Monday, October 02, 2006

The Success of 'Celebrity' Painters: Merit or Fame.

I remember having a few conversations about celebrity art during my college years. My studio friends and I would debate about the artistic merit of these individuals and their art while working on our own paintings.

Three painters seemed to be targeted the most: John Mellencamp, Marilyn Manson, and Paul McCartney. Many of these debates developed into heated discussions since some of the students involved were die-hard fans of these musicians. Thus, I decided to post an entry about this issue to see how you all respond.

What do John Mellencamp, Marilyn Manson, and Paul McCartney have in common? Well, aside from all being famous musicians they have also each received acclaim for their painting endeavors. What else do they have in common? They all have said, in one form or the other, that they do not want to be known as 'celebrity painters'.

The three have all stated that they never intended to exhibit their work. In other words, they did not want their musical fame to buy them a free ticket into the art world. A noble gesture. However, they have all increased their fortune by selling prints and art books since making those humble remarks (Each has donated to charity from the proceeds.).

What do you think about these painters? Does their musical background warrant the acclaim that their visual art has attained or is their artistic merit paving the way for their painting success? Can enough fame and money establish you as an artist? Is it fair to painters who have painted for decades with little to no recognition? (As the saying goes, "Life is not fair.")

Mellencamp is known for leaving cowboy boot prints on his paintings (he began oil painting in 1988.), Manson has been called an "accomplished watercolor painter", and Paul McCartney, who once studied under Willem de Koonig, has had packed exhibits in Germany and England (He has painted privately for over 17 years.). All have had major exhibits even though their artistic ability was not well documented until the works surfaced due to the interest of their friends and family.

How many artists do you know who have went from total obscurity as painters to the spot-light in such a short time? Is it wrong for celebrity status to play such a role in success of a painter? What about the countless numbers of artists who are equally talented, but lack that 'celebrity force'?

Just for your information: An average Mellecamp print sells for about $500, McCartney prints sells for $1,750, and Manson's paintings have sold for over $5,000 a piece. Each painter has released books displaying their art images (around $40 each.).

Do you think they deserve these prices? After all, an artist off the street could never expect to receive such a payment for prints or art books, right? What do you think about this? Does it help or hurt the 'art world'? Does their success help or hurt other painters who have yet to become established in the art world?

Here are some quotes from the painters:

"I wasn't intending for any of these pieces to be for anybody but myself or the friends that I did portraits of and would give as gifts. I never intended to show them, much less sell them, until several years of paintings built up. And when people would come to my house, they would urge me to show people my art.

So I took the step and I did it, and I've been quite proud of and surprised by the support and interest, especially from younger fans who may not have gotten into art at such an early age. Maybe this will encourage them to take a look at other things." - Marilyn Manson

"People who paint, including myself, get to a point where a bit of angst comes in. If you're doing it for a living, it's worth it to suffer those slings and arrows. If I was going to paint for my own fun, that was one thing I had to avoid." - Paul McCartney

"I realize that there are probably hundreds of people who deserve to have a book of their paintings published before I do, but because of my celebrity I've been given this great opportunity to show off my 'hobby' and, in turn, make money for charity. It isn't about how great I think I am at paining or music, but rather a reminder to people how great it can feel to just try." - John Mellencamp

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin


Anonymous said...

I believe that bottom line for artists is that we need to show our work, and even sell. However they get there as an artist is just fine. Popularity contest is the nature of the art world, but the collectors themselves who buys these works- what are their roles? do they even have any knowledge of art history or what makes good art? Maybe, maybe not. I don't doubt that their celebrity status sold their work. At the same time, there were a lot of obscure artists who gained fame after leaving art schools and what not. Smashing pumpkins, nine inch nails, hugh hefner comes immediately to mind. Whether or not the rest of the world, or members of the art community still consider them artists are another issue.


Balhatain said...


It does seem that 'celebrity' is a curse to those who wish to be known for the art they do outide of the form of art that they are famous for.

It must be hard for someone like McCartney (who has painted for years.) to know that most people are going to like his work based on his celebrity alone. It must be hard for him to trust the insight of others regarding his paintings.

I can add Rob Zombie to your list.

Anonymous said...

an artist is an artist - and there are lots of outlets for art. the chances are if you are musical that you will also be artistic in other ways .... and maybe being a musician your whole life would improve your sense of freedom on the canvas, or the way you approach it. While i fully respect technically good paintings, and love representational art, it is not the only art that deserves attention. maybe everyone should just chill and look at the logs in their own eyes first .. why is everyone so begrudging of other people's success?!