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Top of the class?

Its hard to know who we ‘should be looking at’ when studying art. It’s easier to follow one’s nose and just investigate artists when you come across something you like. However, I can’t get away from the niggling feeling that there must be lots of contemporary artists that I should know more about, but its chicken and egg, if you don’t know who they are, how can you find out about them? I think I’ve found the answer on artnet. They publish a list of the top 300 most searched for artists every month. This may not be the most academic way of discovering who we should all know about, but there is at least a bit of science about it. Since this list is almost certainly based on an analysis of Google stats, it is at least, giving a true picture of what people are enquiring about right now.

For the love of God Damien Hirst

For instance, since Lucien Freud’s and Cy Twombly’s recent deaths, these two have shot to the top of the list. This makes sense. As yet, John Hoyland appears nowhere on the list, but I bet he will do in a month’s time. It makes sense that Banksy, Damien Hirst and Nan Goldin are up near the top, but I’m ashamed to admit that I don’t know who Jock Sturges or Wayne Thiebaud are and a few others near the top. I think I’d better find out. You can click on each of the names to get a quick view of each of the artists’ work. Interestingly there are a lot of photographers near the very top of the list, and of those a preponderance of those concerned with photographing human flesh, erm, especially female flesh. They may be great photographers, but their ranking is more likely to reflect a certain amount of popular ‘recreational’ surfing of the internet, rather than an interest in art?
Ella. Gerhard Richter 2007

Picasso sits at number 33 in July, with Gerhard Richter at 34. No doubt with the coming of the big retrospective on Richter in London in the Autumn, his ranking will go up. It’s interesting to see how the greats of the 20th century are mixed in with contemporary figures in art, and heartening to see that interest in contemporary art is alive and well.


Posted by author: Jane Parry
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28 thoughts on “Top of the class?

  • Cue the “reputation managers” to ensure one’s name comes high up the Google hit list: is this a case of a battery chicken and egg situation??

  • One thing that it would be interesting to know is who is doing the searching. I suspect that artists and art students wouldn’t figure very highly in that list, so it is mostly Joe Public trying to find out who it is that his friends/newspaper article/media broadcast were talking about. Except of course those looking up Sturges and the like, about whom, probably the less said, the better!!

  • Top of the class or Top of the Pops?
    Quite a few photographers in there; Bernard Plossu, a name I’d forgotten, suddenly charting out of nowhere.

  • Thinking about enrolment stats for OCA courses: I gather photography courses are much in demand, and numbers enrolling for courses in other disciplines are lower than these – would this justify a conclusion that photography is therefore “top of the class” and Fine Arts, Textiles, etc, are lower down the scale?
    I hope the answer to this is obvious!
    So I prefer to think the same considerations apply to the Artnet stats – we can examine out of curiosity or interest who is more searched for, without thinking it validates any conclusions about quality of their work in itself or in the context of whole field of artistic output?

  • I’d be interested to know exactly where the stats come from, looking at the list I doubt its Google – where are all the Rembrandts etc. I suspect its based on artnet searches – artnet seems to offer a service to the art market. So the searchers might be art collectors, dealers, etc, those with an interest in prices:)

    • I remember seeing a David Hare play many years ago where an incredulous individual listened as an art dealer told him that works were priced by size. This raises the fascinating prospect of works being priced according to search volumes:
      ‘How much is a Freud today?’
      ‘Well based on £45 per click that will £6.5 million’

  • I saw the documentary on lucien freud at the weekend,and to be honest up until then i had hardly taken any notice of him or his work.But as i watched the documentary i was fascinated by what i saw and by what was said about him from those who contributed to the documentary,mostly family.To me that is what art is all about
    painting,whether it be portrait or landscape.When you look at the old masters that is what they produced.But what makes my blood boil whenever art is mentiond,is the amount of trash that is called art today just because those that view it are art ignorant,what i call AI -art ignorance.Example,daien hursts skull, a large piece of blank white paper with a tiny little dot in the centre, a single twig in a plant pot in the middle of an empty room, sheep in a glass case.It seems that were art goes,so dose any thing as far as we are concerned.So what realy is art,you tell me and then maybe i will apreciate it.

    • What makes my blood boil is that where spelling goes, so does anything. Including education.
      “Art is the how, not the what.” David Mitchell in “Cloud Atlas”.

          • I wonder if Tom actually viewed Damien Hirst’s multi-million skull? If not, he is presumably relying on news reportage for his view. I recently saw a Hurst installation in Bristol at the Academy of Art there and was struck by it – not easy to say whether I liked it or not but experienced a fascination – it evokes a number of themes. What intrigued me about Hurst’s skull is the fact that his demand for diamonds upset the diamond market!! We are all given to making typos when writing on the net but Tom’s misspelling of Damien as well as not using capitals for his name does indicate a polarised viewpoint.

          • I’m not sure that its possible to discuss art without a polarised viewpoint. If you try to do so people make the assumption that you are taking the opposite view to them and then reply to what they thought you were saying rather than what you were actually saying, over time this becomes so frustrating you find your own opinions start to become more polarised as you seek to distance yourself from that kind of attitude LOL.
            I do agree with you though Amano, it is possible to appreciate both Freud and Hirst.

          • Anned This might be because art so often takes a polarised viewpoint!? I think all art deserves to be viewed with an open mind, at least initially.

          • I suppose it depends how you look at it. I tend to see art as a whole lot of differing viewpoints all of which make up a very interesting sphere of interconnected activity. That’s my polarised viewpoint anyway:)

  • Painting is not, nor has it ever been, all that art is about. Increasingly over the last hundred years or so, particularly with the development of new image making technology like photography, film, television, digital imaging, video etc. and the new modes of distribution like the internet, painting has become just one of myriad practices in the visual arts. To shut one’s eyes to these practices is to deny oneself a vast array of experiences and to cut oneself off from what contemporary art is saying about the world we live in. It can even be argued that Freud was a man out of his time.

  • Over twenty years ago in Paris, I sat through a Berthold Brecht performance played out in an eastern European language. For two hours I sat in semi-darkness in extreme discomfort – understanding very little and enjoying very little. Yet whatever was happening on stage during those two hours deeply affected me, and I know (without having to know why) that I experienced a great work of art. The appreciation of ‘art’ is personal and no-one has the right to dictate what is good or bad. We do not always have to like or understand what is offered, but, if we are involved in the field of art practices/histories/theories etc. (as all OCA students and tutors are), then we should at least be willing to give up a little of our time to consider art in all its guises – even guises that we don’t like or don’t understand. That’s how we learn and that’s how we learn to defend our ideas 😉

    • “understanding very little and enjoying very little”
      That happened to me with “Ulysses”, I had no idea what it was about and yet kept on reading, every word, all 900+ pages — a weird and memorable experience. Some years later I read it again with a study guide and it made more sense.

      • I can relate well to your experience with Ulysses Mary – I tried to read it back at University and made very little progress; the most memorable part of it was the headache it gave me. I came across the book again a couple of years back and made it my new year’s resolution to read it through. However this time I armed myself with an overview of the book’s structure from Wikipedia and so made a point of first reading some Shakespeare and Homer’s Odyssey. Although it still provided some headaches, I made far more sense of it and can honestly say it’s the most ‘important’ book I’ve read so far, if only because it introduced me to so many other authors through its associations with them, but also because, to quote you, it was a “weird and memorable experience”. I’ve yet to tackle Finnegan’s Wake, however, and it’s not about to enter my ‘To Do’ list, either. 😉

  • That’s where we differ, I think life does make sense. Everything has a reason. That’s not to say it’s predictable, but with hindsight you can figure out why if you have the facts. But I take your point about Ulysses 🙂

    • While you are clearly entitled to your views Mary, I have to say that find the notion that ‘Everything has a reason…and with hindsight you can figure out why if you have the facts.’ reductive, lacking the richness that culture brings to our lives..
      Rather more convincing to me is Giddens’ view that ‘The individual’s biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing ‘story’ about the self’
      So we are not dealing with ‘facts’, which in any event require interpretation and therefore mediation, but rather our experiences of events; events which are multifaceted and will mean different things to different people at the same time and different things to the same people at different times. And the way that we make sense of events is through the stories that we tell ourselves (narratives). Great art engages with these narratives and forms or challenges them. Briony Campbell could tell us multiple facts about her father’s death, but she chooses to show us what it looks like to her and how it impacted on her instead, these aspects are not facts but selected perceptions that fit together to form a story and are all the more powerful for it.
      For students interested in an introduction to Giddens’ thought could try chapter 5 of David Gauntlett’s Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction, most of which is available to read online here

      • As I said, this is where we differ. Unlike you, my experience is that facts and an understanding of facts add immeasurably to the richness of life. Without facts and by extension reason, logic and science, we would still be in the dark ages. We would not be sitting at our keyboards on opposite sides of the earth communicating via this website. To me it’s joy untold to discover a reason for something that previously was an impenetrable mystery. How Briony Campbell perceives her father’s dying is also a fact — why would it not be? Perceptions are facts too.

          • The Missing Gorilla: the scientist uses the facts (how many saw the gorilla, how many didn’t) as facts in his experiment, thus proving my point. Yes, we all perceive things differently, but that in itself is a fact. How one of us perceives a specific thing at a specific time is a fact. It may never be known in all the oceans of unrecorded data, or it may be turn out to be an exceptional, memorable work of art — for example, David’s drawing of Marie Antoinette being taken to the guillotine — http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jacques-Louis_David_-_Marie_Antoinette_on_the_Way_to_the_Guillotine.jpg
            Another fact to do with that drawing is David’s drawing skill. Very few could do what he did even if they perceived it the same way.
            Does that help? It may be that in some ways we’re talking about the same thing, just using the terms in a different way.

          • I enjoyed the Missing Gorilla, its interesting that our perceptions can be directed so that they filter out the things we’re not looking for, I guess that’s the way confidence tricksters and magic tricks work.
            If the viewers had been instructed to look out for a gorilla I should think there’d be a 100% success rate. So I suppose you could say that we tend to see what we are looking for but not necessarily what’s staring us in the face!
            That being the case how can we ever be sure of the facts – once someone has pointed out that we didn’t notice the gorilla in the room, reality isn’t quite so fixed.
            Those kinds of experiments are subject to peer review to ensure as far as possible that the data collected is reliable – that the particular questions asked didn’t skew the results in some way, that the conclusions drawn are reasonable, etc. Even then the conclusion is not a fact its only evidence towards believing a particular way of understanding perception and attention could be a good way to describe the reality for now until some other evidence confirms or challenges it in the future.

  • Once upon a time, (in 1947 actually.) A 14 year old artist, would delight her classmates with paintings of snow capped mountains, pretty ladies in crinoline dresses tending hollyhocks in thatched cottage gardens, etc. Needless to say Miss Webb turned up her retrousse nose – the adjective might provide a clue to the source of the works, inspiration being ‘Women’s Weekly’ etc.
    O.K – to come to the point. The aspirant then concocted a huge {half imperial size) painting – a market scene, peopled by large, heavy limbed characters, carefully smoothly executed.
    Miss Webb was delighted, the painting was framed and HUNG IN THE GYMNASIUM/HALL. I can only suppose that the fourteen year me must have absorbed the artistic fashion of that time? Stanley Spencer et al. Well, that is my story, one should have learned something from it. Alas not, else I too might have been listed as one of the good and the great of the 20th Century. Still, thatched cottages hollyhocks and crinolines might resurge. KITSCH IST KHOOL GRANDMA!!!

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