Quantifying reputation and success in art
The most heralded artists from the last four decades share one thing in common, according to a new study.
Is there a secret formula to becoming a successful artist? Probably not, but a new study in the journal Science has revealed an overwhelming correlation: artists who show work in a prestigious gallery or institution early on in their career have a much greater chance of carving out a successful one.
Data scientists reconstructed the careers of almost half a million artists between 1980 and 2016 and found that those whose first five exhibitions took place in prestigious galleries and museums were more likely to enjoy long-lasting access to those institutions, a lower drop-out rate and higher valuation of their work at auction. By contrast, artists who started at the peripheries of the network (showing at smaller galleries and institutions) incurred a higher dropout rate and limited access to prominent arts institutions.
The study included a visual map of the institutional network, with prominent museums and galleries clustered at the centre. ‘The network core was a dense community of major European and North American institutions, underlying their access to a common pool of artistic talents,’ the paper reported.
At the centre of the network is a familiar selection of well-known institutions and galleries including the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim, Tate, Centre Pompidou, Neue Nationalgalerie and Haus der Kunst.
‘Movement between these hubs in the core was exceptionally high: the link weight between Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and Guggenheim was 33 times higher than expected if artists would move randomly between institutions, reflecting a highly concentrated movement of selected artists between a few prominent institutions.’
The study also revealed discrepancies in success based on an artist’s country of origin. ‘In many countries, artists start and end their career in low-prestige institutions; those, however, born in countries with better access to the art network have a higher chance of starting and ending their career at the top.’
The network map also shows dense and isolated regional clustering in countries in Europe, Asia, South America and Australia which suggests that these communities share artists mainly within their geographical region.
The paper concludes by suggesting tactics to level the playing field and mitigate the impact of an artist’s network. Suggested procedures include offering lottery-based access to high-prestige institutions as well as blind selection processes.