication undermine the notion of “the artist” as the independent, the dissident, the outsider? Or is that notion purely Romantic?

1Racial stereotype buster: My parents let me2 be an artist.

2Not only let me, but also fully support and encourage: My dad was the one who mailed my stories and drawings to the Disney film director. And this was before IMDB and Wikipedia and before relying on Internet search engines became habit; he jotted down animators’ names by watching the end credits of my VHS tapes. Yep, we had to actually use a little effort in my day3, whippersnappers.

3Which was not even close to being that long ago, really. So I’m kidding. Or am I.


  1. the fact that "artists" hire ppl to make the "art" really is just an example that art is dead. there is no art. just artifacts of our decaying world

  2. At what point in history do you think art died? Especially since using apprentices used to be the norm, e.g. during Michelangelo's time, until the bohemians of the 19th C.?

  3. I think artists who hire others to make their work lose out and, by extension, their collectors do too. There are some choices that can only be made in the moment as the work is being created. If the artist isn't making those her-him self, the work doesn't belong to her-him.

    I'm not saying artists shouldn't hire assistants if they want, but the crafting of a work matters. I learned that when I made the mistake of looking at a Kehinde Wiley painting close up. Wiley has assistants do the complex patterned backgrounds, and you can tell by the lack of care that was put into it.

    Interesting discussion!

  4. Thanks for your input, Gwenn. Yes, something like a detailed painting, especially one that focuses on intricacy and realism such as Wiley's works, is quite different from, say, a Damien Hirst cow submerged in formaldehyde, where the concept overrides the execution.


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