Damien Hirst Butterflies Controversy

Anonymous posted a comment on the Damien Hirst exhibition post recently, accusing Hirst of stealing the butterfly/stained glass idea from another artist.

“Before it has even opened, there’s a growing controversy in Los Angeles regarding the pending exhibition by Damien Hirst at Gagosian Gallery, and the the similarities between Hirst’s work  and that of L.A.-based artist Lori Precious almost identical pieces have been in museums and galleries from London to New York to L.A. for more than ten years, including a one-woman show back in the Nineties. While “appropriation” is the vogue in contemporary culture, more than almost any other recent instance this raises the question of when something stops being appropriation and becomes something more dishonest. Hirst uses the exact same material (butterfly wings), wedded to the exact same idea (recreations of stained-glass windows) and the exact same form (mandala) — all to the exact same end as Precious’ work.” Anon Comment

I think the works have similarities, but show me a great artist from history that has not stolen a lot of his/her ideas from another artist and I will eat my hat.

See the butterfly works by Lori Precious here..
See the butterfly works by Damien Hirst here..

I like this quote by one of the greatest thieves that ever picked up a paint brush..
“Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” Pablo Picasso

Daniel of Life by Design goes into more detail about the butterfly controversy here and there’s a bit of a debate going on here.

About Dion

Australian artist and observer of things.. all kinds of things. I like a wide variety of art, from the weird and wonderful to the bold and beautiful.. and everything in between.


  1. I can see why there is a ruckus but at the same time does one artist have ownership/copyright to interpretations of stained glass or mandalas and types of media used? Hirst may have been inspired by her work but I don’t see copies as much as using same materials and similar format. Hirsts work seems much more complex technically (not saying it is better,just different). Ug, I don’t know, maybe I will read the debates a bit.

  2. Well I read the debate, and while I like Hirst and his work, it is obvious it isn’t original. Claiming originality is definately an insult to Lori and exposes Hirst as someone of power stealing ideas from lesser known artists. Also Lori did the work herself and apparently Hirst had others apply the wings for him (apparently is the key word-I don’t know that for a fact).

    Many artists are influenced by others, and want to try and do similar themes, use similar materials etc, but with their own interpretation. I don’t see that with Hirst.

    oh well just my humble opinion.

  3. Jafarit,

    I couldn’t agree more with your opinion. Well said.

  4. Original? You mean innovation? Influence, perhaps and why not. Can only one artist like the butterfly, or figure? If I paint a figure of a dancer do I steal from Degas? Or if I paint the night sky do I steal from Van Gogh. If I paint an abstract painting do I steal from Pollack? Get real out there, originality exsists in levels of innovation, both artists work in stained glass, one work is different from the other just look closely and you can see that, it is not theft. An exact copy would be, but that is not the case. A cave painting of a portrait was found, it was painted thousands of years ago, I think we should steal the idea of painting portraits don’t you. If it is theft then I say steal big, steal the best or go home.

  5. Honestly, I think that because soooo many artist’s works look very alike, unless there is one particular thing that REALLY STANDS out in it.It is NOT COPYING but LEARNING.
    Artist’s who are learning, try lots of different things.Who do they learn from? OTHER ARTIST’S DUH!
    Where as I do NOT think it is right to copy another artist’s work exactly.
    I don’t think it’s right to take away from artist’s the ability to feel free to express themselves! Learing different techniques along the way, is not copying them.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Stealing ideas aside, Jafabrit raises another point which is a bone of contention for me concerning Hirst and Koons – if they have others do all the work, aren’t they art directors rather than artists? If they do not posess the skills to make their own work, then how can they call themselves artists? They are merchandisers and/or art directors but do they have any actual artistic skill?

  7. Maybe the confusion between the artist and the craftsman has not been settled. Many Artists, Sculptors, Printmakers, Photographers and others have their ideas reproduced by other hands, at the foundry, print shop or darkroom. They direct the artistic vision of production, reproduction of the idea. The craftsman owes his or her work to they’re own hand, but perhaps not the idea. The Carpenter shapes the idea of the Architect. Perhaps with Koons and Hirst, their art is a reflection of the new modern, of our world of endless production of trash for the land fill, or perhaps the same could have been said for the building of the pyramids, who was the artist or what is the role of the artist and the craftsman. Is the artist the source of the idea and can that be separate from the execution of the idea. To engage the craftsman to produce that which you yourself cannot, should that limit your imagination. The writer does not print the book, in most cases. So should the writer be confined to only what he/she can produce by his/her own hand? Is the purpose of the artist to think ideas or produce tangible objects? I believe that history will bare the proof that artists often employ other hands, like many of the great renaissance artists.
    On the point of theft. I hear a good story, I retell the story, but it has changed, you like the story so you retell the story, but it changed, on and on goes the process, is it the same story I heard?

  8. Anonymous says:

    >>>if I paint the night sky do I steal from Van Gogh. If I paint an abstract painting do I steal from Pollack?
    No, not if you are putting your own interpretation/spin on it. I mean we are often inspired by media, concepts etc. However I am not seeing a new interpretation or innovation in this current work.

    You said “originality exsists in levels of innovation” I agree, but where is the innovation if he has used the same media in the same format or style? Oh it is beautiful, but as he said in his video, he is glad he was at college at a time where there was no shame in stealing another artists work. (I believe that is what I recall him saying-check the video).


  9. I watched the video and yes he states no shame in stealing other artists ideas.

    In regards to innovation, he talks about his assemblages inspired by francis bacons work. I see those as innovative, because he has put into other media his interpretation of bacons work.

    Can you say that he has done the same with the butterflies?

  10. So where is controvery in Hirst. The work featured on the blog is glass attached to canvas, not stained glass. And the design is very different than that of Lori’s, so I think there is innovation, isn’t there?

  11. >>>And the design is very different than that of Lori’s, so I think there is innovation, isn’t there?
    Where is the innovation if he using the same media
    in the same format (mandela’s and gothic shapes) as someone else? That he chose to do different patterns within that format doesn’t obscure the fact that he is using another artists idea.If he had taken the butterfly wings and put them into a different context (as he did with francis bacon’s paintings) I would agree with you, but he didn’t.

  12. Mandela’s and gothic shapes? Oh that has never been done before. In fact the Mandela is a repeated design cast down from one generation to the next with specific structures of design; reference sand Mandela painting. Gothic designs held the same restrictions in structure. Glass; many artists work in glass? So did Lori steal the rose GOTHIC window for her design? I don’t think so. I do not intend to defend Hirst, but I do defend the free use of existing ideas, history and innovation as long as the artist does not steal directly from the source and claim it as his work. DaDa, Collage, Photomontage, Digital montage all have other beginnings. If you don’t like Hirst then that is another subject. Maybe I am wrong about content and ownership but I think it is an important discussion. I am glad that you are thinking about it and I hope the discussion continues.

  13. Masaccio. Start nibbling.

  14. well lori put a different interpretation of a gothic window :)

    have to buzz but will be back with some more comments.

    ps. I have never disliked hirst or his work. Yes I agree an interesting conversation.

  15. On the question of understanding the importance of innovation and the rights of ownership. I found this transcript of a interview with Vandana Shiva on the PBS News Hour Show that brings to light this kind of thinking and the impact it has on a global society. So the question I pose is where is the ethical standard of behavior, where is the line, when is it crossed. With the global digital age art and industrial piracy is flourishing.

    Understanding biopiracy

    “PAUL SOLMAN: To Shiva, by contrast, intellectual property is often piracy by the rich from the rest of us. Take the neem tree for example, N-E-E-M.
    VANDANA SHIVA: It’s called the village pharmacy in India. It can be used for hundreds of things.
    PAUL SOLMAN: People brushing their…
    VANDANA SHIVA: We brush our teeth with it. We use it for skin treatment. It’s even used as a contraceptive, the oil. We use the oil for lighting, but we also use the oil for therapeutics. It’s ayurvedic medicine. It’s — it’s wonderful to get rid of pimples. It’s the magic treatment.
    PAUL SOLMAN: Wait a second. This is…
    PAUL SOLMAN: I think you’re selling me a bill of goods here.
    VANDANA SHIVA: No, but it is.
    PAUL SOLMAN: The magic neem tree? I mean…
    VANDANA SHIVA: It is. It is magic.
    PAUL SOLMAN: Magic enough, anyway, to make an organic pesticide from neem seed oil.
    When the infamous union carbide pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, leaked poison gas in 1984, killing thousands, Shiva asked herself a question.
    VANDANA SHIVA: Why should people die for horrible toxic pesticides, when we have wonderful trees, like neem, which give us pest control?
    And I started to plant trees. I started to distribute neem to farmers, train them. And then, in 1994, I find a patent held by W.R. Grace. Well, Grace claims to have invented the neem, invented the use of neem for biopesticide.
    So, we challenged a patent held jointly by them and the United States Department of Agriculture. We fought that case 11 years. We won it. But this was a case of biopiracy.
    PAUL SOLMAN: Biopiracy, says Shiva, further encouraged by globalization’s new trade regime, since it’s committed to protecting intellectual property.
    VANDANA SHIVA: There’s a case of basmati. A company in Texas called RiceTec claims to have invented the basmati that grows in our valley.
    So, when I find RiceTec in Texas claims to have invented the height of the plant, the length of the grain, the aroma, and the methods of cooking, I said that, my grandmother taught me when I was a 6-year-old, took on that challenge. We fought that one four years.
    And, then, much later, Monsanto, who claims to always invent new seeds, had the cheek to steal an old Indian wheat variety and patent it as an invention. That was struck down in a four-month legal battle in the European patent office.”

    Is there a connection, a modern president for the question of intellectual theft that has moved beyond what we would have accepted? Did the role of artists and the arts play a role in these current issues?

  16. Anonymous says:

    i’ve been following the whole debate/story/exhibit and i couldn’t have said it better than this comment on supertouch:

    Some things crossed my mind last night about dhirst and this recent show of “his” work. Having seen “his” work over the years, watched interviews, read reviews and essays, etc I have come to the conclusion that dhirst is a negative, cynical, mean-spirited, dark-hearted person. The work that comes from his studio is shocking for the sake of shock, it’s morbid, it’s exploitative, and intellectually opaque making it ultimately elitist. It is for all these reasons and more that I find this new show of butterfly wing stained glass windows particularly awful, and part of that awful feeling is that these works are admittedly beautiful!! Butterfly wings are in and of themselves beautiful things, effortlessly and impossibly woven by Nature! And what dhirst has had his assistants do with all these butterfly wings is beautiful and ennobling and hopefully will preserve these wings for years to come. But this contrast between dhirst the public figure and these new works makes me throw up a little in my mouth.

    He is “putting on” beauty, he is hiding behind it, he is “using” (read: ab-using) spiritually charged images. He is not, like most artists I love and admire, seeing beauty in the world which then moves him to make beautiful things for the world to have. He is exploiting our desire in this modern world for beauty and solid ground. On account of him, when I’m away from the work itself and thinking about it, I see every butterfly wing as having been molested by this gross, papilerastic person, but that thank goodness despite him these butterfly wings are still beautiful, which is a testament to THEIR power and NOT his.

  17. So what you’re saying is that Hirst is driven by the power of the market. He takes the familiar and makes it his, clearly there is the influence of Warhol and Pop art in his work, and the Dadaist. His work reflects the market of the collector, and the Gallery. It has become about what looks like high art, because it has a market value. But does it have other value as well. The reflection of Globalization and the society that embraces art for the sake of monetary worth, rather than that of aesthetic value. It is the Shock and Awe that Susan Sontage writes about in the Immediacy of the media; always reaching for the next sensational statement. Is the work Hirst a reflection of us and what we desire to be entertained? Like the Shark series, a side show that we cannot look away from.

  18. Maybe they both having the same Vision from High up Above!

  19. growing up in brazil, and while visiting rio de janeiro on my vacations, i do remember seeing tacky butterflies trays, plates, you name it, being sold at tourists’s traps destinations all over town.
    who is appropriating here?

    hirst is just capitalizing on his past successes, dictating contemporary taste to the global art market.

  20. well I think you are right David. As much as I like Hirst’s work and some of the concepts behind it I can’t help wondering who actually made it and which artist he stole the idea from.

  21. jafabrit
    It is not so much that he stole anything. It is that he isn’t any better than the next artist, except he got a lucky brake and has the funding to do these really big projects. Which sell for a lot of money so galleries like him a lot. I think the next important movement is Art will be Truth in the image or idea. What that means is that what ever you do or how you do it the truth of the work must be there, be a part of the finished image or idea. I think a lot of big time artists work the way Hirst does. Dale Chihuly hasn’t blown his own glass for years, it is an Old World studio practice, like Tiffany Glass. To bad they steal the thunder of talented artists who do not get shown. But they are great marketers of their work, Hirst and Chihuly

  22. ” It is that he isn’t any better than the next artist”

    well you have that right LOL. Have you seen this guys work?


  23. Anonymous says:

    Who made Damien Hirst? Wasn’t it Saatchi? If it wasn’t for him, Hirst would still be a dishwasher in a London restaurant. Damien Hirst is known for conceptual art, don’t know if the concept here is concealed stealing. Anyways, here’s a link to an interesting emerging artist conceptual art project: http://www.thousandlotsofsand.com

  24. they don’t even look the same. sorry to disappoint the hirst naysayers but he’s been doing this for almost as long too. Dont forget one of his first shows (butterflies let loose in the gallery) and check out his “The most beautiful thing in the world” 2003 that sold a couple years ago at sothebys.

  25. I must admit that I started to skim the comments after a bit. I can’t say I’ve ever really liked Hirst’s work…it’s nothing personal- I was put off by the ‘coldness’ of it. The first stuff I saw was the cows in formaldhyde stuff. I generally reside in the Picasso rather thanDuchamp camp and make art from the gut. However…there are two things- One: much art that is merely directed or facilitated by the artist is cold-it’s the nature of the process. Two: he who is the biggest dog and pisses on the post most seems to win the prize. originality is a hotly debated subject and will continue to be so. I think get your work out there as soon as possible,document it and disseminate it as widely as possible to at least be able to say-to those who are interested; I DiD IT FIRST. If anyone cares that is.

  26. Well they look pretty similar to me. Maybe he just stole the idea but did it in his own way.

    Personally, I just feel sorry for the butterflies – and the loss of them. Much nicer seeing them flying around. If killing animals for their fur is wrong then how is this any better?

  27. Anonymous says:

    I remember being pretty shocked at Hirst’s first butterfly works, when he let them loose on canvases of wet gloss paint and they all got stuck until they died. I just came across this new work and I have to say I’m pretty appalled- yes the buuterfly wings are absolutely stunning and the pieces do look amazing (both his and Lori’s), but I am still left feeling depressed at the thought of the thousands of butterflies that had to sacrifice themselves for this. And especially for Damien Hirst, who I agree makes works with the intent to shock and nothing else, there is no love for what he does, it’s all just a money-making business.

Speak Your Mind