Becoming a Famous ArtistA friend and I were discussing the other day why some people become famous while others, often just (or nearly just) as talented, become, at best, perhaps only locally well-known. Like so many questions in life this one has no easy answer and I'm not sure I have the answer, but my guess, as they say, is as good as anyone else's. I must confess I've known or met very few famous people. I once glimpsed LBJ in a motorcade for about half-a-second, I once greeted a sitcom TV personality buying a newspaper from a vending machine, and once talked to a somewhat well-known artist with whom I shared a college class. I've seen Don Ho's night-club act and...but enough name-dropping. In college, one of my instructors, a watercolourist by the name of Kortlander, told us that art is probably the hardest field in the world in which to become famous. He said that with the success he'd had as a painter, were he a performer, his name would now be a household word. Instead, some thirty years later, I can't even remember his first name. Today, about the only living artists whose names are household words are cartoonists, and that may be more because of their writing skills than their drawing ability.
There are a lot of elements in fame. Talent is undoubtedly the biggest. Hard work is the second biggest. Ambition is near the top, and finally, there is also the element of luck involved. Others have added, knowing the right people (networking), and being in the right place at the right time (again, mostly luck). I guess one might pose the analogy that fame is like a bonfire. Talent, work, and ambition are the kindling while luck is the spark that lights the fire, which, if not continually stoked, quickly flares and burns out. To push the analogy, as it ages, the flame dies down to hot, glowing embers before being snuffed out by the cold water of death. Sinatra is an example of this. In art, possibly Picasso and O’Keeffe.
I suppose there are a thousand books on "How to Become Famous" all by authors, none of whom have succeeded in doing so. In art, to be more specific (beyond what I've already mentioned) I think it revolves around being the first to do something while everyone else smacks their heads and says, "Why didn't I think of that?" It involves shameless self-promotion. It involves being among the best at whatever you do, not to mention making some smart career choices along the line. In the end I guess, it's mostly about being an original--inventing your own football, then fearlessly running with it, dodging tacklers, single-mindedly, to the end zone, when others might choose to punt.
Contributed by Lane, Jim
22 July 1998