Debate: Should an Artist Create all of Their Own Work?

Artist David Hockney recently took a swipe at Damien Hirst:

A small note on the posters for David Hockney‘s forthcoming exhibition at the Royal Academy contains a sly dig at another superstar artist about to launch a major exhibition. The note reads: “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.”

Read about the artist’s competing shows in the Guardian’s recent article. The Guardian is also running an informal poll (be sure and vote) to discover the general populace’s opinion on the matter.

When I voted it looked like 86% of readers agreed with Hockney. While I am not a huge Hirst fan, I have to say his use of apprentices and other artisans to execute his work doesn’t really bother me. There are many art forms where this is the case – any sculptor who has his/her work cast has a whole team of people handling the technical details of the casting, everything from the mold to the patina. Chihuly has long worked using a studio method where he conceptualizes the idea and has his team actually create the piece.

As long as the artist creates an original concept, I don’t feel they have to physically handle every detail of bringing the work to completion. What do you think?


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  1. I agree with you. I have been in their shoes. I know what it is like to create and recreate. People don’t understand it takes a versitile mind to convey designs to “your team” to make the product/artwork under your direction and guidance. How do you expect to make any money otherwise. It is the smarter way to do business. All my work went out the door inspected by me or my manager. I never had anything returned that my team recreated.

  2. That’s a matter between the artists and their public/clients. If that’s the way they want to create their work, so be it. If their public accepts it as their work and their clients want to pay for it, that’s the way it is. Until someone clearly defines a universally accepted, “what is art” [and you know that’ll never happen, if one or more people call it ART, then to someone it is art.

  3. The apprentice system is a system where the apprentice learns, evolves and moves on to doing his / her own works. The Hirst system is not an apprentice system.
    But suppose I can not paint. But I hire a painter, set up an original still life, tell the painter to paint it and then sign my name. Will that make me an artist? I am not being sarcastic here, I am just trying to bring this concept home by asking the big ” artist” question. Or if one paints a painting that looks like so many other still life paintings, not very original, is one still an ” artist”? Is Bob Dylan an artist when he paints photographs that are not attributed to him off the web? If the answer is yes…then it is easy to be an “artist”. Anyway, that’s why I call myself a painter.

  4. What if a person like Chihuly has an apprentice who has given him ideas. He then passes them off as his own, because he is the big name. When that apprentice moves out on his own and has his own works, everyone says “Oh you can do Chihuly!” However, on the other hand, Chihuly is sort of like a conductor for an orchestra. It takes a team to do something like that. It also helps all those people with jobs. They might not be able to afford all the equipment on their own!

  5. I agree with you, Jason. Many artists out there need studio assistants to complete work, for many reasons. Throughout history great artists have had large studios with many apprentices, just to be able to get all the work done. The artist should be the creator of ideas, but sometimes technicalities do need to be handled by others.

  6. Saying “as long as the artist creates an original concept, I don’t feel they have to physically handle every detail of bringing the work to completion” is unfairly undermining the value of skill.
    It’s not easy executing a concept, and if you are getting others to craft your concept for you, it’s imperative that you share the credit.

  7. I think any of it is fine as long as the artist who takes credit for the work isn’t decieving his/her clients/customers. I worked for a fiber artist for 3 years and felt she was deceiving the public by implying that she personally did all the work and that each piece was an original and one of a kind. When in fact she always had at least 20 employees who did every step of the work including sign her name for her. I can say from the employee side of it, it is terrible to know that you and your coworkers are making $10 to $12 per hour on a piece of art that will be sold for over $3,000. And will get no credit for it.
    if that’s how you want to run your art business that is fine, but at least own up to it.

  8. Like Carolyn, I point to art history. In Renaissance studios, you had the hand-painter, the fabric-painter, the gold-leaf painter, etc. The studio master got the credit, but he (and it was almost always a he) had help.

    Do you think there’s a difference between this method and today’s conceptual artists who never touch a work? I just think things have changed. And how Hirst (I’m no fan) approaches art is different from someone like Hockney. Again, throughout history the various approaches have existed side-by-side.

  9. As long as the client is clear about what he or she is buying, using studio staff is acceptable. As with so many things in our lives today, transparency is key.

    If a buyer contracts to purchase a work made by the artist-his personal- self-alone, and it is studio work instead, the contract is void, and there ought to be an investigation leading to criminal penalties.

  10. Interesting debate with soft edges. There is a huge difference in the giant mosaics of Niki de Saint Phalle, some of whom were finished when she was in her 70s and obviously by a team, and the Kincade minion I saw once in a shopping center putting final touches on a Kincade “original.”

    As long as commerce is intertwined with art, we will have these questions with each judged on its own merits of integrity and creativity.

  11. As an artist who paints and does sculpture, I think that it’s ethically wrong to not create a piece that is done by other people. Especially when it’s painting. There is the issue of integrity and the price that is paid by collectors is, in part, paid because of the time, effort, expertise that goes into producing a true work of art. Damien Hurst’s is what makes the public view contemporary art sometimes as a joke (mostly on them.)

  12. My two cents… far do we carry this, in that as a 2D artist, do I stretch all my own canvases? do I stretch my own paper? No and yes. If Chihuly, whom I have had the pleasure to meet, has others build his molds, than how is that different from my having someone else stretch my canvases, or papers? When it comes to the actual art making, in whatever form or medium, there is a dishonesty if someone other than the named artist is doing so… my opinion.

  13. I am in this situation where I create works of art, sculptures and they are sold as another artists originals. He receives large sums and the clients are being told that he makes them himself. He only presents the idea, nothing hands on, no real direction given. I supply the studio, supplies and receive no recognition.

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