A poster advertising David Hockney’s new exhibition which reads: "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally" raises the age old debate about how much of a work the artist should produce himself.
In an interview with the Radio Times Hockney went on to quote a Chinese saying, that to paint "you need the eye, the hand and the heart. The two won't do". When asked if he was having a dig at artists such as Damien Hirst who use assistants to produce their work he said "It's a little insulting to craftsmen, skilful craftsmen."
However this is nothing new in the world of art and debate has raged for decades about the importance of the artist as an individual creator of work. The idea of the artists as a lone produces of work and the emphasis on personal vision began to emerge with the impressionist movement and the 19th century ideal of the artists as a tortured individual.
Before this old masters such as Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rubens and Rembrandt began as assistants and apprentices to older artists and then used assistants and apprentices themselves to help produce works once they were established. It was not expected that the artist produced each work on his own.
It is also accepted that artists who produce large scale sculptures in bronze such as Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore worked closely with workshops of experts to produce these amazing pieces. Even if the original vision was theirs it would be impossible for one individual to produce the finished work.
In more recent times artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons have used assistants to help produce their woks. Andy Warhol’s Factory used assistants to produce his silkscreen’s which mimicked the mass produced culture he was commenting on in his work.
Seen in this context Damien Hirsts use of assistants can be seen as just a continuation of a traditional practice in art that has gone on for generations. His cause however is probably not helped by the comments he makes about using assistants such as saying of his spot paintings "I couldn't be fucking arsed doing it". Damien Hirst has picked up his own paintbrush and the results were shown in an exhibition of paintings inspired by Francis Bacon at the Wallace Collection in London.
David Hockney's exhibition, David Hockney: A Bigger Picture, opens at the Royal Academy on January 21st 2012.
Damien Hirst first solo show in a UK museum will open at Tate Modern in April 2012.