Want to Be Famous? Make Some Friends

We’ve all heard the saying “it’s not what you know; it’s who you know.” It turns out that in the case of artists, it’s not what you know or who you know; it’s how many who’s you know. In a 2018 study of abstract artists’ fame, Paul Ingram and Mitali Banerjee determined that cosmopolitan social networking was a better indicator of fame than either creativity or originality. Essentially, the study found that artists generally labeled “abstract” were famous in direct proportion to the size of their circle of friendship, with more fame attributed to those whose groups of friends were multinational.

A thorough discussion of this study by Casey Lesser can be found at artsy.net. In this article, Lesser posits that not only were diverse networks important as indicators of fame, but that they were also a “source of creativity” and had the additional benefit of providing the artist with a “cosmopolitan identity.”

Much of the data for this study originated with a 2012 exhibition about the birth of abstraction at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. MoMA has provided an interactive diagram of who knew whom that clearly makes the point that the most connected artists—in this case Pablo Picasso and Wassily Kandinsky—were the most famous.

And lest we think that this study represents an anomaly, remember that Emily Dickinson did not become famous until relatives who had much wider social networks worked to get her poems published. It is also notable that people who are famous in one art can let it be known that they are involved in another art and instantly be more famous in that second field than many who have worked in the field for a lifetime, but who have had much smaller networks of friends and acquaintances. For example, Jim Carrey and Jonathan Winters are two comedian/actors who have become almost as famous for their paintings as for their performing.

So what does that mean to us?  It means, simply, that all the hype about establishing a diverse social network isn’t hype, it’s the path to recognition. Of course, there is no indication as to whether today’s social networks, e.g. Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, et al constitute networks of “friends” as the term is used in this study, i.e. a group of people who actually know each other. One would guess that the more active one is in any given forum, the more likely s/he is to be able to call it a real group of friends.

Please note also that the more diverse the group of friends, the more likely it is to indicate potential recognition. Also, internationality counts.

In concrete terms, this means that we must “meet new people and network across professional industries in order to open [ourselves] up to career opportunities and advancement….We won’t become famous in a vacuum and should seek to diversify our social circles.” And although we may not want to be movie-star famous, we probably do want to have our work seen and known. That, in itself, is a kind of fame. To achieve that we must not only maintain social networks, but we probably need to curate our followers and followings, so that we come to actually know those with whom we interact.

And we must not forget personal, in-person networking, which is probably the most potent form of networking going. If Ingram and Banerjee’s study is to be believed, in order to have our work known to the world we must enlarge our circle of friends. Today would be a good day to start.

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Date: Sunday, 3. March 2019 23:03
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Audience, Creativity, Social Media

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