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We Expect Art To Suck
November 28, 2012 11:39 PM   Subscribe

Artist Zak Smith addresses the problem of Big Art made by assistants for artists who don't claim to use assistants. good bit starts at 3:40
posted by The Whelk (40 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was really fun and witty.
posted by quazichimp at 12:10 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


Zak Smith tries to explain the purpose of the art world using hookers and serious people

Zak Smith - you have to make art that makes these people happy, that is your job.
posted by The Whelk at 12:11 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought the good bit started at 0:00. Don’t know who the redshirt is but I like his suggested response more. I’m also surprised they couldn’t find anyone to actually take the position that assistants don’t deserve credit.
posted by migurski at 12:17 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Even though I have no issues with artists who use assistants, there was a great point made in this discussion about artists who can afford to use assistants vs. those who can't. Combined with the favoritism given to "big art", it's easy to see the problem. I feel like once that issue was brought up, everything else in the discussion became a side note. It was just a really great point that I don't hear addressed too often. I think some sort of distinction should be made between artists who pay their two assistants $10/hr vs. artists who have basically industrialized their entire practice. I mean, I know a lot of people who have done the former whose art doesn't quite reach the level of big art. It's often just tedious, time-consuming work rather than monumental-type stuff that the assistants are doing (this was addressed in the video at one point). Or like, one assistant has a truck so they get to transport materials. Anyway, part of me was expecting to be put off by Zak Smith's argument in some way, mainly because I hardly ever see it go beyond the whole everyone-should-get-their-name-on-the-plaque thing, which doesn't get to the heart of the matter. I've never really connected with Zak Smith's work, but I admire his ambition in his own practice and I enjoyed what he had to say here. It didn't hurt that it was also very funny. Thanks for posting. And on preview, I agree that the good bit is the whole thing.
posted by blixapuff at 12:28 AM on November 29, 2012 [3 favorites]


The redshirt is Shaun Edwards.

No, wait. My mistake.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:29 AM on November 29, 2012


That was a hoot.
I really don't see that they were on opposite sides of any issue - but that did not diminish the pleasure of it, either.
Funnily, I knew within three seconds that this was in LA. I confess, I'm not an 'LA' Person, I don't feel at home there, but the LA art scene (from the 60's on forward) is one I have the most respect for. It's been way underplayed but more good art came out of LA than anyone realizes. I think.
posted by From Bklyn at 12:31 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I’m also surprised they couldn’t find anyone to actually take the position that assistants don’t deserve credit.

As an art world outsider I am curious about what that position is. It can't just be a question of wanting to make smaller labels surely?
posted by rongorongo at 12:36 AM on November 29, 2012


I'm just a few minutes into the third video where they've very weirdly addressed his porn career and couldn't help but be very creeped out by how it seemed to be a personal attack on him right from the beginning, but masked with some attempt at humor. I'm liking his response so far. The whole thing got me thinking, though, that in my entire time spent in art school and that whole environment, and considering how many people (lots and lots) claimed to be influenced by Zak Smith, I never once heard any one of those people talk about him being a porn star. I heard plenty about it elsewhere, but for some reason, in art school, where people get naked frequently with great enthusiasm, him being a porn star was never mentioned.
posted by blixapuff at 12:46 AM on November 29, 2012


rongorongo: "As an art world outsider I am curious about what that position is. It can't just be a question of wanting to make smaller labels surely?"

It's a question about the essence of creative authorship. Basically people have very specific ideas about what it means and how it should be defined, and it's hard to break out of those boxes.

Consider novels. You rarely have author credit go to more than one person, even though in very similar ways it is a whole team of people doing the work. It's customary to thank them in the acknowledgments, of course. I mean, how would you order them on the shelf? (only half kidding about that... people are really hung up about the way things are "supposed" to work).

Even movies have a very structured way of presenting authorship. The patrons most surely know the main actor, then maybe supporting cast and the director, but rarely the screenwriters, costume designers, DP, etc.; because that's how it's billed. The framework of 'movie' is presented in those terms, so we assign authorship in that order of priority.

I think it is in basic terms about making it easy for patrons to mentally categorize, and consume. Like you go to the bookstore and ask for the title by author (singular), you go to itunes and download an album by musician (singular), you go to a gallery and collect by artist (singular). So yeah, I think the contrary position (to the degree it exists, I'm not sure) is held by the establishment, in service of itself.

Like, if I was an art critic or a historian or a gallery owner, of course I'd insist that it was only Richard Serra and not the German shipyard that was of creative significance. Because while I know Serra, I have no fucking clue about sheet metal foundries or whatever.
posted by danny the boy at 1:12 AM on November 29, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's a question about the essence of creative authorship. Basically people have very specific ideas about what it means and how it should be defined, and it's hard to break out of those boxes.

Well, certainly art isn't for breaking out of predefined ideas, so let's look elsewhere.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:42 AM on November 29, 2012


I never once heard any one of those people talk about him being a porn star.

I think it's because Mr. Smith doesn't see his porn stardom having anything to do with his artwork. He likes girls, he likes having sex with girls - and being a porn star allows him to have LOTS of sex with LOTS of girls. He's not doing a, "I'm being a porn star as an art project" thing. He's doing it (did it?) it as a job.

He's pretty straightforward with a lot of his ideas and doesn't really go for that conceptual thing on anything. Like, he draws what he draws, because he likes those things. Even his titles are things like, "Things I Drew and Pinned to the Wall". Check out the names of his gallery shows: "Hope You Like It", "Paintings That Look Good and Were Hard to Make"

There's not much else to it. It's really refreshing.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:53 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


And holy shit, HOLD THE CAMERA STILL AND STRAIGHT I'M GETTING SICK.
posted by alex_skazat at 1:57 AM on November 29, 2012


Big art like some of Kapoor's or Serra's is almost more architecture than sculpture, and an architect shouldn't be expected to credit every person who leveled concrete or hammered nails. It is important for artists to give credit to people making creative decisions concerning their art, not to the people who were hired to construct their designs.
posted by pracowity at 2:13 AM on November 29, 2012 [5 favorites]


Pertinent previous discussion about art and fabricators.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:31 AM on November 29, 2012


I’m also surprised they couldn’t find anyone to actually take the position that assistants don’t deserve credit.


Ahh, too bad they hadn't met my ex husband... who still takes full credit for pieces of which I did 80% of the work (not just manual, ideas too). From my decade with him and his other showing/paid/sold artist friends, I'm just gonna throw a guess in here that it's all about ego. The primary artist came up with the initial idea and considers it "his(her) baby". I'm certain he'd have no issue debating from that stated stance of ego, either. In fact, I believe he'd relish debating that assistants are just flunky grunts with no genuine talent or imagination, just shop skills, hired to do a job.
posted by _paegan_ at 2:47 AM on November 29, 2012


I know a guy who is an artist "assistant" but since he often makes the whole piece for the artist i wouldn't call him an assistant.
He's being paid way more than 10$/hour, and if he's working on a serie of pieces he often gets to keep one as part of his contract with the artist.
As a result he has a huge art collection. He doesn't care that he's not credited, he doesn't have any artistic ambitions himself, he just likes to make stuff, he doesn't come from the art world at all.
I would guess that's he actually makes more money per year than some of the artist he has worked for.

So not all assistants are poor art school students frustrated by their work.
posted by SageLeVoid at 3:39 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Assistants are basically the same as Session Musicians. They shouldn't really be credited if they are working purely as assistants.

I guess the problem is that often there is some overlap between zero and a little of artisitc input / interpretation of requests.
posted by mary8nne at 5:17 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess the problem is that often there is some overlap between zero and a little of artisitc input / interpretation of requests.

Yes. I like reading the full credits -- including session musicians -- for recordings because session musicians often do more than just plink the notes written on the paper. And I'm always interested knowing everything I can about a piece of visual art that I like, so I'm totally in favor of voluntarily crediting everyone involved there, including the types of paints and brushes she used and the shops where she bought them.

But it would be a bit much to expect full credit for everyone and to talk as if artists were horrible egotists for listing only their own names in exhibits. If all you did is some paint-by-number work for someone, you shouldn't expect to see your name on the wall.
posted by pracowity at 6:00 AM on November 29, 2012


the LA art scene (from the 60's on forward) is one I have the most respect for.

SO MUCH CONCRETISM
posted by shakespeherian at 6:05 AM on November 29, 2012


I remember one great quote (via a past mefi post) from a guy that did the neon work for many famous works, and it was along the lines of "I'd rather be an excellent craftsman than another mediocre artist. The world doesn't need any more mediocre artists."
or maybe he worked with stone? I can't remember.
posted by Theta States at 6:28 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


You rarely have author credit go to more than one person, even though in very similar ways it is a whole team of people doing the work. It's customary to thank them in the acknowledgments, of course. I mean, how would you order them on the shelf? (only half kidding about that... people are really hung up about the way things are "supposed" to work).

When writing my acknowledgments, my editor stressed that I didn't have to thank the editorial team, that it was totally up to me. Not doing it seemed so shitty, though I guess there are writers that are that shitty?

Also now have crush on Zak Smith.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:30 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Assistants are basically the same as Session Musicians. They shouldn't really be credited if they are working purely as assistants.

I have always assumed the people like session musicians and film crews would be asked to sign contracts which would mention topics like credit and remuneration pretty explicitly. They might also be members of a union which could help them out in a dispute. And I would guess that artists' assistants might not have such contracts. Is this true?
posted by rongorongo at 7:44 AM on November 29, 2012


Are there any recordings made entirely by session musicians, but still carrying only the name of someone else?

For me, a lot of Jeff Koons' work would be the equivalent of Elvis hiring a bunch of session musicians to cover some instrumental by Dick Dale, and then marketing it as the sole work of Elvis Presley.

(By the way, I am grateful to this thread for introducing me to Zak Smith. I look forward to learning more of his work.)
posted by bashos_frog at 8:01 AM on November 29, 2012


You mean late, sequined jumper Elvis, right? Yes, maybe so.

There's a big disconnect here, though. Some art is a 'thing'/artefact produced by an individual - think painting. Now let's put in the important note that painters have had assistants since time immemorial.
Other art is about an idea conveyed through the artifact. Sometimes, the artifact's visual impact is entirely secondary to the 'greater meaning' of the piece. Artists who make this kind of work also, very often have assistants who do a lot of the work.

What this cannot be compared to is performance art. In performance art you are paying to see a specific performer. But with 'plastic' art you are paying for an object. How that object came into the world is kind of only an issue if the artist makes it such - Warhol on one end of the spectrum, say Bill Jensen on the other (there are myriad artists who could slip into either of those ends). I agreed with Zak Smith that artists who are selling their 'hand' as a central part of the art they sell without acknowledging (or even denying - don't gasp, it happens) the role their assistants have played, are dicks. But it didn't seem like his sparring partner felt any different about that.

Also, dude went to Yale? Dude is establishment, whatever/however he might portray himself. Yale is the Medici/Antwerp/Name Another Great Patron/validating entity of our times.
posted by From Bklyn at 8:19 AM on November 29, 2012 [2 favorites]


I review Zak Smith's We Did Porn
posted by The Whelk at 8:22 AM on November 29, 2012


He hated every second at Yale, just FYI.
posted by The Whelk at 8:27 AM on November 29, 2012


He may have hated it, but it remains a fact.

Having slept on it, I sympathize with Zak’s argument less and less. The way he talks about whether assisted art is legitimate seems to force him to the conclusion that “we” should “do something” about it, maybe not allow it to happen or not support it. It’s a very artist-focused point of view, as though art exists for the pure self-fulfillment of the artist rather than the curator, the collector, or the gallery visitor. I confess that I like big art, and as a sort of assistant myself (CTO of a design studio) I feel some sense of kinship with the assistants, session musicians and editors of the world. Exploitation does suck, but there are ways to assist in the birthing of someone else’s good ideas that don’t amount to the same thing and let you shape those ideas through whatever medium you’re an expert in.

Zak Smith seems to be taking the experience of Hirst’s dot painters as a general rule, but I think he’s pulling a “simplify, then exaggerate” move here that really does no justice to the subtlety of actor/object networks. In conclusion, I wish Bruno Latour were on that stage.
posted by migurski at 9:20 AM on November 29, 2012


Zak Smith on "Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art"
posted by jeffburdges at 9:38 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


Please, correct me if I'm wrong (I do a lot of Art Stuff but I never went to art school, so I'm a little shaky when it comes to these Big Debates).

Smith seems to be talking about two separate issues. The first is "Being open about the fact that you use assistants." And the second is "Giving official credit to the assistants who worked on a project."

I think there is room to have A without necessarily B. And it sounds like there are a lot of Big Name artists who do neither, even though it is well-known in the art community that their works are largely executed by squadrons of paid assistants.

I love the idea of looking at a painting in a gallery and seeing a tag that says something like, "Painting by John Doe. Paint work performed by Alice Smith, Bob Jones, and Connie James. Brushes washed and dried by Don Harper. Canvas stretched by Elaine Sanchez," etc. But realistically, I don't think it's ever going to happen.
posted by ErikaB at 9:57 AM on November 29, 2012


Just b/c it hasn't been mentioned, 760 illustrations for each page of Gravity's Rainbow.

Zak Smith on "Dungeons & Dragons in Contemporary Art"

... and I Hit It with My Axe (guest starring Sasha Grey - SFW)
posted by mrgrimm at 10:37 AM on November 29, 2012


He hated every second at Yale, just FYI.

Yet he didn't quit, change schools, or any of that, he went to get a degree from there. It's the obligatory "I went to this exclusive upper class school, but hey, i hated it so i'm still an outsider." bs that even politicians say. His whole speech really solidified that for me, just got a vibe of "Rage against the machine (which i am a part of willingly)!" I went to an art school for a little while, no where near yale level, but it's people with his attitude that turned me off of it. He seems to hate people telling him how to create art, but has no hesitation on demanding others follow his rules and insulting those who don't.

I wonder as a photographer if he ever had anyone hold reflectors, lights, etc that he didn't credit.

Also, the pyramids as an example, really? Who's the artist that designed them then? Oh right, besides the fact that it was an (or a team of) architects not artists, we remember that it was a huge group of people actually moving the stones. A better example would be the Sistine Chapel, did Michelangelo do it all alone as we like to imagine or did people help with any of it?

I used to kind of actually like his stuff, but damn if this video doesn't make me care for him much anymore.
posted by usagizero at 10:45 AM on November 29, 2012 [1 favorite]


He's being paid way more than 10$/hour, and if he's working on a serie of pieces he often gets to keep one as part of his contract with the artist.

(I will have to wait to get home to see/hear the video)

As an artist though, who one day hopes to make at least some income from artwork, it is good for me to read things like this.

I cannot really imagine a world in which there is so much demand for art that there are people making decent livings with names I've never heard or read about.

I know it's out there, I know it exists, but it's difficult for me to envision (not much of an artist, eh?) it.

Instead I see paintings piling up in warehouses and spilling out of the windows of tract homes and offices until people finally start yelling, "Stop! WE HAVE ENOUGH ART NOW! No need to make more!"

I hope that doesn't happen for a while yet

posted by mmrtnt at 12:42 PM on November 29, 2012


I wonder as a photographer if he ever had anyone hold reflectors, lights, etc that he didn't credit.

I think this is being deliberately obtuse. There's a difference between framing a shot, and telling someone else where to aim a light, a reflector, etc., and letting a team do all the setup of the shot on their own, then waltzing in to hit the shutter button and claiming credit.

I don't have much of a problem with Serra contracting out the metal work of his pieces, because that is not the primary focus of the work. Serra is not considered a famous steelworker.

Someone like Kostabi on the other hand seems way more problematic. He is/was considered a famous painter. But he's not, really. The artefacts produced by his publicist & assistants without his input are just as convincing as the work with his input.
posted by bashos_frog at 2:21 PM on November 29, 2012


I review Zak Smith's We Did Porn

Oh, I've read that. The actual story was OK, but I thought the illustrations were really lame. He's clearly a smart guy though.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:04 PM on November 29, 2012


Instead I see paintings piling up in warehouses and spilling out of the windows of tract homes and offices until people finally start yelling, "Stop! WE HAVE ENOUGH ART NOW! No need to make more!"

Ha, I sometimes wonder that as well. WHERE DOES IT ALL GO?
If we hit the point where there is far more recorded music being made than can be listened to, haven't we hit the point where there is no more wall space as well???


I cannot really imagine a world in which there is so much demand for art that there are people making decent livings with names I've never heard or read about.

Corporate gigs help. Lots of early/mid-career artists seemingly also have their hands in other (money-flush) pies.
posted by Theta States at 6:01 AM on November 30, 2012


good bit starts at 3:40

Actually, the first 3:40 are also good, and make good points.
posted by kenko at 8:00 AM on November 30, 2012


… and Zak Smith starts off extremely unimpressively (not helped by identifying the pyramids as "works of art", which is a totally ahistorical understanding).
posted by kenko at 8:03 AM on November 30, 2012


Instead I see paintings piling up in warehouses and spilling out of the windows of tract homes and offices until people finally start yelling, "Stop! WE HAVE ENOUGH ART NOW! No need to make more!"

Ha, I sometimes wonder that as well. WHERE DOES IT ALL GO?
If we hit the point where there is far more recorded music being made than can be listened to, haven't we hit the point where there is no more wall space as well???


I think about this ALL THE TIME. I mean there's a LOT of really good art out there that never sells. At some point, if we keep amassing more and more artistic content we're going to reach a critical point where even if every person on the planet spent X hours a day listening/watching/reading etc., there's more content than could every be possibly consumed.

Wall space to me seems like less of a conundrum - just recycle the old physical art. But for the petabytes and petabytes of original digital literature, music, and art ... it's going to be TOO MUCH. Our collective mind is about to explode.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:25 AM on November 30, 2012


I understand that the artist's apprentice is a long standing tradition in the art world. If you did a good job, the artist you were apprenticed to you would put his name on your piece etc. But damn, it does seem like it goes to far. Case in point, Dale Chihily. His long standing tradition is taking credit for his legion of workers' product and then screwing them when they are ready to move on.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 3:05 PM on December 2, 2012


@usagizero -- ZS is a painter, not a photographer. Holding lights while painting, though arguably true to the 'DIY' vibe, seems an inefficient (not to mention daft) way to go about painting. But do not take my word for this. I am not a painter. I am a porn actor.
posted by waxbanks at 10:35 AM on December 3, 2012


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