The coming year sees exhibitions that will inevitably be seen as a battle of the giants between two of the most important British artists of the past few decades, both of whom can be said – in their very different ways – to have changed the way we see art. At the Royal Academy, traditional bastion of the British art establishment, we have David Hockney, one time young turk of British Pop Art, whose work has become increasingly traditional in nature: a great champion of observational drawing who has studied the techniques of the Old Masters and become preoccupied with his native Yorkshire landscape. Over at Tate Modern, temple of art’s new populism, is the first major British retrospective for Damien Hirst, enfant terrible of the YBA generation, whose dead animals in formaldehyde made art the new rock \'n\' roll, his diamond-encrusted skull the most blatant symbol of art’s gross over-commercialisation. Two artists, two generations and two world views – one based on skill, on actually making things, the other on ideas, with the real creating left unashamedly to hired hands. Yet the two men have a great deal more in common than may be first apparent. While neither is young, both represent ebullient youth. Hockney sprang to fame as part of the early 1960s wave of emancipated youth, along with the Beatles, Bailey, Stamp et al, a puckish, irreverent figure cocking a snook at bombastic tradition with his playful, populist imagery. Hirst and his YBA contemporaries rode the Cool Britannia wave that was in many ways a replaying of the 1960s’ youth-orientated high optimism, and they shook up a tired, complacent art world in the process. Both are supreme media manipulators, brilliant talkers with an instinct for publicity who come across superbly on television. Indeed it’s impossible to imagine the art of either without their attendant media persona. Closely related to this, and perhaps even more important, both are Yorkshiremen, who project a sense of canny drollness bred in the bone, the feeling that beneath their evident sensitivity and intelligence they have a privileged hot line to the blunt reality of things; it’s a form of charm that can prove intimidating to the effete southerner, which both have used to ruthless effect. As to which of them is more significant as an artist, Hockney, for all the freshness and inventive charm of his early work, is essentially a conservative figure. The big developments that took place during his career – minimalism, conceptualism, post-modernism – all occurred without reference to him, and I dare say he felt none the worse for it. Yet while he has considerable skill as a draftsman and painter, it’s the knowing way he manipulates and juxtaposes existing styles that is most interesting. Like Hirst, he is in essence a savvy ideas man, rather than a great painter as such. Hirst, though he came to notoriety in that classic 20th century \"shock of the new\" way as the purveyor of something completely new and revolutionary, didn’t present anything the art world hadn’t seen before. Benefiting hugely from the public and media’s ignorance of avant-garde art, he and his generation repackaged ideas from the 1960s, \'70s and earlier, presenting them bigger, shinier, louder, with a brash and unashamed eye to the way the market operated. When people look back to the breakthrough YBA show Frieze, it’s to the fact that Hirst – then still a student – had the nous to organise commercial sponsorship rather than to the content of the exhibition itself. Nonetheless, this approach had a massive impact on the way art is seen, particularly by the young. Hockney made himself popular with a general public that was largely indifferent to art. Hirst has been a major factor in making art itself more popular than it has ever been before – and there is no sign of that being reversed. Yet we may be flattering ourselves in Britain in over-estimating the importance of both of these artists. Hirst wasn’t the only artist exploiting the commercialisation of the art world in the 1990s. Some would argue Jeff Koons did it earlier and better. As an American art critic told me recently with some impatience, \"Nobody outside Britain gives a **** about Damien Hirst.\" If that isn’t quite true, if you took Hirst out of the larger global art narrative, little would be changed. I’m looking forward to both these exhibitions by artists who are both, in their different ways, master entertainers. But I’m not looking to either of them for much in the way of real substance. That’s something we haven’t seen much of in art for some time.