NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Painting by Proxy: The Conceptual Artist as Manufacturer

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 12714
Issued in December 2006
NBER Program(s):   LS   PR

In 1958, the French philosopher Etienne Gilson observed that "painters are related to manual laborers by a deep-rooted affinity that nothing can eliminate," because painting was the one art in which the person who conceives the work is also necessarily the person who executes it. Conceptual innovators promptly proved Gilson wrong, however, by eliminating the touch of the artist from their paintings: in 1960 the French artist Yves Klein began using "living brushes" - nude models covered with paint - to execute his paintings, and in 1963 Andy Warhol began having his assistant Gerard Malanga silkscreen his canvases. Today many leading artists do not touch their own paintings, and some never see them. This paper traces the innovations that allowed a complete separation between the conception and execution of paintings. The foundation of this separation was laid long before the 20th century, by conceptual Old Masters including Raphael and Rubens, who employed teams of assistants to produce their paintings, but artists began exploring its logical limits during the conceptual revolution of the 1960s and beyond. Thus by the end of the twentieth century Jeff Koons explained that he did not participate in the work of painting his canvases because he believed it would interfere with his growth as an artist, and Damien Hirst defended his practice of having his paintings made by assistants on the grounds that their paintings were better than his. Eliminating the touch of the artist from painting is yet another way in which conceptual innovators transformed art in the twentieth century.

download in pdf format
   (125 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (125 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12714

Published:

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Galenson w13377 Artists and the Market: From Leonardo and Titian to Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst
Galenson w13744 The Rise and (Partial) Fall of Abstract Painting in the Twentieth Century
Galenson w12599 You Cannot be Serious: The Conceptual Innovator as Trickster
Galenson w11644 Who Are the Greatest Living Artists? The View from the Auction Market
Galenson w11715 Do the Young British Artists Rule (or: Has London Stolen the Idea of Postmodern Art from New York?): Evidence from the Auction Market
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us