Does It Matter If Artists Use Teams Of Makers To Make Their Art?

Why is it controversial for famous artists to use a team of makers to create their work?

Christopher P Jones
5 min readJan 24, 2019

Michael Jackson and Bubbles (1988), by Jeff Koons. Photo by Håkon H. Source

It is a curious and often controversial aspect of modern art: that some artists don’t appear to make their own work but have a team of technicians to make it for them.

In 2017, it was reported that Jeff Koons, the American artist, was laying off a large swathe of his workforce, reducing “the number of painters employed by the studio from around 60 to approximately 30 people.”

Whatever this news may imply for the welfare of Koons’ career, what is striking about this story is the sheer size of his painterly workforce.

At its peak, Koons’ team was said to consist of up to 100 artisans. In an interview about his “Gazing Ball” series of paintings, debuted in 2015, Koons told the Guardian that the works “are all handmade paintings, every mark on here has been applied by a brush.”

What may upset some is that Jeff Koons was not the one doing the painting.

How does this affect our notion of the artist? Does it matter if a team of artisan underlings are the actual craftsmen and not the artist him or herself?

Other artists cause similar dismay among the public. The British artist Damien Hirst recently completed his artwork The Miraculous Journey14 large bronze sculptures outside Qatar’s Sidra Medicine hospital that depict in vivid detail the gestation period of human pregnancy. In a review of the piece, readers responded:

“These are not the works of Hirst. They are the works of an artist who carried out his specification. He’s more of a commissioner than artist. He commissions the art to be created under his name.”

Another bemoaned:

“The only outrageous thing about these sculptures is the amount of commission Damien creamed off the top, even though he had virtually no input in the design or the construction.”

Others replied in support of Hirst:

“Wrong. An artisan carried out the task, but Hirst conceived of the idea in the first place. Having the idea is the hard bit.”