What is an Artist

November 2011

What is an Artist?

For the last few centuries, we have lionized famous artists. Many people have aspired to become artists. If we consider being an “artist” to be praiseworthy, we should know what we mean by the term. But do we?

Duchamp: FountainDuchamp: Fountain, 1917 Hirst: For the Love of GodHirst: For the Love of God, 2007 Emin: My Bed Emin: My Bed, 1999

Arguably, in the last couple of decades, the meaning of the term “artist” has become problematic. The traditional understanding of what an artist is is of a creative individual who physically produces works of art. However, many modern and contemporary artists seem to consciously eschew creativity. Andy Warhol in his aspiration to be an automaton exemplifies this. Jeff Koons ‘appropriates’ and has been sued several times for copyright infringement. An increasing number of artists do not actually produce the works of art with which they are credited. Sometimes, they outsource work to artisans or technicians who actually produce the physical artwork under the more or less close supervision of the artist. Examples of this trend are Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and the late Louise Bourgeois (see links above). Following Marcel Duchamp Fountain constructed from a urinal, some artists find objects that they did not create and display them. (Consider Tracey Emin’s unmade bed that was exhibited at the Tate Modern in London.) The emergence of Conceptual Art meant that sometimes the artistic process doesn’t even result in any art object being created like the work of Yoko Ono and others in the Fluxus group. The traditional conception of an artist is no longer operative. In November’s Philosophy Café, we’ll try and come up with a new conception.


Josh Rothman: The Art of Not Making. Article about the phenomenon of artists no longer making their own artworks.

Kevin Jackson: Andy Warhol: The man who gave the 21st century its flavour.
Discussion of impact of Andy Warhol on our understanding of what an artist is.

VIDEO artistasbrand.com. Website about helping artists to become brands.

Wikipedia: Conceptual Art. Entry on Conceptual Art and Artists.

THE STUCKISTS: Against conceptualism, hedonism and the cult of the ego-artist.
Manifesto of Artists Wishing to maintain traditional understandings of what an artist is.

Linda Joy Kattwinkel: Jeff Koons and Copyright Infringement. A copyright case involving Jeff Koons producing a sculpture that was literally copied from a geeting card photo. (See the link for images of the original photo and the sculpture.)

Wikipedia: Appropriation (Art). Article on Appropriation Art.

Wikipedia: Found Art. Article on Readymade or “Found Art”.

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