Artist assistants working on piece

Should we credit artist’s assistants?

POSTED ON December 4, 2019 BY Logistics Specialist

If you’ve ever seen the work of a major contemporary artist in an institution like Tate Modern or Hayward Gallery, then it’s a strong bet that artist has a studio with at least a few assistants, or in the case of Damien Hirst hundreds.

However, at most major exhibitions these assistants often go unacknowledged. But the question is should they get a credit, even if it’s just a footnote in the promotional material? I’m thinking an acknowledgement at the end of the exhibition to go alongside the artist’s name in big letters at the entrance to the show.

The argument for crediting these assistants is that they played a part in creating the work so they should get a mention, however small. If you watch the credits in a movie there are nods to those who didn’t directly contribute to the film, i.e. the personal assistants of the main stars.

The argument against crediting artist assistants is that the idea and technique is the artist’s conception and the assistants are the paid labour. Architects don’t credit the day labourers who helped construct a building — there’s no plaque on The Shard with all their names on it, unless some cheeky builder snuck it in when nobody was looking.

Should we credit artists assistants
Should we credit artists assistants

With art, the lack of credit is likely tied to tradition. In the past being an apprentice to a master like Leonardo or Rubens helped you learn techniques you could apply to your own work, so you gained a long-term career benefit even if you weren’t credited.

I’m not sure that still holds today given many assistants I’ve spoken to are doing it simply for some extra income, though it can come with the benefit of some art world connections – one of the perks from a job that can often involve a lot of cleaning.

Maybe it’s time for a change, but given the decision to credit assistants rests in the hands of the super star artists and they have no incentive to change the power dynamics of the studio, or share the credit, I can’t see it changing anytime soon.

Written by Tabish Khan