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British artist David Hockney, 74, in Toronto, Ont. Oct. 20, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
British artist David Hockney, 74, in Toronto, Ont. Oct. 20, 2011. (Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Hockney vs. Hirst: Not by brush alone Add to ...

The British painter David Hockney has implicitly criticized his fellow artist Damien Hirst for using assistants to aid in creating his art, but his attack is unconvincing.

Mr. Hockney made his statement by way of a poster for an upcoming exhibition of landscapes at London’s Royal Academy of Art. The poster boasts, “All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally.”

Pop art was built on appropriated mass culture images. Artists such as Andy Warhol and Peter Blake took everyday items, such as Campbell Soup cans and similar ephemera, and incorporated them into their fine art. Pop artists also employed factory-like manufacturing techniques; hence, Warhol’s Factory. Their challenge to the fine art establishment, by riffing off mass culture and mass production, had its share of critics in the late 1950s and early ’60s, but pop art nevertheless became a prevalent form.

Mr. Hockney himself has used machines, computers and even iPads to make art. These tools are used in the same way as paintbrushes to create. How different is it to have a machine or a hired assistant to help produce artwork? If the essence, and idea, were the artist’s, the resulting work still belongs to its creator.

Artists have worked with assistants for centuries, employing pupils to aid them in creating their masterpieces. Mr. Hirst, the most prominent of the Young British Artists, is known for his fascination with death through art. One of his most renowned pieces, which involves the corpse of a shark suspended in formaldehyde, was probably not a one-person job. But he is one of the heirs to the great pop artists.

Mr Hockney is striking a pose as an old fogey. He recently quoted a Chinese proverb: “You need the eye, the hand and the heart. Two won’t do.” Instead of echoing the early critics of pop art, he should stick to what he does best – his own art – and leave criticism to the critics.

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