David Hockney vs Damien Hirst: the Queen's chosen one puts king of the YBAs on the spot

A day after his New Year honour, Yorkshire's finest attacks artist for failing to make his own work

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The Independent Culture

A row is threatening to break out between two of Britain's most celebrated artists after David Hockney criticised Damien Hirst for the "insulting" use of assistants to create his works.

Hockney, whose new exhibition opens later this month, has taken a swing at his fellow artists, saying they should create their own work.

Posters for his show at the Royal Academy of Arts in London read: "All the works here were made by the artist himself, personally." He confirmed that it was particularly a dig at Damien Hirst, who famously used assistants on his spot paintings. Hockney, who was awarded the Order of Merit on Sunday, told the Radio Times: "It's a little insulting to craftsmen, skilful craftsmen."

Hirst has an exhibition of his spot paintings at the Gagosian Gallery's 11 sites around the world starting next week. Talking about the works in 2007 he said: "As soon as I sold one, I used the money to pay people to make them. They were better at it than me. I get bored. I get very impatient." He was unavailable for comment yesterday.

Other contemporary British artists who have used assistants include the sculptor Antony Gormley and Mark Wallinger. Hockney said: "I used to point out at art school, you can teach the craft; it's the poetry you can't teach. But now they try to teach the poetry and not the craft." He quoted a Chinese saying that to paint "you need the eye, the hand and the heart. Two won't do".

Michael Petry, a multimedia artist who wrote The Art of Not Making, about artists who outsource the production of their work, said: "It is one thing to say, 'That's not the way I work', which is fine, but we don't need to throw stones at each other." He added: "To say this sort of thing is to erase a whole century of contemporary art."

He pointed out that apprentices had been used by artists for hundreds of years, including Fra Angelico in the 15th century, Michelangelo, Peter Paul Rubens and Sir Joshua Reynolds. "I find it difficult to see it as a credible argument," Mr Petry said. "A lot of great work has used assistants."

Hockney has been working on pieces for his new show in London for three years. He said: "It took me three days to say, 'Yes, okay'. There was quite a lot of work, but I'm an opportunist... We rose to the occasion."

Masters and servants


The great Italian masters of the Renaissance studied at workshops of previous masters and many had apprentices of their own. The myth that Michelangelo painted the Sistine Chapel by himself has endured but recent scholarship found he recruited 12 assistants to take part in completing the work.

Marcel Duchamp

Marcel Duchamp scandalised the art world in 1917 with Fountain. The urinal was part of his "Readymades" where found objects were presented as art. An editorial in art journal The Blind Man said at the time it did not matter whether the artist made it with his own hands, "he CHOSE it".

Andy Warhol

Michael Petry said Andy Warhol "could draw beautifully but he is most famous for his print works, which were done with the help of assistants". The artist started using assistants as an advertisement illustrator in the 1950s and carried on the practice throughout his career.

Antony Gormley

Part of a long tradition of sculptors using assistants. Some 500 helped Gormley with the Asian Field work.