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Photo by Art by Lønfeldt on Unsplash — Detail

Is it OK for artists and writers to use assistants?

Years ago I remember reading about how a famous romance novelist used assistants to write her stories, which she published as her own. I seem to recall that she had something like eight writers cranking out her stuff and she got the glory. This seemed a variation on ghost writing but I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, though it did answer that other niggling question of how she could crank out so many books.

In 2010 when I interviewed Gillie Schattner, who paints humorous pictures of dogs in human clothing, I learned that the sculptures they have created were built to their specs by another craftsman. Learning this blurred the line for me as regards what is the artist’s work and what is not. The sculptures, and you can see a few here, are most assuredly and clearly the Schattners’ ideas, translated into 3-D forms.

What brings these thoughts to mind was this 2012 Daily Mail story about David Hockney’s public criticism of influential artist Damien Hirst for using assistants to produce the work which is sold solely under his name.

The trigger for this declamation was a poster Hockney erected for his new exhibition, “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.” The statement was a deliberate barb intentionally aimed at pricking Damien Hirst, one of the wealthiest (if not the wealthiest and most successful) living contemporary artists.

According to the article, “Hockney, seen as Britain’s greatest living painter, believes that artists should produce their own works.”

The timing of Hockney’s complaint about Hirst is also interesting. A major exhibit of 300 spot paintings by Hirst will go on display in New York this coming week. (2012) These are large paintings with fields of spots of which he only painted five paintings because he got bored. In other words, other people painted 295 of these paintings, but it is Damien Hirst’s show.

The guy is a multi-millionaire and can afford the help, I suppose.

It may be that Hockney’s ire has been bared because of the fawning Hirst receives in the art world today. If you read the comments at the end of the U.K. Daily Mail article, you will find this one that explains a measure of Hirst’s popularity.

I have to say, that I having nothing but admiration for Damian Hurst, he has made millions by conning rich mugs into believing what he does is art, good luck to him.

Is this a good thing? It seems to me that this is the kind of sentiment that does more damage than good for serious artists because it calls into question the earnest problems many are wrestling with. When the public doesn’t “get it” there is a follow up thought: “Maybe this guy is just pulling my leg.”

Hockney’s paintings over the course of his career have been impressive. Never the kind of high profile public figure that Picasso, Dali and Warhol have been, he is certainly someone that all the young painters of the 70’s, including myself, were familiar with.

As for Damien Hirst, now in his mid-fifties he’s done well for himself with his shock art and large exhibitions. He won’t be going away soon.

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An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon

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