So, I was listening to the radio this morning when…

Hockney, 74, has a poster advertising his new exhibition which reads: “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally”.

Asked in a Radio Times interview if he was having a dig at Hirst, Hockney said: “It’s a little insulting to craftsmen, skilful craftsmen.”

Hirst has previously defended using assistants to complete his paintings.

He employs up to 100 people in a “factory” that works as a production line for his spot paintings and completes the painstaking work on installations like his diamond-studded skulls.

Speaking to Time Out in 2006, Hirst likened himself to an architect running a practice, rather than a traditional artist.

“I sit in a chair and watch, while they do the work,” he said.

“I employ about 100 people… It’s too many; it feels more comfortable at about 60, otherwise I lose my involvement. I need to know everybody, to be aware of their strengths and weaknesses.”

Hirst is not the only artist to employ an army of assistants – Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol and sculptor John Chamberlain have all used them.

Before the impressionist movement of the 19th century placed an emphasis on personal vision, even masters such as Michelangelo, Rubens and Rembrandt all relied on assistants and apprentices.

In the Radio Times, Hockney said: “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.”

He also quoted a Chinese saying, that to paint “you need the eye, the hand and the heart. The two won’t do”.

Hockney’s exhibition, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, opens at the Royal Academy later this month. He told the Radio Times he had spent three years working on it.

The artist has just been appointed a member of the Order of Merit by the Queen – despite turning down a knighthood in 1990.

For those of us who work so much with our hands it is an interesting debate.  It raises questions of authenticity and ideas such as the ‘genuine article’.  With regard to elite fine art, though, I wonder if it really matters at all.  If Hirst’s genius is in his ideas, does it matter if he had anything at all to do with the making of the piece?  And if everyone knows that it is likely to be the work an apprentice, or from the studio of, does it matter to the purchaser?  Hirst apparently did not paint all of his dot series because he found the actual work boring and thought his assistants would make a better job of it, which could be said to benefit the customer.

I think you know exactly what you are buying into when you buy a Damian Hirst piece, and the knowingness of it all makes me a bit queasy rather than outraged, but it seems to me that it is only the logical extension of an art market.  Given that notions of beauty or emotional response to art have come to be seen as hopelessly sentimental and socially constructed manipulations, I can’t see that it matters much whose hand actually applied the paint.

But.  For those of us who work in textiles, I think this gives us all sorts of things to think about.  Saying that Hirst must paint his own work is to say that his body and not just his mind has to be involved.  The head and the hand.  This is something that those of us who pursue textiles either as professionals or serious hobbyists to use Stebbins’ lovely phrase, know all about.  We take it one stage further – our bodies actually go into the work.  You can see it in the marks we make with our stitches which carry traces of bodily work, but also our bodily products go into the work.  Our saliva from threading our needles, sweat, the oils on our fingers, and sometimes our blood when we prick ourselves with needles and pins all find their way onto and into our cloths.  I suspect that there are bits of skin and hair embedded in the layers of our quilts as well.  You literally, and depending on levels of squeamishness or fastidiousness, disgustingly buy a piece of the artist when you buy a quilt.  In my work there is a very intimate bodily relationship between me and it, and it is the very antithesis of the one with an artist like Hirst.  In absenting himself from the actual making, Hirst is illustrating that much maligned Cartesian dualism, the split between the mind and the body.  In my work I don’t have the choice.  The mind, the body and the thing are inextricably linked.  In my academic work we are always talking about transcending binaries such as male-female, mind-body, gay-straight, able-disabled, good-bad as these are considered constraining, imperialist and oppressive, so it is interesting that my stitched textile work, to use the very trendy phrase in social sciences, transcends the binaries.  In fact, it could not do anything else.

5 thoughts on “So, I was listening to the radio this morning when…

  1. the trouble is that to most of the people who buy “art” by the likes of hirst et al, its not really about art at all, its just another investment that will likely be stored in a warehouse until you decide to sell it. personally I think 99% of the art involved in the work of hirst and gormley is the art of bullshit. Its just another example of the fakery of modern society – artists who cant create and singer who let a computer do all the work – its about celebrity and nothing else.
    personally I find it all a bit sad and pathetic.
    when I do buy art(and I do from tiem to time – it horrifies my partner who thinks its a waste of money) I buy something I like and in which I can recognise real skill – even if I have a lot more money than I do I would never waste it on celebrity tat

  2. I couldn’t agree more which is why I don’t care if he ever lays hands on it. Buying as investment strikes me as a soulless activity and really is a case of buyer beware.

  3. Hi Anne – I can’t say I ever quite got Hirst – until I visited the Guggenheim in New York. All the way up the spiral, I saw this piece which was a black but not black rectangle, and my eye couldn’t seem to quite focus on it. When I finally arrived, intrigued, I discovered it was made up of layers of (dead) flies, stuck onto each other – hence the focus difficulty – and as it was at waist to shoulder height just by the lift and in a warm environment, there was a small scattering of insect parts on the floor below it, worn off by people passing by. If art engages emotions this certainly did so, and 10 years later I still think of it in mixtures of disgust, admiration and wonder and all the states inbetween – including where the flies came from, who stuck them on, and who brushed them off and what they thought being so up close and personal with a maligned “pest as art” – and the concept of dead flies as having a huge monetary value. The point is – I could by a fly zapper and make my own but I don’t – because the value to me was the first impact – and that will stay with me forever and I will never need to own the original work.

  4. As I will NEVER buy a piece of his “art” it does not worry me, it is said that “The Great Masters” would draw the outline and then leave the “minions” to colour it in as part of their apprentiship I suppose he is just following on. I prefer to stick to what I like …and do it myself. Each to his/her own xx

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