As in many creative fields, visual art often requires some level of creative sacrifice in exchange for financial success. In cinema, compromises are made in the cutting of violent scenes to get a specific rating or cutting the film’s length to be more appealing to a mass audience. In music, artists often find themselves being forced to write a hit, a song that their record label will be commercially viable to the radio. And in visual art, artists are often undercut by wealthy buyers looking for a specific things in the work.
But not all artists can be bought, and during the increasing commercialization of visual art there has grown a harder opposition in the form of iconoclastic artists working on the fringes of what is and isn’t considered art nevertheless growing massively wealthy and successful on their own terms. They create work that can be controversial and confrontational, and yet that only seems to make people want to pay even more money for their work. They come from graffiti, pop art, photography, and a slew of other fields that have had their artistic integrity questioned by critics. These are artists who have formulated their styles around their own beliefs, ideas, dreams, and integrity, and their visions have grown into brands. These are eight once-starving artists that got rich.
1. Andy Warhol
Though it’s an obvious choice, it couldn’t be more appropriate. Pop art legend Andy Warhol was one of the first artists to both turn confrontational and weird into commodity and commodity into confrontational and weird. Assembling The Factory, a space where Warhol’s hand-selected followers would hang out, throw parties, take drugs, and make art was synonymous with downtown art in the 60s and 70s. Warhol started his career as a commercial illustrator, and his interest in pop culture never subsided. His contributions to pop culture were innumerous, whether giving the world massively-influential art rock band the Velvet Underground or cointing the term, “15 minutes of fame,” Warhol’s prints on culture in his time were indelible. His work, such as that depicting celebrities or objects like Campbell’s Soup cans forced the viewer to absorb preexisting meanings in the imagery that had already been imprinted into their minds through media. Though his work examined commercialism, he always did so from and outsider’s perspective. He grew massively wealthy through his contradictory work and legacy. In 2013, a 1963 Warhol piece “Silver Car Crash (Double Disaster)” fetched $105 million. Quite a world away from commercial illustration.
2. Nan Goldin
Image via flickr.com
If you are looking for confrontational, look no further that photographer Nan Goldin. Nan Goldin got famous photographing the fringes of American urban society. Her subjects included everything from the post-punk music scene to her more stories work including transsexuals, drug addicts living among the Bowery in New York City, and even documented the abuse she suffered (pictured above) at the hands of her partner Nan Goldin was infamous for not only depicting this world, but for also participating in it, once telling the Huffington Post, “I wanted to get high from a really early age.” In other words, her photographs are not for the faint of heart. But that didn’t stop her from becoming one of the most successful photographers of her time. According to Find Art Info, a site that prices art, her photographs most often exceed $10,000 in value and can fetch upwards into the millions. Surely she’s come a long way from living amongst her often-homeless photograph subjects.
3. Jean-Michel Basquiat
Few artists have known the fast rise that Jean-Michel Basquiat did. He came up in an interesting time of the Lower East Side during the late 1970′s, the creative apex of the neighborhood when worlds disparate as hip-hop, street art, and post-punk were all coalescing into one scene. One of the first graffiti artists to cross over into widespread critical and commerical appeal, Basquiat originally was known for his graffiti pseudonym “SAMO.” He quickly gained notice for his jaw dropping neo-expressionist and primitive paintings. His work was lauded for its dichotomies depicting wealth and poverty, integration and segregation, and other sorts of urban opposites. He became massively famous at a young age, his name recognizable often to even those with little interest in art. His work still resonates today with hip millennials, and even Jay-Z bought a Basquiat piece in 2013 for a head-rattling $4.5 million. Sadly, Basquiat didn’t quite get the chance to bask in his infamy, dying at age 27 from a Heroin overdose.
4. Keith Haring
Keith Haring, like Basquiat, gained attention initially for his street art littering the subways of New York in graffiti before growing to become one of the most important and comercially visual artists of his generation. His work, popping in color and simple but poignant imagery, documented some of New York’s worst crises in the 80s from AIDS to drug with his “Crack is Wack” banner. He eventually formed a friendship with Andy Warhol that was extremely important to his career. The crisis that he fought so hard eventually took him down, as he passed from AIDS after a long fight at age 31 in 1990. His work still greatly resonates with people. Recently a group of art dealers accused of selling fake Haring’s have filed suit against the Haring estate claiming that the paintings the are selling are not fake and actually worth a whopping $40 million.
5. Jackson Pollock
Had to have at least one of the old-timey classics of avant-garde American art on here, and who better than Jackson Pollock. Born in Wyoming into modest means in Wyoming, Pollock moved to New York as a teenager and early on suffered from alcoholism and bi-polar, his condition making it difficult for him to hold down jobs and maintain relationships. He poured all that pain into his work, using liquid paint techniques that he learned from Mexican experimental artist David Alfaro Siquieros. He would lay canvases on the floor, employing what he called the drip technique to lay out abstractions of his own inner turmoil. At the time it was very hard for critics to understand the messages he got across, critic Robert Coates once derided a number of Pollock’s works as “mere unorganized explosions of random energy, and therefore meaningless.” and yet he became immensely wealthy off of it. His piece Mural is now valued at $140 million after Pollock’s signature was discovered in the piece. Unfortunately, like so many legends Pollock’s outsider lifestyle got the best of him, dying in a car crash while under the influence of alcohol.
6. Dash Snow
Anyone even slightly interested in the art world of the last 15 years has probably at least heard the name “Dash.” Snow’s story is an interesting one; born into a wealthy family, rejecting his family’s wealth in favor of pursuit of debauchery, delinquency, and outsider art, and yet becoming rich again anyways. He is the great-grandson of the founded of the Menil collection, a family with an art collecting worth hundreds of millions of dollars But he wanted none of it. Starting out in a graffiti crew IRAK (euphemism for “I steal), Dash’s legend grew in a haze of drugs and criminal acts. He drew attention when named by the Wall Street Journal as one of the, “23-Year old Masters.” Dash’s work was most reminiscent of Nan Goldin’s and Larry Clark’s, pictures of his punk rock-loving, drug-gobbling friends in various positions of moral compensation. He once exhibited work that was nothing more than old copies of the New York post that he had used as, well, let’s not go there for this site. Many didn’t consider his work art at all, but after a piece in New York Magazine came out called “Chasing Dash Snow,” in which Snow’s and his friends artist Dan Colen and super-photographer Ryan Mcginley were followed around their insane lives, Dash became mega-art famous. While he was alive he had already sold a piece for $132,633 dollars. But, Dash met another tragic end, dying of a heroin overdose, coincidentally also in a NoHo hotel, just as Basquiat. His work is now moving towards priceless.
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