Born to be IconicObelisk Home
Conventional wisdom suggests that an artist is someone who makes art. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re an amateur or a professional, whether you’ve received formal training or are self-taught, whether you make work to exhibit or just for yourself. If you make art you’re an artist.
It was Joseph Beuys who said “everything is art” and “everyone is an artist”. We’re not sure if we completely agree with Beuys, but the lines of what is art and what isn’t are so blurred that they sometimes don’t exist. If everyone and everything is art, then what makes a particular artist iconic?
Annie Leibovitz has earned her right to be called iconic. Her photography lead her to joining the Vanity Fair team and becoming the magazine’s first contributing photographer. At Vanity Fair she became known for her wildly lit, staged, and provocative portraits of celebrities. Most famous among them are Whoopi Goldberg submerged in a bath of milk and Demi Moore naked and holding her pregnant belly. The list of celebrities, world figures, and other icons that she has photographed is indeed impressive and seemingly endless. Her ability to create spectacular images that entice and tantalize the viewer’s imagination is what makes her an icon.
Then you have other artists such as Damien Hirst who didn’t become iconic by critical acclaim, but just by attracting attention. His art is controversial and is regarded as appalling by some. Hirst climbed far and fast, thanks to Charles Saatchi, an advertising tycoon who saw promise in Hirst’s rotting animal corpses, and gave him a virtually unlimited budget to continue. His shark suspended in a tank of formaldehyde, entitled The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, wowed and repulsed audiences in 1991. In 1995 (the same year that he won the coveted Turner Prize) Hirst’s installation of a rotting bull and cow was banned from New York by public health officials who feared “vomiting among the visitors.” Still, his work sells for millions and attracts great attention. Hirst is certainly an icon in the art realm, proving that popularity and attention can catapult you into iconic levels.
When it comes to icons in art, there is no bigger name than Picasso. But what made him so iconic? He pretty much invented cubism (along with Georges Braque) and brought it to the forefront of the art world. He was also hugely influential in the worlds of surrealism and symbolism, and continued to innovate throughout his life, in various styles and media. The argument could be made that he was the most influential artist of the past hundred years. His legacy survives as an art icon because of his unique vision – something every icon has in common.