Study suggests initial success in prestigious institutions key to lifelong artistic achievement

November 9, 2018 by Bob Yirka, report
Co-exhibition network, whose nodes are art institutions (galleries, museums). Node size is proportional to each institution’s prestige. Nodes are connected if they both exhibited the same artist. Credit: Samuel P. Fraiberger, Alice Grishchenko, Albert-László Barabási

An international team of researchers has found that early exposure by certain art institutions is a major factor in lifelong success as an artist. In their paper published in the journal Science, the group describes their study of artistic careers over a 40-year span and the major factors that contributed to success and failures.

Judging the value of a piece of art is tricky, as the note. They highlight the difficulty by pointing out that a painting called "The Man with the Golden Helmet" by Rembrandt was once the pride of Berlin—until experts discovered that it was not actually painted by Rembrandt. Suddenly, it lost most of its value, even though the painting had not changed. The reason: history and context. For many, the value of art is more than just the value of a single piece—it is about a body of work by individuals believed to have talent. And it might also have a little to do with luck and access. In this new effort, the researchers looked at the careers of 31,794 artists who were good enough to have had at least 10 exhibitions of their work during the years from 1950 to 1990, and compared how they fared against each other.

The researchers had an inkling that access to prestigious institutions like New York's Museum of Modern Art or the Guggenheim might have an impact on an 's . To see if this might be the case, they looked at the success rates of artists (using the app Magnus) who managed to score exhibitions within the exclusive network of prestigious institutions and the impact it had on their careers.

Co-exhibition network, whose nodes are art institutions (galleries, museums). Node size is proportional to each institution’s prestige. Nodes are connected if they both exhibited the same artist. Credit: Samuel P. Fraiberger, Alice Grishchenko, Albert-László Barabási

The researchers found that initial with prestigious institutions offered a major boost to an artistic career. Those artists who managed to arrange several showings within the prestigious network at the beginning of their careers were far more likely to continue exhibiting later in life. In sharp contrast, those who failed to find a footing in the prestigious network during their initial showings tended to have much less prestigious careers—and many more of them dropped out of the scene altogether.

The researchers suggest it might be time for the art world to set up a blind lottery system when choosing which pieces to exhibit, forcing participants to judge work on merit alone.

Explore further: Hot streak: Finding patterns in creative career breakthroughs

Related Stories

How ideas go viral in academia

November 6, 2018

How ideas move through academia may depend on where those ideas come from—whether from big-name universities or less prestigious institutions—as much as their quality, a recent study from the University of Colorado Boulder ...

Success can come at any age, according to study

November 4, 2016

What does age have to do with creative breakthroughs in science? Not much, according to new research led by Northeastern network scientist Albert-László Barabási. Rather, it is productivity and the will to keep trying ...

Recommended for you

Matter waves and quantum splinters

March 25, 2019

Physicists in the United States, Austria and Brazil have shown that shaking ultracold Bose-Einstein condensates (BECs) can cause them to either divide into uniform segments or shatter into unpredictable splinters, depending ...

How tree diversity regulates invading forest pests

March 25, 2019

A national-scale study of U.S. forests found strong relationships between the diversity of native tree species and the number of nonnative pests that pose economic and ecological threats to the nation's forests.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.7 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2018
Among other things, looking only at the span 1950 to 1990 can be considered unwise for a legitimate understanding.
The change in opinion about "Man In A Golden Helmet" emphasizes a crucial fact. Many, many, many doe not "judge" items by their inherent value, but only by superficial facets such as who painted it, what accolades they have. Many items are ignored until an expert, or an "expert", attributes a famous name to it.
Which suggests that early exposure to success or "prestigious institutions" does not give an artist, or "artist", understanding or depth. Rather, it just l;ens a cachet of "official" a"approval".
This is what the fraud of "modern art" is built on. Individuals sprinkle paint on a canvas, an "expert" plays it up in a journal, a gallery owner gives a major showing, witless rich people buy it at a giant price as an investment only!
1 / 5 (3) Nov 09, 2018
oh julian, too bad you got stuck in the fourth century!
You completely missed the mutual influence of the Arts and Sciences upon each other. As entwined as the strands of chromosomes in DNA.

Modern Art is attempting, if not always successfully, at interpreting Modern Science.

Your postings of boastful plagiarisms and incoherent hallucinations are proof that you are incompetent to understand Science. And thus, you are incapable to understand Art.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 10, 2018
Someone who scores exhibitions top major art institutions has good connections or an agent with good connections, both are highly conducive to financial success as an "artist" in today's highly politicized world, neither has anything to do with success as an actual artist. This is not scientific research it is art sociology at best, or perhaps its pop history. Todays visual arts are a travesty and a disgrace so who cares.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.