Difficult always to identify what makes an artist successful. For these purposes I would define successful to be either financial and/or reputationally well-known with the additional consideration of well-known in the art/collectors’ world or by the wider public.
Perception is that in art (much as in music) one route to success is to be ‘discovered’ by someone famous/influential who becomes a collector of the artist’s work (Emin and Hirst by Saatchi for example). This feels not unlike the patronage system of earlier eras. However, whereas early patrons dictated at least so some extent the nature of the work, current ‘patrons’ seem to have little influence on the artistic content.
Publicity also appears influential. Hirst shot to public acclaim/notoriety with arguably his most well known piece, ‘The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living’ (shark in formaldehyde). Is this highly regarded for its artistic merits, its controversial subject matter or both? Would Hirst have achieved such widespread public fame as an artist without these controversial pieces? Hirst himself is quoted as saying:
“I can’t wait to get into a position to make really bad art and get away with it. At the moment if I did certain things people would look at it, consider it and then say ‘f off’. But after a while you can get away with things.” Spalding, Julian (8 May 2003). “Why it’s OK Not to Like Modern Art”. The Times. Retrieved 22 February 2017.
Subsequent exhibitions at best polarised opinion, with accusations of copying and plagiarism. Nonetheless Hirst is reported as the richest living British artist.
There are ‘stellar’ artists – but who would be the ‘top 10’ if asked by the general public to name their favourite contemporary artists? A Time Out article names its top 20 artists of all time. All are painters, the majority male, contemporary artists number just 7 and Warhol, Picasso, Pollock, Dali and Magritte beat their nearest female ‘competitors’ Kahlo and O’Keefe at 15 and 16th.
Outside painting and outside the art world, awareness of artists working in non-paint media is more limited. In textiles, Tracey Emin, Grayson Perry, Kaffe Fassett (designer?) work only part in textiles and are arguably not seen as ‘textile artists’. A number of sculptors, perhaps due to large scale of work and installation nature are well known. Women feature more prominently in Artsy’s top 10 sculptors working today (4 of the top 10). How many are, however, publicly known figures? Antony Gormley, Anish Kapoor, Rachel Whiteread perhaps? And how many people would recognise the 10 female sculptors discussed in this artnet article from 2016?
Well-known textile artists within the field (ie, by textile enthusiasts) are, perhaps unsurprisingly, predominantly female: Alice Fox, Alice Kettle, Anni Albers, Sonia Delaunay, Sheila Hicks, Agneta Olek, Joana Vasconcelos. Few are likely to be known or their work recognised by the general public despite recognition within their field. Few galleries carry textile work although mixed media appears to be becoming more acceptable. Specialist exhbitions are raising the profile of textiles (Textiles in Art, Whitworth Art Gallery)
Photographers may be regarded as artists when producing certain works (product catalogues, holiday snaps, estate agents’ home photos are unlikely to feature in galleries). Marketing photography may blur this boundary but does purpose influence this? Journalistic/travelogue photography can also fit both art and practical categories. Digitally altered/edited images draw mixed views. Photographers such as Mapplethorpe worked to sell art as art, not for other purposes. Some of most iconic photography was taken for journalistic reasons, telling a story. Still art?