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What it Means to Be an Influencer in the Art World
I’m a big fan of the Lost Generation- the artists, writers, and creatives of the early twentieth century Paris scene. The Gertrude Stein & Pablo Picasso exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg was fascinating. This exhibition was a short story of Stein’s influences and writing persona. She was raised in California then attended Radcliffe College then medical school at Johns Hopkins. Before graduating, she followed her brother to Europe and ended up in Paris, where she fell in with the arts crowd.
An avid writer trained in psychology and comfortable with the characters on the edge of society pursuing personal freedom and aesthetics, her open manner welcomed a group of creatives. Discussion groups formed and people sought her counsel. She is today known as a patron of the arts, as she bought and collected Henri Matisse, Paul Cézanne, and others before anyone else. She encouraged them to keep painting even to bad reviews. She saw honesty in their use of colors, equity of objects, and styles. Even when they doubted their own work, Stein urged them to continue, to experiment, and to persist.
Stein used these relationships to make her own writing better. She studied these painters’ and writers’ methods to shape her words. She often said she wanted to write like Picasso painted. For her, the collaboration of artist friends served to empower and elevate all.
Gertrude Stein was one of the ultimate art influencers. Lets examine what this means a little bit further.
Who are some of the great art influencers of all time?
Vibrant energy is infectious. When we see someone rocking their outfit or engaged in their activity or excited about a product, they shine. They are excited. And we want to be excited too! Influencers are the people who let us see their enthusiasm, and whether they intend to or not, they gather a following.Let’s take a look at some interesting influencers in the arts.
Gertrude Stein was an American writer in Paris. She was a patron of many forms of arts because her circle of friends included Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Sinclair Lewis, and others. She encouraged their writing, artwork, and music, and they would frequently gather at her house to discuss the arts and receive her critiques. These weekly gatherings became organized because she tired of people dropping by at all hours of the day, so she and her partner Alice Toklas began hosting weekly gatherings instead. She was an influencer because artists sought her opinion, listened to her opinions, and were persuaded by her inducements. Her circle grew, as did the careers and friends of artists she associated with.
Andy Warhol, despite his bland persona and quirky mannerisms, grew a huge cult following. He became a counter-culture hit and many artists followed his lead. Artists in his circle included Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Mick Jagger, Edie Sedgwick, Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minnelli, and many other actors, filmmakers, musicians, and poets.
Miles Davis was an incredibly renowned jazz musician and is known as the king of jazz. His portfolio is celebrated worldwide. Most jazz musicians (and many musicians regardless of genre) cite Davis as their creative inspiration or musical icon. He played trumpet from his teenage years and took his music very seriously. People loved that he was dedicated to his craft and was a master of taste, refusing to add flair for the sake of showmanship, but simply dove deep into the music itself. The who’s who of Rolling Stone credit Davis for influencing their work.
Misty Copeland is an exquisite dancer. Not only did she break barriers in ballet, but she has garnered a huge following. People who rooted for her became dance enthusiasts, and as word spread about her capabilities and character, fame followed. An entire new group of people, who thought they could never dance professionally because of their background or demographic, saw Copeland as the person who changed that.
What we see here is that in every artistic genre- from writing to painting to music to dance and beyond, there have been key players who become influencers. People want to hang out with them. People are inspired by them. People pay attention to what they’re doing, and they work harder because of it.
What does it mean to be an influencer in the arts?
There are certain characteristics that make someone magnetic. It’s hard to define that charisma that keeps our eyes following a certain artist. But we’ll look at several qualities that draw us to these icons.
A strong personal style that affects the genre makes all the difference. Influencers have a look that sticks out a bit from the crowd. They might dress differently or have a unique style, they might have a physical characteristic or highlight their body or environment somehow, but they capitalize on whatever it is that makes them a bit different from their peers. Not only do art influencers have a visual essence, they also impact culture and societal norms. Their pioneering style, both personal and artistic, sets them apart from their peers.
Collaboration is fundamental for arts influencers. They share works within a group or across genres that build up other artists and bodies of work. They have a circle of friends, and that circle expands. They debate and critique and challenge others to become better. They push boundaries. There are mastermind groups and meetups and coordinated collaborations. Seeing them get better and work harder and challenge us as artists elevates the entire system.
Influencers generate interest and action. While celebrities have fame and a following, influencers actually inspire others to work harder, pursue something with passion, or create a network for criticism and debate. They are artists of influence, so by definition they incite - or influence - action. Art blooms because they are leading, collaborating with, and motivating others. Think JR, Banksy, Quincy Jones, and Jennifer Lopez.
Most importantly, art influencers have experience. They usually have a long, long career in their field. Continued study and discussion are what gives them the power to advise with strong opinions. They are leaders, and they create awareness where it otherwise wouldn’t reach. This power comes from self confidence and love for their craft. Artists are on a personal journey, and the legacy they leave says as much about their work as the pages and canvases and highlight reels themselves.
What gives art influencers their power?
Art influencers cultivate a group of like-minded artists. They have strong opinions and self-assuredness, are active in their genre, and use their voice to encourage, support, and bring attention to others. They are open about their vulnerabilities and actively work on improving their craft. They own their wins and their losses, and yet they keep working, discussing, and moving forward. The power of an art influencer is the culture that grows up around them. They inspire action. They are a voice of society. They shape culture. We can’t help but look and discuss and participate because they create movements. When leaders emerge, artwork follows.