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Artists' Personal Lives: Does it Play a Role in How You View Their Art?

by Brian Sherwin on 12/18/2010 1:09:27 PM

This article is by Brian Sherwin, Regular contributing writer for FineArtViews. Brian Sherwin is an art critic, blogger, curator, artist and writer based near Chicago, Illinois. He has been published in Hi Fructose Magazine, Illinois Times, and other publications, and linked to by publications such as The Boston Globe, Juxtapoz Magazine, Deutsche Bank ArtMag, ARTLURKER, Myartspace, Blabbermouth, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Modern Art Obsession, Citizen LA, Shark Forum, Two Coats of Paint and Art Fag City. You should submit an article and share your views as a guest author by clicking here.

I was recently involved in a debate concerning the fact that many people appear to make value judgments on art based on knowledge of the artist's personality, beliefs, and life choices. In other words, someone may or may not view a work of art in a positive manner based strictly on what he or she knows about the personal life of the artist behind the artwork. It spurs me to ask, does the personal life of an artist play a factor in how you view his or her artwork for better or for worse? Sometimes it does seem that people critique art solely on what they know about the artist in question instead of focusing on the art itself.

As I stated within the context of the debate I was involved with-- this can even be broken down with famous artists-- for example, many fans of Frida Kahlo note that knowledge of her personal life impacts how they view her art. The same can be said-- for better or worse-- concerning Pablo Picasso and knowledge of the volatile relationships he had. On that note, those who enjoy Mark Rothko's paintings often know details of the hardships he endured-- would people experience strong emotion before his paintings if they were not aware of his struggles and suicide? With that in mind, should art speak for itself-- or can the voice of art, so to speak, be strengthened or weakened by details of the personal life of the artist behind the artwork? This is an issue I feel deserves to be explored by any art admirer.

I can recall a project that I was involved with while taking a college level  psychology class that explored this issue. We showed a group of people images of art without saying who the artist behind the artwork was. I recall that we had to make sure that the people involved did not recognize the artist's work. The two artists that stick out in memory happened to be Adolf Hitler and John Lennon-- two names that need no introduction for very different reasons. The goal was simply to see how people reacted with their art criticism after finding out who created the art.

Those who observed Adolf Hitler’s artwork before knowing he was behind the creation of those images were impressed by it-- noting a strong sense of architecture and space. Those who observed John Lennon’s artwork before knowing he was behind the creation of those images were not very impressed at all-- most asking if they were drawings by a child. In fact, I recall that a few individuals doodled quick sketches mocking the examples of Lennon's art that were shown. At that point they were not aware of who created the images.

After showing the work and documenting the views that everyone had we revealed the artists name in connection to the examples of images shown. We then followed up on the study a week later. At that point when Adolf Hitler’s artwork was shown people tended to mock it and mention how it was technically flawed and mediocre as a whole-- completely opposite of what they had said before. When John Lennon’s artwork was shown again people tended to suggest that his works displayed a strong use of line and mastery of gesture drawing-- Lennon went from being viewed as a ‘bad artist‘ to being viewed as highly creative just because his name-- and thus all that is attributed to it-- was revealed.  Those who forgot the names of the artists after a week tended to stick with their original statement-- and criticism-- concerning the images.

It was an interesting psychological study to say the least-- I would go as far as to say that it revealed how personality, or the actions of an individual, can influence how people view their art. Prior to knowing the names behind the artwork it is safe to say that a few individuals may have enjoyed Adolf Hitler’s artwork long-term while continuing to mock John Lennon’s artwork.  Once the names were revealed-- and thus everything those names represent brought to the table-- people changed their value judgment of the artwork shown. It forces me to wonder how often we do that with other artists.

In closing, I’m not going to suggest whether it is acceptable or not to place value of artwork strictly by what we know about an artists personality and life. That said, the role of knowing said information is obviously an important aspect of how we take in, so to speak, art that is viewed. It leaves me to wonder if the power of art is found in the personality and life choices-- both that of the artist and of the viewer-- or within the image itself. Perhaps it is a meshing of both? Consider this food for thought.


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Teresa Tromp
I wish Adolf Hitler had focused more on his art.

That being said, Adolf Hitler and John Lennon were not known for their fine art. John Lennon was an artist, but not really known as a painter.
Many well known fine artists have had turbulent pasts, and their artwork is worth a fortune.
Perhaps it's not so, but I like to think that fine art is accepted merely for the uniqueness and beauty of the piece. The bizarre life of the artist, only adds to the conversation about the piece of art.
The more interesting the artist, the more interesting the painting is to the buyer.
Perhaps I'm just wishful thinking.

Mark Haglund
Great article.
People will judge everything by both. A prime example are sports stars gone bad. All the good they did in their careers can be erased by the news that they have done something bad or develop chronic bad behavior after their careers are over. O.J Simpson comes to mind.

That's the way we are. People are judgmental.

On the other hand we may be able to use that information to our advantage. Do you think art buyers tend to buy from an artist they feel they know? Relationship marketing works well. I think creating a good rapport with ones clients is a good marketing technique. People feel good about supporting someone they know.

Back to the paintings from your study, good or bad art both would sell at Christie knowing who the artists were. Heck Bob Dylan has sellout art shows, ever seen his art? It sells because He is Bob Dylan. Even when I look at his art I trend to think there must be something good about it because Bob is a creative person.

Brian - thought provoking topic.

Non of us are nearly as objective as we'd like to think we are - not me, and not even the art critic ;-).

We are all a tangled patchwork of opinions, conflicting prejudices, and paradoxical judgments through which we form our expectations, and our expectations determine our reality, which regulates what we see/or don't see, think, or in some cases - don't think.

We all view life through our own unique lens, thus we all see life (and art) differently.

This is why it is so important to pause and reflect. Consider the alternative view instead of reacting blindly and instinctively regurgitating the pablum we ate from last night, or last year. We all need to challenge our own limited viewpoints, and question our well established assumptions.

I believe it was Maslow who cautioned ... "if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail"

Contrarian thinking is not about taking a knee jerk alternative view, it is about plumbing the depths of your own thinking. Contrarianism is unconcerned with "what" you think, it's only concern is "how" you think.

Our art, as well as our lives, would be far better off if we all where more thoughtful and independent.

Here's a good primer:

Donald Fox
This article is interesting and relates to questions I often ask myself and my students. The academic approach to art, visual or otherwise, almost always puts the art within the context of the artist's life and his/her time and the even larger context of art history. I'm curious to know who the subjects of the study were - were they only students, only art students, or randomly selected individuals off the street? Would a person trained in the visual arts react differently than a person not trained? How does prior knowledge of anything affect our preferences for any one thing? Do we change our critical thinking as we acquire greater knowledge? Is a snap judgment about a piece of art any different than a snap judgment about a person? Aren't both examples of stereotyping? Isn't the the dilemma of qualitative judgment that empirical evidence is often subject to interpretation? Does this lead us to art by committee? Isn't this what we have in the worlds of the art market and art criticism? The number of spin-off questions here may only be limited by one's own bias or imagination.

Marian Fortunati
A fascinating and thought provoking post, Brian... However, despite human nature, I believe most first time viewers react to the art itself..... not the personality behind the art.
Although I'm sure we all know (and been told countless times) that we act as emissaries for our own art and that some of our sales will depend upon how we represent ourselves upon meeting potential buyers, in the long run, it behooves us to continue to work on making the best art we are capable of making!!

Elizabeth Pieper
The most brutal connect between being judged on life and life work came early. We had just moved onto 'the hill' and a couple of neigbors forayed forth to greet us. Upon finding that I painted. a neighbor remarked, "You haven't suffered enough to be an artist!"
Just a year before my father had killed
himself after years of torment and mistreatment
and my little son had been born with open spine. Aside from prayful pleas for his life and haunting the corridors of hospitals 24/7, we struggled to pay bills that within weeks equaled my husband's annual salary with no end in sight. My only retort was, "I hope I never do."
Since then I find that people not only judge artists by their life styles, but their dress, their friends, the quality of cards, websites, PR, and especially their studios...even the prices on their works.
I remember sitting at a dinner table years ago while people bragged that they had purchased...and paid thousands...for original
Thomas Kincaides. The conversation fed off itself. I didn't know the work...but upon seeing it later I felt sure it was produced in the same slick way that the sweat shops in China turned out the mass produced originals after the impressionists. (A couple of which my neighbor bought; workers sight unseen and unknown.) There is no way I would have had a Kincaide in my house even if given to me. It would make no difference if the fellow fronting this stuff turned out to be a combination of OO7 and Einstein. But at the fringes I'm likely unconsiously influenced just as most people are.
On a related note I can't seem to get into
"marketing" or "relationship" building...and tend to hide out for the most part. The thought did spring lately, "What in hell will our poor daughter do with all these works when I die?"
(I painted a series called "It's My Life" so she knows what to display at my funeral...and it has been publicly exhibited at a community college and ARKELL.)
The thought of my stuff...which is owned by millionaires and poor people alike and which has been juried into pretigious national shows...ending in a dumpster
is what prompted me to look online.
Obviously the people who more or less fall upon my work will not clear my inventory! On the other hand, if I have to chose "who to be today" - someone people might like and buy from, then bring on the dumpster!

JT Harding
Good thoughts. An artist and his reputation are usually never mutually exclusive. That would be like saying I can only judge Michael Vick for his football playing alone. I happen to think Vick is a great player and is dealing with his other reputation appropriately. How about a follow-up article on cleaning up an artist's bad reputation.

Sharon Weaver
"Who" painted a work of art is as important as the art. One does not exist without the other. I can think of several contemporary artists who's work would not garner any recognition without the established name attached. That being said, the combination of personality and talent is what makes a superstar in the art world. Think of Andy Warhol and how his behavior helped to making him a pop art icon. The artist can and should use the public's perception to his benefit.

Carlos Thága
For me art is a human expression above all other people's opinions regarding the lives of those who fez.quando art materializes it comes to life própria.Somos we humans who have not learned to live with differences of pessoas.Existe people full of prejudices and opinions about their defects and rejeições.tudo in the world almost always has a double meaning, the good side and side ruim.� just a matter of escolha.Devemos to focus solely on art, everything else is unnecessary.

Carlos Thága
art, artist and sales market are things that follow on paths diferentes.o artist creates the work because he loves what he does! he is the artist regardless of their market values obra.o a name in order to make lucro.existem many works of famous artists who are primary, ugly and without sentido.nós only because we respect is someone we should be impressed by famoso.não names but by quality!

Lorraine Vail
great topic. Consider that the 'Gorilla Girls' would not have to exist if people didn't automatically consider the work created by women as automatically less important.

None of us likes to admit it, but there are massive stats on how many practicing women and minority artists are out there, and who is in the history books, museums, and important collections.

Donna Robillard
After learning who the artist is of a piece, it often does create in my mind the question of what was behind that particular painting. When I first view a piece, I usually either like it or have misgivings about it - whether I know who the artist is or not. Who we are does have an effect on the art, whether we want to admit it or not.

Jo Allebach
This idea of letting people know more about me on my bio has really been a question I have yet to resolve. Some things could be assets that I think are not or the opposite. It could put a different spin on some of my work and why I paint what I do. Interesting info.

Fred Bell
The value judgements that you speak of are what is known as marketing or branding. We've all seen this before, the superior work valued below the work of a "name" artist.

Margi Lucena
Hmmm...This is a timely subject for me. It happens that very recently I was contacted through my website by a well known, award winning artist whose work I have long admired and respected. He also juries and judges art competitions. I do not know him personally. He had just been in a national pastel show at the same time as I was and emailed me to express his outrage that he had not won an award, to call the judge a "moron", berate the winning works, call the contest fixed, and basicly throw a tantrum. He then urged me to write the judge and express my dissatisfaction with the terrible job he had done. (I happened to be the third place winner)...He also wrote to many other artists who were in the show, simply sending the same letter changing names of artists. Anyone (including myself) who disagreed with his view and answered his email saying so was answered with berating and sometimes very personal insults.

I am so dissapointed in the person behind the lovely paintings. Even his blog, which a morbid curiosity bid me to read for the first time, lists "judges who are incompetent" (all artist judges who didn't recognize his greatness,his own description).
Do I view his art with the same admiration? There is no doubt about his talent, but, somehow, I just feel sad.

Charlotte Lindenberg
Biographical information is definitely “an important aspect of how we take in art”. And since art and “life” are inextricable, the artist's personality and the work express each other. Yet as soon the viewer comes in, a divide may occur, for she prefers one to the other for subjective reasons. So ideally one should come to terms with the work before looking for names and personal data. On the other hand trust in the artist, based on previous knowledge and appreciation of their work may provide the necessary openness to approach an otherwise inaccessible piece. So my recommendation would be: make up your mind first and only resort to labels if there seems to be no other way out ”" or in, rather.

Joanne Benson
This is indeed a thought provoking post. In an ideal world I think the art should be judged on it's own merits and appeal to the viewer. However, like everything else, it is very subjective and can be political. When pondering the question of how to sell more art, a fellow artist who's artwork was on par with my own but who charged a whole lot more, told me that perhaps I should raise my prices. I think that suggestion goes along with the school of thought that if it doesn't cost much, it can't be worth much. I think there are as many reasons to purchase art as there are purchasers. Some are influenced by the artist's reputation and collectability. Some are strictly investors looking to add value to their portfolio. Some just want commission work of their house or pets or children. Some fall in love with a piece and have to have it. Some meet the artist and are then convinced to purchase a work because they like it and can tell their friends that they know the artist. Some appreciate the historical significance behind the art. Some are interested in local landmarks, architechture, trains, planes and automobiles, etc..... You get my point....I think it all depends on the individual and yes if some of these people learn the history behind the art it may change the way they think about it.....I personally think we should paint what we love. But some may have to paint for a particular audience or request if it involves earning a living and putting food on the table. There are always trade offs in life.

Carlos Thága
Joanne Benson! everything in life there must be flexibility in relation to people a doctor spends a remedy for a person works, the same remedy can not be good for another is no need to work to sell and survive then so be it faith need to know how to act according to their own needs.

Carlos Thága
Margi Lucena everything is a question concerning you find the source of ego is selfish in his case he is acting this way about their own ego
but his art remains beautiful and is independent of interessante.uma outra.quanto thing you resent in any way his ego was also struck by their
interesses.seja own free everything and do not forget the importance of the little human things.

Carlos Thága
Charlotte Lindenberg! if you get a job of an artist medilcre and unknown, and ask for a forger to sign picasso and put in a lot museu.As people will be influenced by the label: PICASSO but if they know the truth will have another reaction! "I ask you be where the true value of art! "

Carlos Thága
Fred Bell! the first artists in the world who have their works on the walls of caves at Altamira for thousands of years ago had only one concern: to communicate your arte.Hoje our interests are intertwined with the marketing and interest in integrating the system ecônomíco.precisamos in which we live or are deleted by the system choice is ours! go ahead and make your choice.

Carlos Thága
Jo Allebach! is not necessary that you prove to your audience so they have a new concept of its identity trabalhos.Crie an abstract for your bio and show their work to the world.The his work that the world will live and not with você.você is only that which is behind the scenes creating wonders.

Orla Clancy
If you don't mind my saying so, I think that in mentioning Adolf Hitler and John Lennon, you went off the point of your own blog there.

The topic was how an artist's personal life would influence how you look at their work, and I think your mention of Frida Kahlo, Mark Rothko and Pablo Picasso were closer to the topic and it's a pity you didn't explore these artists' lives and how their lives affected their art in greater detail.

Regarding your going into John Lennon and Adolf Hitler as examples, this was off the point because their personal lives were not mentioned at all - instead we 'read' their art based on what we know or do not know about these historically very significant individuals.

However, I am not surprised at people's reactions when they learn who actually created those drawings and paintings.

I don't generally share details of my personal life with potential buyers, and I have some rather interesting near relations - but I consider my relationship with those relatives to be private and NOT open to public scrutiny or discussion with people I don't know. However, I have seen people's reaction to be change when they learn who I am related to, and it does make me sad and frustrated - I feel I am seen as an extension of my famous relatives, and not as an artist in my own right.

Carlos Thága
Lorraine Vail believe strongly in the revolutionary role that women are doing around the world! Here in Brazil we have in the field of arts Beatriz Milhazes with a beautiful work and stressing and being on top of the artistic scale. I believe that time is the lord of all and everything is processed and modified to melhor.Deus momópolios not like and occasionally it diruba everything, even the economy as the divine order is the growth and transformation.

Carlos Thága
Orla Clancy! whether their relatives are important in influencing the progress of his art is simple, create a different name and have the courage to be yourself even if it takes a while. But if you continue to sign their works with the family name actually you're not being honest with yourself! worth a try because the only way you knew your real value.

Orla Clancy
Don't worry Carlos, I have the courage to be myself, which is why I have refused to change my name.

Marian Fortunati
I had an experience similar to the one Margi had and I have to say that my experience with this person will forever unfavorably color my view of his work.
This guy submitted work to a juried show. All of his work was juried in and one won a prize. On the day I was "sitting" the gallery I invited my girlfriend to come see the show because I wanted her to see this guy's work. It was really good. While she was there he came in and started berating the judge and the whole group as being prejudiced against him (because he hadn't won top honors and other "lesser" work had gotten higher awards than his work). He even took his work out of the show! (clearly against the rules in the prospectus)
While he was convinced by others to return the work before the reception, and while he clearly has tremendous talent, I will NEVER look at his work with the same admiration I did before this incident... because I think of the person along with the art.

Virginia Giordano
Last week Stephen Colbert had Steve Martin on the show, Steve is a collector. He showed a slide of Ellsworth Kelly's Green and a Benjamin Moore chip of the same color and asked Martin to identify the Kelly. He was incorrect. This addresses the question so many people ask, what is the big deal when a painter puts a color on canvas, why is that work worth tens of thousands or millions of dollars when you can buy that color in a paint store? I suppose because we take the whole body of an artist's work and his philosophy in looking at one work - and also his biography.

Sharon Weaver
Virginia points out one of those contemporary artists who's work has value in context with the artists name, but otherwise is questionable. There are many other examples of this but lets remember that museums, galleries and big collectors, first concern is the business (profit) of art. Many are touting an agenda keeping certain artists hot so that prices escalate. Art should push boundaries so it is always undermining prior art. It is only with the perspective of time that true masters emerge. The Impressionists dethroned artists like establishment icon Leon Gerome. Because of his undisputed talent, he is finally finding an audience again. Many contemporary artists will eventually fall away with time.

Orla Clancy
Marian, I can't say I blame you. I would describe such a primadonna as a wanker - bit rude I know, but a perfectly apt for his behaviour.

Virginia, I suppose that a painting could be considered more (much more!) than the sum of its parts, given that there is more to a piece that merely paint and canvas, that someone worked them in a certain way for a certain effect? It is a good point though ....

Sharon, I totally agree, many artists will fall away over time. The ones that make big headlines might remain known for a bit longer.

Carlos Thága
Orla Clancy! congratulations wish you every success and achievements!

Carlos Thága
Sharon Weaver! our contemporary world is a different world at the time of the Impressionists and other mais.vivemos in a new era of globalization and some things are related to outras.alguns artists contemporaries are lost because they lose the power to continue the ideas that launched ! do a good job for a while and then they are copying the same lack of new selective and tabled.This world is cruel, that accompanies or is you is the law traz.esta for selecting the qualification of survival.

Carlos Thága
Virginia Giordano! I think this question! not find the color for the market to buy what makes diferença.Mas but what you propose with color! this makes a difference! and otherwise takes into account what is in the mind artist!

Carlos Thága
Marian Fortunati! firstly I do not particularly believe in jury! they are human, have preferences, and can be bribed sinpatias! then this artist has not learned most of the arts that is to be humble!

Lorraine Vail
Dear Carlos,
Please, you are making me want to drop out of the conversation. Can you see that the frequency of your comments are dominating the conversation? I don't mean to hurt your feelings, and this is not a comment on your content. Just the frequency and your need to respond to each person individually.

Carlos Thága
Lorraine Vail Thanks for sending me this message, the fact is that the e-mail come to me and ask me to answer, do not be jealous because we are different customs and culture, it was not my intention to divert attention from nimguem. respond to and participation in education and a debate.irei cancel my holdings so that you can brilhar.Obrigado!

I often have wondered, despite artists having fame or infamy in the rest of their lives, if an artist's physical attractiveness has anything to do or brings to bear on the value of the work? I suppose I am speaking more of contemporary artists, but if, say an attractive artist and an unattractive artist who both worked in similar styles and painted the same subject, the same size, which one would sell faster/be worth more? Hmmmm....

Olivia Alexander
Brian, this was a great article, really got me thinking. The comments left have been interesting to read also.
I didn't really appreciate Picasso's work until I had learnt more about him at art school. It helped me to understand his thought processes and what he was trying to say.
I do get disappointed when I see artists in my own country who are promoted as 'great' and yet their art is vulgar and offensive and they have lifestyles to match. It seems that artists have to be controversial to become successful in the eyes of the art 'hierarchy'.
It's a shallow world sometimes.
As artists all we can do is be the best we can at what we do and who we are. Be true to yourself and love what you do.

Brian Sherwin
Answering several of you at once to save time:

Contrarian, you said, “We all view life through our own unique lens, thus we all see life (and art) differently.”. True-- to a point. The more I think about it the more I reflect on how the media has a huge influence on how some individuals react to artists. For example, some people can”™t tell you why Damien Hirst is important aside from mentioning that they have seen him covered by Yahoo! News. We are bombarded by influences-- and simple media hype-- every day of our lives.

Donald, I attended a liberal arts college-- so the blunt of those involved with the project were college students with various directions of study. I recall that a few were art students. I suppose if I could go back and do it again I would have suggested breaking groups down to history students, art students, science students and so on in order to get some idea of the consensus from each group with their major in mind. It is always interesting to gather data like that just to see where people go with it.

Sharon, you said, “the combination of personality and talent is what makes a superstar in the art world. “ Off topic, but I”™d also suggest that money-- specifically financial backing from a collector or dealer who strives to build a market-- can help as well.

Would Hirst be where he is today without Charles Saatchi? Probably not. Would most of the really well known street artists be where they are today had it not been for Jeffrey Deitch? Probably not. Normally when an artist rises to ”?art star”™ status you can almost always find specific backers if you follow the paper trail.

Also-- concerning the big names of today not being known tomorrow. I agree with you to a point. The key point to remember though is that the people fronting those artists towards household name status are often the same people, or connected to the people, who end up documenting today what will become the art history of tomorrow.

That said, I think the Internet is changing that. The reality of today is that some art blogs receive more visitors per month than the top art magazines have subscribers. In other words, a new breed of art media-- a more openly public form of art media-- will no doubt play a role in how art is documented in the future. I honestly believe that an artist can side-step all the top art magazines-- and other traditional paths of fame-- and still rise to become one of the most influential artists of tomorrow.

Lorraine Vail, good point! Even Sylvia Sleigh, who recently passed, told me that the art world has not really changed that much over the decades as to how women are treated. It is often stated that she broke the glass ceiling of the art world-- but even she made it obvious that it is still there.

Some individuals will point out that there are more professionals within the art world today who happen to be female than there was in the past-- but that does not mean that they are placing more focus on artist who happen to be female that those in the past. Sexism, ageism, and other forms of prejudice still dominate.

I know first hand from interviewing as many artists as I have that most artists tend to be female-- and if you look at gender ratios for college art programs and the blunt of art workshops you will discover the same. That said, you don”™t see anywhere near the number of women spotlighted by the mainstream art world as you do with artists who happen to be male. That ”?system”™ needs to change.

Jan, does attractiveness of an artist play a role in how successful they become? Depends on who you ask-- but some insiders will tell you that being young and attractive certainly places you in the position to be more apt to land mainstream gallery representation.

Some have suggested that if you don”™t ”?make it”™ in the mainstream art world by the time you are in your early 30s you probably never will if you happen to be female. I think that is very wrong-- again, the ”?system”™ needs to change. I don”™t care if you are 18 or 80-- male, female, or anywhere in between-- if you are making powerful works of art you deserve recognition.

Orla, you said, “Regarding your going into John Lennon and Adolf Hitler as examples, this was off the point because their personal lives were not mentioned at all - instead we 'read' their art based on what we know or do not know about these historically very significant individuals.” That was exactly my point in mentioning that study involving Lennon and Hitler-- individuals who liked both nameless examples tended to change their opinion drastically when the name-- and thus the history-- was presented. In that sense, it was clear that knowing about the life of the artist can cause people to view artwork differently for better or for worse.

Orla, about the relative issue-- I have to say that I admire that you don”™t use the name of famous relatives to present yourself. I know a few artists who happen to be related to famous artists-- and the ones who draw upon the name of the famous relative almost always put that information in the first line of their artist statement or bio-- even though they did not have direct contact with the famous relative. That said, it does help to market their art-- but I”™m not sure if it is ethical.

Joanne Benson
Olivia, I agree that there is much truth in what you say! I checked out your website and love your work. Wonderful use of color, design and materials!

Olivia Alexander
Hi Joanne,
Thank you for your lovely comment! I checked your website too, your work is beautiful! I used to do pet portraits and also old buildings like railways etc also. My first artwork to sell was of a local historic railway station; it was bought for a lady's son who lived in Bermuda!

Jo Allebach
This happens to my friend all the time. People like her work and see the last name (her maiden name). Her father was an internationally renowned design architect and when they find out she is his daughter want to talk about him to some degree. I guess it is good to use what you've got but it can be disconcerting.

Barb Stachow
As artist all we can do is do our best, for some that in itself is enough!

Carol Schmauder
Thanks for a thought provoking article, Brian. Before I got very far into the article Pablo Picasso came to mind for me. He lived a lifestyle contrary to my moral beliefs and yet I have always been fascinated by his work. I recently attended an exhibit of his works in Seattle that are on loan from the museum in Paris and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing so many of his works in person. When I see art that I consider "bad" I would not change my opinion of the work even if the artist were a well known person. I know what I like and the notoriety of the artist doesn't influence my opinion one way or the other.

You kind of see this effect on Antiques Roadshow, when people bring an old painting in for appraisal that they know nothing about, one they may even laugh about and describe as 'ugly,' and when they hear the appraiser's identification and evaluation, and then especially the dollar value you can see their expression change instantly. Suddenly they think their painting is not nearly so bad, and they conclude they'll have to display it in a more prominent place int their home!

Carol, I like to think I'm like you, in that I most often react to the merit of the art rather than the identity and biography of the artist. The art ultimately has to stand or fall on its own merit, otherwise its all just a congeniality/popularity contest.

Brian, what do you think of the practice of artist's bios and statements listing prominently the names of well known instructors they've studied under, even if it was only a brief workshop? I think it has some salience to some people and could influence their view of the artist's work, but it sort of strikes me as kind of a lesser form of the 'famous relative' thing.

tom weinkle
Thanks Brian, this is a provocative post. And I think you have summed it up very well. I think it is helpful for us to be aware of these factors and realities as we look at art, and perhaps life in general. Having an understanding of human nature may help us all make better choices.



Stede Barber
My sense is that art flows through the artist, and at its best, comes from a high and beautiful place in human consciousness. Of course, it can also come from a upset emotions, thoughts, and the jumble of the unconscious.

I tend to respond first to the work of art. If I connect with it, am moved by it in a way I value, than the artist's personality comes 2nd.

I live with the work of art, not with the artist. If I connect with and also enjoy the artist, that is an added bonus.

In reverse, there are many people whom I love, who create works of art I wouldn't care to live with.

So...for me, art and personality can be a beautiful pairing...or completely irrelevent!

An obvious question arises: can truly beautiful art come from an unpleasant personality?

Brian Sherwin
Kim, you said, "what do you think of the practice of artist's bios and statements listing prominently the names of well known instructors they've studied under, even if it was only a brief workshop?". In my opinion that is not so bad-- it depends on how the artist goes about it.

Obviously you don't want to make it appear as if you had a close relationship with the famous instructor if the only contact came in the form of a one day workshop or a single lecture. Some artists make something out of nothing, so to speak-- and if a potential buyer does enough research he or she may end up questioning the validity of the artist if the artist is taking great liberty in describing famous connections in general.

If there is really no direct influence-- if you don't use what was learned-- involving the famous instructor I fail to see why it should be mentioned at all. If you don't apply what was taught why mention it?

Thanks, Brian. Yep, I go along with that. It can be very meaningful if an artist studied intensively with a teacher, or even collaborated on a project, although that's probably rarer in art than in other professions where students contribute to research, etc., or it can be free riding on someone else's coat tails. We are all told when making resumes and bios to take the relevant events of our lives and make the most of them, put them in the most useful and positive terms, and we all do that, but we do have to be sure we aren't misrepresenting something in the process.

Brian Sherwin
Stede, you said, "An obvious question arises: can truly beautiful art come from an unpleasant personality?". I'd say yes. Where personality is concerned you have to remember that people who are unpleasant individuals often don't realize that they are-- and to some they may have a great personality. It all boils down to your own interpretation of the individual and his or her actions I suppose.

For example, think about some of the worst dictators that have popped up throughout history-- many had art collections containing art that most likely now hangs in a museum. So in that sense, even a 'bad' person can see beauty. We human are simple and complex at the same time.

Then there's artists who create a "persona" or lead a lifestyle in order to create an element of myth that gets attached to their artwork - I'm thinking of Julian Schnabel, Mark Kostabi, and Jeff Koons, to name a few.

Creating a persona is hella different than sending millions to gas chambers! Anyone who likes Hitler's art is a racist! Creating a persona does not always work anyway. Most people have a poor opinion of the face value of Schnabel and Koons. The "artist as bastard" persona does not work unless you are already a wealthy and collected artist.

Because most art creates an emotional connection to the viewer. The viewer feels the emotional connection... to whom?
Like having a great phone conversation then to find the other person on the end of the phone isn't who you thought it to be....

Brian Sherwin
I agree that having a "persona" will only get you so far. I'd say we all have a persona to some degree-- we all have a second-self, if you will. How we present ourselves online for example may be very different than how we would converse face-to-face.

That said, with art-- and exhibiting art-- I'd say it is better to be who you are than to intentionally construct a personality just to please or confuse admirers of your art. Why put another task before you? The task of maintaining that image?

True, a persona may help you to sell a few paintings-- but why sell yourself... who YOU are inside... in the process? That is like gaining recognition while not getting recognition at the same time-- why become your own obstacle, so to speak?

Ask yourself this... do you want to create great art or do you want to focus on creating an image that might make a good movie someday? Do you want to focus on art or acting? I'd say place focus on creating the best art you can instead of creating an image of yourself that is false simply for the buzz factor.

Jo Allebach
The persona should not make a difference but it does to some extent. I am always wondering how much personal information I should give out.

Is what you think of an artist's personal life any different of what you think of an actor's personal life? All you need do is mention Schwartzeneggar, Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, or Kelsey Grammer and it gives you pause - can you separate the work from the person? How about musicians? I suppose if you are the sort of person to whom how the performer or artist conducts his or her life brings to bear on whether you appreciate their work or not, I suspect there are a lot of folks out there who are that way.

Betty Pieper
Well said, Brian. Your pragmatic comment about spending time and energy on "managing a persona" reminds me of some people who lie. It's not bad enough that they lie (a moral failing) but "dontcha just hate it" when they forget what their falsehoods were! No sense listening to them in the first place. They can't "manage" their own falsehoods. I guess the bottom line for most of us is to trust who we are and hope that our real deal is sufficient for the day. Chasing sales by constructing falsehoods is a betrayal of our deepest self.

Brian Sherwin
Oddly enough, Edward Winkleman, a NY based art dealer, recently touched on this issue. Read,


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