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The Case for Quality

Monday, 14. December 2015 1:38

In the last post I used a quote from Penn Jillette’s Every Day is an Atheist Holiday in which Jillette says, paraphrasing Billy West, that there is only one show business, and all artists and performers are in it. In the next couple of sentences he postulates a hierarchy within this one world of arts/entertainment, noting that “a magician has to be a damn sight lower than a poet. We’re above ventriloquists, but not near poets.”

Although this would seem to suggest that there are classifications within art and some sort of hierarchy, nowhere in this book does Jillette offer any criteria for making judgements about which arts go where. He just sets forth the notion that some arts are inherently more valuable than others. As I acknowledged in the last post, “there is art that is more sophisticated than other art. There is art that encompasses what it means to be human in a much more profound way than other art. There is art that is more expensive than other art.” This would suggest that value of a work of art is not a characteristic of the art itself, but is actually assigned by critical audience members.

Taking that into account along with the notion that all arts/entertainment is one thing, we must, when we are making value judgements (rarely done without some sort of comparison or at least an implied comparison) about any art or artist, be sure that we are comparing kumquats with kumquats and not disparate kinds of things. Comparing musical theatre to legit theatre makes no more real sense than comparing stage magicians to ventriloquists.

Likewise, it should be obvious that comparing a sculpture by Praxiteles to a piece of sculpture by John Chamberlain is invalid except in a very restricted academic sense.

To suggest that a straight play is better than a musical just because it is a straight play or that a sculpture by Praxiteles is superior to a sculpture by Chamberlain simply because the Praxiteles work is figurative is the worst kind of snobbery.

And while snobbery is never justified, some people genuinely believe that there is a hierarchy and some arts are more sophisticated, or more profound or just “higher” than others. Others think that there are only subdivisions: ventriloquism and stage magic and poetry and sculpture are all subgenres of the whole arts/entertainment thing, with one subgenre having much the same value as another.

But more important than whether stage magic is superior in some way to ventriloquism is whether the stage magic that is being performed is of quality. It is not a matter of subject matter or where the particular subgenre stands in the hierarchy. It’s about how good it is. There is good stage magic and not-so-good stage magic. There is good ventriloquism and not-so-good ventriloquism. There is good musical theatre and not-so-good musical theatre. There is good legitimate theatre and not-so-good legitimate theatre. There is good pornography and not-so-good pornography. There is good abstract expressionism and not-so-good abstract expressionism. There is good minimalism and not-so-good minimalism. There is good sculpture and not-so-good sculpture.

If we must make distinctions, and we seem to be inclined to do that, then properly those distinctions should not be about the level of the work in terms of subject matter or degree of sophistication or profundity, i.e. the relative “value” of the work. Rather they should be about the quality of the work—and that is a whole other discussion.

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The Cup Exercise

Sunday, 11. August 2013 23:09

Like many people, I have a coffee cup collection—rather had a coffee cup collection. It was not a conscious collection; I didn’t scour shops for the correct cup to add to my assortment. Instead, it sort of built itself over time: a gift here, a souvenir there, a gimme at a conference. Probably it was much like your collection. But recently, I decided I really needed the cabinet space other uses. Since cups hardly ever lose their utility, I decided to give them away, and as I pulled them off the shelf I tried to think about who, if anyone, might find a particular cup interesting or engaging.

Most of the cups were dated or lacking in potential appeal to my target group of recipients. As I took down one cup, however, I immediately thought, “This belongs to Freddie.” The cup is white porcelain with an enameled rainbow wrapped around it. The rainbow ends in cup-colored bricks with no fill colors. Beside the unfinished structure is a little sign that says “Under Construction.” Why the immediate connection? Freddie (not her real name, of course) is a young, very talented, multi-disciplined artist, who day-by-day is building her future in art—and who also happens to be transsexual. The cup, over 30 years old, was originally an idealistic statement about building a beautiful future. It still is, but because the rainbow now has additional connotations, it has acquired an overlay that both enlarges and modifies that meaning.

The larger thought that came from this exercise is about how art stands up through time, or doesn’t, or, as in the case of this cup, takes on different meaning. It’s worth thinking about, because art, good art, lasts. Good art, while it decidedly speaks to its immediate audience, continues to speak through time.

This is the reason that we make pilgrimages to see the Pietà, or Starry Night, or any number of other works. It’s why we marvel at the photography of Alfred Stieglitz, not because he was able to do such excellent work with such primitive equipment (although that too), but because his images still speak to us. It’s the reason that we keep coming back to stare at The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Ongoing appeal is certainly not limited to visual and plastic arts; we find it in performing arts as well.  It’s the reason that Jean Anouilh was able to make the story of Antigone have a special significance for the people of occupied France in 1944. (Why the Nazis didn’t pick up on it is completely beyond me—it’s not all that subtle.) And it’s why theatre companies continue to produce the plays of Shakespeare—in a variety of settings, time periods, and styles. Aside from amazing language, the stories and characters speak to people of all times.

There is no guarantee, of course, that the appeal of any of these will continue, but I suspect that it will. And that is because these works exemplify the epitome of artistry and because they continue to touch on issues important to humans and the human condition. Whether an artist can set out to create art that does that and be successful at it is open to discussion, but I doubt it. Those attempts usually come off as abstract and not very engaging. Instead of trying to make “art for the ages,” we should, like all of the artists mentioned above, focus on making the best art we can, very specific art that will speak to our own time and culture.

Some of it may live on.

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Stepping Into the Unknown

Monday, 24. June 2013 0:37

A recent Brain Pickings article by Maria Popova quotes a number of writers, including Rainer Maria Rilke, John Keats, Debbie Millman, and Anaïs Nin who encourage their readers to embrace the unknown, with Nin proclaiming “the vital importance of allowing for not-knowing in order to truly know the world in its fullest dimension, of using the unknown as a gateway to deeper presence and greater awareness.”

Whether stepping into the unknown is enriching or not, for many artists it is a necessary part of creativity. It’s an area we don’t much discuss. We often think about artists as working from an idea, from a preconception, of from a plan. And certainly some artists do that, but others don’t. Others just take the materials that they have and start fitting the pieces together, start playing, start improvising, and art happens. This is not to say that these artists are working blindly. Rather they are using their materials according to their training and aesthetic to make pieces that satisfy in some way; then they show them to the world, believing that someone will grasp some part of what is going on.

For example, Juri Koll had an opportunity to watch Herb Alpert (musician, painter, sculptor) work. Writing for Huffington Post Arts & Culture, Koll said “The beauty in watching him do it was the fact of allowing things to play out as the materials, surfaces and motions dictate. Nothing preconceived. ‘When I paint or sculpt,’ he [Alpert] says, ‘I don’t have anything in mind. I don’t have a goal in mind other than form. I’m looking for that form that touches me and when I find it I stop.’”

Alpert summarizes his approach on his web site: “Painting and sculpture is very much like music, in the sense that I’m looking for composition, I’m looking for harmony, I’m looking for transpositions. I want the canvas to swing.” His sculptures swing as well;” The Los Angeles Times says they are “like visual jazz.”

Many artists adopt a methodology similar to Alpert’s, although perhaps not so consciously. For some there is planning, and a preconceived notion. For instance, dancers work out the demands of the choreographer. But the choreographers work from a score—the product of a completely different discipline, which provides almost no guidance. Actors work at the suggestions of the director. And the directors work from a script, the equivalent to the choreographer’s score, but the interpretation of that script is unknown territory.

Even the actor, who we normally think of as doing directed work, has to face the unknown. He/she is given the words to say and perhaps some direction as to how to say them, but the real work of the actor, creating a complete human being in front of a camera or on the stage is really a step into the void. The script and the director provide hints, but the movement from self to character requires moving into uncharted space, into areas that are not only unknown but frightening.

No less frightening is sitting down at a computer to fill a blank page with words or create imagery, or leaning over a canvas, beginning a sculpture. And each shift in materials, subject matter, or methodology represents a step into the new and unfamiliar. But we all have to do it. If we are to be really creative and really make art, we must not “grasp for the security of our comfort zones, the affirmation of our areas of expertise, the assurance of our familiar patterns.” We must take a deep breath and step into the unknown.

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Art and Patron Must Match

Monday, 4. July 2011 0:21

One of the ideas presented in Michael Cunningham’s novel By Nightfall is the idea that art must be matched to the patron. In the book, a very wealthy art collector has had a “difficult” piece of art that she has tried to like, but cannot, and “exchanges” it for a different piece that is better suited to her.

Most of us who do not deal in million-dollar objet d’art and do not have the right of exchange do this in our own way. We walk through galleries and look at a variety of pieces. Most of the time, we keep walking. Once in a while, we stop and really consider a piece. We weigh the price against our potential enjoyment of the object in our own home or office, and, of course, our budget. Then we make one of three decisions: “yes,” “no,” or “not today.”

This last decision is the one which causes us problems. We have decided that we like the piece, that we would like to live with it—at least for a while, but for some reason we cannot make the investment on this day. The problem is that often our appreciation and desire for the object continues and we go back to visit it, or view it on the internet, or think about it often, or all of the above. Sometimes we actually go back and buy it, if it is still available. Very occasionally, when we go back, it is not as appealing as it was originally.

A friend of mine has spotted a sculpture that she wants very much, but has not (yet) purchased. Recently, we talked about why she likes it so much. She said, “It describes who I am at this moment in time.” This, naturally, led to a discussion of would she like it a year from now, when her situation changed and she moved on from where she is now. She didn’t know, had no way to know, but seemed willing to take the risk, if she could manipulate her budget to bring the piece into her home. This suggests that there is more to the appeal than the immediate.

Many aestheticians agree that the object of art is contemplation. Is this a piece that you will want to contemplate for years to come? Will it continue to hold your interest? Will that interest hold long enough to justify the cost?

And that’s what it’s really about when we purchase art, regardless of the price range. Will it be a long-term match for us? Do we want to be married to it? Will it continue to fascinate us next year, next decade? Of course it’s about other things as well, but the determining factor, assuming that we can budget the piece, is whether we will like it the same dollar amount or more in the future. If so, we make the purchase; if not, we move on to the next gallery.

This is not just a matter of taste; I like many things I would never think to purchase. What causes the decision to acquire? It certainly includes where we are in our lives, how we feel emotionally, what we think is important. But it also includes our education and experience and our sense of aesthetics. In order to appeal to us strongly enough for us to part with hard-earned money, the art object must speak to us in a way that signals its value to us, both in the present and in the future.

Only when the art work speaks to you in such a way that you want to contemplate it for as long as you can, and you are willing to make the investment (which sometimes is more than financial), will you have a match. And only then, as with any deep commitment, can you look forward to a long, complex, rewarding relationship.

 

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The Medium is Not the Message…But It’s a Big Chunk of the Experience

Monday, 23. May 2011 1:37

In his book Beauty, Roger Scruton maintains that meaning in a piece of art is “bound up with, inseparable from” the medium through which that meaning is presented. This means, of course, that the art cannot be reproduced in another medium and have the same meaning.

Although I have already discussed the difficulties I have with art reproduction here and here, two relatively new forms of art have been on my mind recently. These forms really seem to make the case for Scruton’s ideas even stronger.

The first is the lenticular image. For those who do not know, a lenticular is a fairly obscure medium (in which I work from time to time). Lenticulars can be based on photographs or other media; multiple images are interlaced and fused to a lenticular lens to create the illusion of movement or three-dimensionality as the viewer approaches the work. While the lenticular is not new technology, it is a relatively new art form. Many people have never seen one that was not an advertising piece.

The problem with lenticulars is that there is no way to reproduce the image electronically, so they cannot, for example, be viewed on the web. A simulation can be made with an animated gif file, but it is only a simulation and cannot reproduce the experience of walking past an image in a gallery that appears to move or to come out of the frame.

Interestingly, the animated gif is the vehicle for the second form. It is the cinemagraph, and its foremost practitioners are a team, Jamie Beck and Kevin Burg. You can see these images, which have been hailed by The Atlantic, Huffington Post and many others, on Beck’s From Me To You Tumblr. These images are essentially still photographs with movement added in isolated segments.

Despite the artistry involved with cinemagraphs and the stories they tell, they also have a problem. Cinemagraphs require an electronic device capable of displaying animated gifs. They can never hang in galleries unless those galleries are appropriately equipped.

These are just two instances where the art work seems completely inseparable from the medium; there are many.  For example, there are images etched in metal. A photograph of the etched image can be made, but that is a weak representation of the real thing. The same can be said for images printed on glass, another medium that cannot be adequately reproduced.

And there are others: physical collage only works if you can really see the texture of the items being collaged. Paint buildup is an integral part of many paintings that simply does not show up or certainly has less impact in a photograph of the painting. Sculpture defies reproduction in any kind of meaningful way except perhaps as a series of images or a video, which still falls far short of adequate reproduction. The same is true of dance or any other live performance art.

Actually, the same is true for all works of art. We can photograph them, we can describe them, but we cannot fully express the experience of them without reference to the media in which they were originally created.

Scruton, it seems, is correct: the content of a work of art is not really translatable to another medium; the medium is an essential part of the experience of the art work. And with these newer forms that union seems even stronger.

One can only wonder what the future holds.

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Life Getting in the Way of Your Art? Use It!

Monday, 2. May 2011 0:06

This was the week to read the journals of the students in the acting class I am teaching. They are asked to write every day of the semester something related to acting. The task is intentionally broad and has a number of purposes: to get them into the habit of thinking about their art every day, to provide them with the opportunity to verbalize ideas about acting and theatre, to provide a safe vehicle through which they can communicate thoughts they might not otherwise express. (Nobody except the writer and me reads the journals).

Going through the journals is always an interesting exercise. One of the things that I find is that there is direct correlation between the quality of work that the students do in class and the complexity and frequency of the thoughts that they put into the journal. Another thing that I find is that there are, particularly among those who are not yet fully committed to any of the arts, a number of statements that run something like, “I didn’t get a chance to think about acting today because [fill in excuse here].”

It is fairly well documented that successful artists are thinking about art, if not all the time, certainly every day. They may not be thinking about their artistic specialty, but sometime during the day, ideas about art, or their practice, or art business, or some aspect of art will have play in their minds. Some, like Minor White, try to make this a habit; he said, “I am always mentally photographing everything as practice.” Others just recognize it as habitual. Many have no choice; they can’t not think about art.

Reading journals this week set me to wondering how many of us who consider ourselves practicing artists make the same justifications for not at least thinking about art or our art practices on a daily basis. As these acting students will attest, it’s hard to keep your art on your mind every day; there are other things to do. And for us who are no longer formal students it is no different; there are a thousand other things that demand our attention: families, bills, chores, day jobs, and the list goes on and on. For some it is not situations that divert them from art, but mental or physical states: exhaustion, frustration, depression, anxiety, love, physical pain or disability. The distractors are manifold.

We can’t presume that those who are “successful” in the art world are living lives without all of those same distractors. All practicing artists have physical bodies and lives that are not perfect. Regardless of our situation, and we have to deal with it and keep making our art. Susan Holland makes this point very clearly in her blog “When Life Gives you Lemons…Paint!” on Empty Easel. Holland says that when life “kills the motivation to create,” the artist should “paint about it.”

The advice holds for any artist, of course. When life gets too painful or too distracting or simply in the way, incorporate it into your acting, or your directing, or your photography, or your novel, or your poetry, or your dance, or your music, or your choreography, or your sculpture. Use it. That’s what all those artists you admire have done. Think how disordered their lives are/were. Theirs, like ours, are/were messy and imperfect, but they have managed to create art anyway, sometimes even masterpieces.

If they can do it, we can do it too. If we are to call ourselves artists, we must.

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Uncomfortable with Self-Promotion? Take Baby Steps

Monday, 18. April 2011 0:05

One of the things there is no shortage of is advice on how to be a “successful” artist. Make no mistake; in this context “successful” means “an artist who sells.” Sometimes it means “an artist who makes his/her living from his/her art.” In any case, it’s all about marketing and sales. And why not? Being a starving artist may sound like a romantic idea, but it’s only that. We can all point to artists who were successes only after they were dead, but is that the model you really want to follow?

The fact is, whether we are painters, photographers, sculptors, ceramicists, or writers, we want people to see our art, and hopefully be impacted by it. So we have two choices: give it away or sell it. The second alternative seems to be the better of the two, at least to me.

We are told that we must self-promote, and the implication is that we should model ourselves after the most financially successful self-promoting artists. We are encouraged to follow the examples of those who promote shamelessly and/or exploit the internet. We are advised to spend every minute that we are not actually producing art interacting on Twitter or Facebook or our blogs and websites or engaging in some other form of marketing and sales.

This can be a difficulty for those of us who do not have art factories or assistants or those of us who do not believe that we are temperamentally suited for marketing. Some would say that we had better find a way to make the time and become suited or resign ourselves to giving our art away, or, like Emily Dickenson or Vivian Maier, having it found and made public after we’re gone.

There is no question that marketing and sales are necessary if we want to succeed in terms of putting our work out there into the world. We must promote our own work and we must figure out ways to become comfortable doing that.

This means researching and exploring the many different venues and approaches to art marketing and sales. Spend some time analyzing tweets, exploring Facebook, reading blogs, examining web sites. You will find that there are innumerable approaches and a variety of styles. And there are more all the time. According to Barney Davey, how artists promote themselves is constantly evolving, and one of the challenges is to try to keep methodology current.

Not every successful artist is a completely shameless self-promoter. Some promote better than others. Study them; see what works and why. See what appeals to you and why. See what fits you and why.

Then try some of those methods out. Take baby steps. Move out of your comfort zone a little at a time. As you build up your courage and your repertoire of possibilities, you can begin to see what works for you. And that, finally, is the most important thing, to find the methods or combination of methods that work for you.

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It’s the Audience, not the Artist

Sunday, 13. March 2011 23:45

Denis Dutton in The Art Instinct argues that in fiction there is a “communicative transaction between reader and author.” Citing Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author,” Hazel Dooney presents a very different view, maintaining that “a creator’s role is to produce and neither to explain nor to try to control the response to their work. It’s the reader (or viewer or listener) who gives it meaning through their individual interpretation,” a notion which is also explained here.

While I cannot argue with Dutton’s assertion that the author is “trying to control the show—the interpretation of characters, their actions, and the events that befall them,” I must agree with Dooney when she says “Even if people understand the concept of a work, their interpretations and deeper, emotional responses are always at a remove from the creator’s.”  My experience is that both are correct.

For example, in a recent rehearsal of a musical, an associate and I were discussing how an actress rendered a particular song. He was struck by the intensity of the piece while I was concerned that she had missed the feeling of the piece entirely, and, being the director, made a note to correct the problem. For a time I was convinced that our differences were caused by our differing functions on the show, but I came to realize that it was just that we, because of our different experiences, backgrounds, and internal reference materials, had interpreted what we saw very differently.

I have experienced similar reactions with audience members. Sometimes I am able to see their point of view and sometimes I wonder what show they have seen, because it wasn’t the same show that I saw, and it certainly wasn’t the one that I directed.

So what has all of this got to do with anything? All that holds true for fiction according to Dutton and Barthes and all that holds true for theatre according to my experience holds true for all arts. We make photographs and paintings and sculptures and collages and write haikus and novels and short stories and we have no idea how they will be received. We have no clue whether our audience will “get it” or not. We will attempt, in Dutton’s words, “by persuading, manipulating, wheedling, planting hints, adopting a tone” to control the audience’s response. We will fail.

There are simply too many factors outside our ability to control. There is all the stuff going on in the audience’s mind when they encounter our work. There is the experience of the audience, their education, their belief structure, their aesthetic. There is all of that and more. There are ins and outs and corners and nuances that we could not possibly know about or plan for when we built our art.

And no clever titles, explanations, artist statements, biographies, statements of philosophies will ever convey to them exactly the interpretation that we think they ought to give our work. Dooney has said that’s not our job, and she’s right.

We make our art and it is what it is. No matter how much we try to “control the show,” we will always fall short. That doesn’t mean that we should stop trying. It just means that we must recognize that the audience brings its own baggage to the party. Our work will always be viewed through someone else’s filters, interpreted in ways that we cannot imagine. Things we have been careful to insert will be missed; things we had not consciously intended will be seen. It will always be so.

The best that we can do is to continue working to create our visions, to manipulate the materials so as to minimize misunderstanding, to make our work sufficiently clear that our message is unmistakable. Then stand out of the way.

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Art Has a Life of Its Own

Sunday, 19. December 2010 23:55

During the last month, I’ve done a couple of posts about certain classes of artists who have to let go of their work in order to have it completed by others [here and here]. It finally occurred to me that all artists have to let go of their work, although some, like over-protective parents, cling to their progeny with worry, blogs, essays, statements explanations, rationales (some of which have been previously discussed).

The fact is, regardless of what the artist was trying to do or not do, the art object, once completed, exists apart from the artist. It has its own life. It exists in the world, sometimes long after the artist is gone. The piece says what it says, and means what it means, and no amount of explanation or history or background or knowledge of the creator will alter that.

As the painter, Robert Oliver, in Elizabeth Kostova’s novel about artistic obsession, The Swan Thieves, declares, “I don’t think painters have the answers about their own paintings. No one knows anything about a painting but the painting itself.”  It would be easy to dismiss Oliver; he is, after all, just a fictional character. Perhaps it would be more difficult to disagree with an acknowledged real-life artist. Jackson Pollock said the same thing much more simply:  “the painting has a life of its own.” And it does.

What matters is what the art work itself says, what it does, what it means in the eye of its audience.  Certainly artistic intent is important, but mostly to the artist. When you get to the bottom line, artistic intent matters little, if at all. Does the artist’s intent show through? Maybe. That very much depends upon the artist and his/her abilities, how clear he/she may or may not be trying to be, what he/she is attempting to do.

Often the artist gets so bound up in process that he/she may not concern him/herself with message of the piece. The goal may be to get his/her ideas and feelings onto the canvas or into the stone, not necessarily to make the painting or sculpture communicate those thoughts and emotions to others. Again, Pollock speaks to this: “The method of painting is the natural outgrowth of a need. I want to express my feelings rather than illustrate them.

Sometimes, the work will say far more (or less) than the artist thinks it does. I have known artists, who, upon revisiting their works after a period of time, find things in the work that they did not knowingly put there. There is a whole body of thought that holds that the unconscious plays a terribly important part in the creative process, that the artist’s whole being bends to the task of creation and essentially subconscious magic happens. I do know that it is easy to get lost in the process (a subject for another time), and maybe this unconscious, subconscious effort is part of what really pays off in terms of what the art work says and does.

So, adding elements both consciously and subconsciously, the artist creates the work and then must set it free.  (No wonder many compare making art to giving birth.)  The art object, like an emancipated child, then begins its life, speaking to the world without reference to the artist, repeating its message, if it has one, saying what it has to say. Some will get it; some will misunderstand. But ultimately, the work speaks for itself; the work stands on its own.

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Thoughts on Artists’ Assistants

Sunday, 24. October 2010 22:00

This past week Hazel Dooney was trying to hire an assistant and someone evidently questioned her about it, as evidenced by two defensive tweets.  It caused me to rethink some questions that I had had previously about artists’ assistants and their functions, and when that becomes a problem for artistic integrity and when doesn’t.

In defending her position, Dooney maintained that Hirst didn’t paint his own dots and that “Warhol signed many works he never touched.”  My feeling is that is one of the reasons that some critics hold those particular artists in contempt. The list goes on: Maurizio Cattelan doesn’t build his own art; the same can be said for some of the work of Lichtenstein and Robert Longo.  In some of these cases, we are talking about artists whose place in the art world is questionable, or controversial at the very least.  However, there are some more respected artists who have contracted out some of their work. Donald Judd comes to mind, but he too was challenged by Mark di Suvero‘s assertion  that “real artists make their own work.” While many will challenge Hirst and Cattelan and even Warhol, few will challenge the artistic mind of Judd.

What makes the difference?  I don’t think that it is the fact of assistants. Many artists use assistants. Some cannot do their work without them. I’m thinking now of theatre, where, in addition to the director, there are actors, scene designers, costumers, light designers, sound designers, stage managers, and a myriad of crew people. The same may be said of dance, or practically any performing or collaborative art.  But what of those artists in fields that are traditionally individualistic: painters, photographers, writers? Often those artists have assistants too; photographers have assistants who help with the lights or other aspects of shooting and post processing. I have personally worked both with and as a photographic assistant. Painters and ceramicists have studio help; writers have editors.

The history of artists’ assistants is well established. They used to be called apprentices or artisans.  In a recent exhibition of Fabergé pieces in Houston, I noted that the actual designers and makers of the pieces were fully credited, even though the pieces were originally sold under the single name Fabergé.  No longer.  Assistants may still think of themselves as apprentices, but often they are simply nameless employees whose job it is to help the artist, or in some cases, do the work for the artist, before the signature is affixed.  Damien Hirst defends this factory approach; he “sees the real creative act as being the conception, not the execution, and that, as the progenitor of the idea, he is therefore the artist: ‘Art goes on in your head,’ he says.”

I cannot agree. Art may go on in your head, but it also goes on in the act of creation. I think the bigger question is:  when is the use of assistance an abuse of artistic integrity and when is it legitimate.  Not an easy question.  In collaborative work, this question does not come up, as in the cases of editors, lighting assistants, second unit directors, assistant choreographers.  Sometimes, however, the practice is questionable. The artist who only has the idea and does nothing toward the creation of the work is, at best, a designer, not an artist.

Legitimacy seems directly proportional to the amount of control the artist exerts over the process and inversely proportional to the commoditization of the art work.  If the work is designed primarily to sell, then it becomes a commercial process, regardless of how many and what level of collectors are interested. Assistants often become factory workers producing manufactured products.  If, however, the aid of assistants is a function of getting the job done in order to satisfy artistic ends, with the artist being directive to the point of controlling the outcome and participating in creation to the extents of his/her ability, then the work can be said to be legitimately that of the artist and the participation of assistants part of the artistic process.

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