Accepting help but not settling.
Photo by Wolgang Volz 1972
31st May : Christo, the artist famous for wrapping large objects; one remembers the wrapping of a Volkswagen beetle, The Reichstag in Berlin and the Colorado valley curtain, has just died. The world of art and creative endeavour has lost a visionary and a huge talent.
Although many of his works were conceived and completed in conjunction with his late partner Jeanne Claude it is clear that endeavours of this scale cannot be completed without a vision and an army of assistants. Many of these assistants were volunteers willing to help create something extraordinary, some were paid to offer logistical services but all were used for just that project; vision and artistic intent was the prime driver.
As an Artist (with an architectural background) I am acutely aware how direct involvement in output limits just how much can be produced; there are only so many hours in a day. So, Architects have always worked with others to realise their creations, as do product designers, graphic designers, fabric designers, car designers, furniture makers and all accept the reality that that very assistance induces change to the original vision. Corporate/brand values impose limitations, staff have their own ideas and value engineering is rarely implemented for the purpose of improving a project but to ensure that waste is avoided and that the requirements of framework supply chains are embedded.
So, the designer is a paid creative person with an ability to resolve problems. They are very good at this and have spent many years training, but to achieve these solutions, reliance on paid assistance becomes essential. This reliance immediately induces an employer/employee relationship that strains any artistic vision.
Very few individuals are as prolific let alone as successful as Christo so many contemporary artists such as Damian Hirst or Jeff Koons or Zhang Xiaogang have accepted that in order to satisfy demand, and this is a self-promoted demand intent on enhancing market share, they engage a team of paid assistants; effectively creating a brand served by a factory. How many steel balloon dogs has Koons produced or Hirst produced of his spot paintings? The first few might be touched by the artist but Hirst has readily admitted that the others he left mainly to a coterie of assistants, who could make them ad infinitum. Rather than developing the mentor/student relationship common place since the renaissance, and utilised by artists like Christo, reliance on paid assistants to produce art to meet demand modifies the intent to a point that the artist has fallen into the trap of becoming a designer and whilst being a good designer is a great thing in itself it is not art.
Many great artists have managed their creativity by accepting the physical and intellectual limitation of time; Picasso, Bacon, Constable, Freud and although masters like Rembrandt used studios to complete a work, a work by his hand is worth 20 times that of a piece by his studio, so, as long as assistance is accepted to produce work barely touched by the artist with the intent of making more of the same, accepting help while not settling is not possible.
Christo was only able to walk the precarious tightrope between art and design precisely because assistance was freely given, project specific and undertaken without the pressures of time, cost or external influence and ultimately unrepeatable.
He was a huge influence on a generation of artists and designers and will be missed.