Hockney vs. Hirst

Posted on: January 7th, 2012

Two of Britain’s iconic artists are engaged in a disagreement about employing assistants to create works of art. The disagreement began when posters for David Hockney’s upcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy stated that all the works were “made by the artist himself.” Hockney later commented that it was particularly pertinent to Damien Hirst’s works, due to Hirst’s long employment of assistants. Hockney further commented “I used to point out, at art school you can teach the craft; it’s the poetry you can’t teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft.” Hirst’s ‘poetic’ approach, leaves the crafting to assistants, as he claims they do a better job than he could and that he becomes easily bored.

An artist’s involvement in the idea and/ or making of an artwork does not necessarily provide a clear indication of what constitutes an authentic artwork. Despite Hockney’s concerns, if the poetic approach is ignored there is a danger of disregarding a whole century of contemporary art. Yet, employing assistants is not restricted to contemporary practices; they have been employed by artists for hundreds of years. Even Michelangelo, unlike the myth suggests did not paint the Sistine Chapel by himself but recruited 12 assistants. Therefore, it would seem that this is one battle where there will not be a winner.