Photo of Damien Hirst's butterfly paintings from Luke White, teacher and PhD student.
Earlier this week, I learned that Damien Hirst's London-based studio has had to lay off approximately 20 artists who make his butterfly paintings and drug cabinet series. Of course this is a sign of bad economic times. (Might I add, they weren't being paid well to begin with, according to multiple news sources. But this is a whole other topic.)
But the layoff raises a few side issues in my mind, relating to the act of making things. Namely, how do you define "artist"? Is Damien Hirst the artist or designer, or both? Can the workers in Hirst studios be considered artists? Fine artists? Factory workers? Manufacturers? I realize Hirst is not the first to hire assistants in the creation of fine art. Andy Warhol immediately comes to mind. I'd love to be in the position to hire a studio assistant- someone to prep canvases, run errands, do my marketing and administrative tasks, and hang shows- not someone to do the actual art, though. Call me a purist.
I'm not providing answers here, or attempting to define terms, because it's such a gray area to me. But feel free to add your comments. I think it's an interesting and valid topic.
Another thing, while I'm at it: Notice the protective plexiglass covering over these paintings. To me, this creates emotional and visual distance between viewer and painting. The viewer can't be trusted to look and not touch? Whatever happened to the velvet rope, which does the job of keeping the audience from getting too close for comfort, without being overtly distracting? The glass box is a terribly cold way to experience these paintings. It's pretentious and interfering. If these paintings were ancient and priceless artifacts in a museum, I could completely understand the need for the protective glass box. But really, isn't this a bit over the top here? Please tell me the plexi covering is part of the art itself, and how you know so, and I will acknowledge my ignorance.