Friday, March 07, 2008

Behind the Scenes, Art Assistants Speak Out

Patrick Barkham at The Guardian interviews famous artist's assistants in his piece, "Can you do me a quick cow's head?". It is interesting that Michael Smith, fabricator for many famous artists, traces all of this back to art schools, noting, "one reason young artists are turning to artisans (emphasis mine) to build their work is because of a lack of facilities in art colleges; students can't experiment and never learn basic practical skills. He thinks this problem began when he was at college: 'It was all to do with health and safety fears. The colleges were becoming paranoid about being sued because someone lost a finger or burnt themselves.' "

Universities started following a corporate model years ago, to the great detriment of the students. Did you ever think you would see the day that artists would?

I have used assistants before, I will use them again. As friends have pointed out, if Richard Serra tried to make his own work, it would not exist. But if I had the money, I would employ artisans to make a few extra Koons and Hirst pieces to flood the market, as a performance piece.

It is interesting to note that all the people Barkham interviewed seemed happy with their positions in the process. Most of the assistants I have met are just trying to find a bearable way to make a living, taking away from their own studio time to make the work of a more successful artist, in order to pay their rent. I am thinking of a video I used to show my BFA students. In it, a famous artist made a big show for the camera of buying a birthday cake for one of his assistants: she closed her eyes and blew out the candles. When the famous artist asked her, "What did you wish for?", she replied, "You don't want to know..."


Anonymous JohnstonCoArts said...

I get his point but I don't think this is a "corporate" thing that has just started happening in the last few decades; historically, artists have used assistants. You just have to work and hope that you end up more like Cimabue and Giotto, and become an artist in your own right after having studied with a master.-Jessica

1:55 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

I completely disagree.

Traditionally, assistants were used by artists who had been painting for years, continued to be engaged with their materials (which, IMHO, made the work stronger as time goes on) and needed help to complete the paintings.

In the new paradigm, art students are not learning the skills in the first place. They graduate, come up with ideas (or sometimes pay other people to do that for them), and have someone fabricate the work, so the artist can spend most of their own time working on the "brand". Stock options in artist brands are the next logical step, and some variation of this concept is already in place.

3:11 PM  
Blogger libby said...

what is the pay off of having someone else make your art? i guess it's the actual pay off.

12:58 AM  
Blogger Kate said...

Not only do you have more work to sell, which means more money (to make more art), but if you have a big career "break", (i.e., suddenly lots of people start paying attention to your work), it behooves the artist to have as much work available as possible. When you are "hot", people want to show/buy the work NOW. If you cannot produce it fast enough, you lose out on opportunities, slowing your career momentum. The art world is fickle: you sometimes only have one shot to take an opportunity and run with it, and make the leap to the next level in your career.

2:22 PM  

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