Why is popular art… popular?

This question comes from a chat I had with a friend recently.

During a discussion he said: “Art is really just a form of marketing.”

To which, I said: “It isn’t, though. Art is art, and it is just leveraged by marketers.”

After some round-the-houses deliberation it appeared I had gotten the wrong end of the stick.

My friend clarified his position to: “Popular art is popular, in the most part, because it has been marketed better than other artists’ work.”

And I agreed with this, to more of an extent.



But then it got me thinking more.

The art that is popular, or famous, or well-known, or revered, why is this so?

Of course it is a complex issue with no one single answer, there are plenty of reasons, to put it down to one thing would be deterministic.

What makes one thing popular might make another thing very un-popular.

It gets really murky because we start having to define art – what is art? And this, is a whole other conversation.

Then we have to start discussing well, what even is popular art?

Is it when X amount of people buy a ‘print’ of the work.

Is it how many admission tickets are sold?

Is it how many followers the artist has on Twitter?

Is it putting a shark in a tank of formaldehyde?



There is a lot of unpacking to do.

Firstly, let’s make a distinction. I am not referring specifically to the art movement Pop art.

No that this art wouldn’t be included, but I am discussing something more general and all-encompassing.

Secondly, there is a clear difference between popular art that was created pre-internet, pre-digital, pre-mass adoption of PCs.

So  even art that was popular 15 or 20 years ago might be for different reasons than today, never mind art that may have been popular in the 1600s.

This is, therefore, not a discussion of ‘older’ art that is still popular today.


The question

To get more specific, I’m developing the question into:

What makes new popular art popular today?

By today, I mean ‘at this general time of now’, so, anything from a year or two ago up to the present moment (I will get more specific on this).

And by popular… well, I guess that needs more of a definition. It’s something I’ll have to think about.

It probably means something that an average person might be aware of. Something that has reached critical mass and spilled over into wider society.

I’ll have to dig a bit deeper into this in the next post.


Is this even a worthwhile question to ask?

I think so, in an age when something or someone can get famous or popular, literally overnight.

With platforms creating new types of art and artists.

Sites such as youtube, Instagram, the long list of ‘viral’ websites, and of course the self-proclaimed front page of the Internet ‘reddit’.

Can some of these things be deemed art, or are they just entertainment?

Is vlogging art?

Is a meme art?

They certainly have some artistic qualities.

It seems a logical assumption to say most artists surely want to become ‘popular’, meaning, they want their art to be seen and appreciated by as many people as possible.

Of course there will be exceptions, people who prefer to have a small, but dedicated, following.

Or prefer to dwell in something niche, or artists that are make a living without being ‘famous’.

Some may actively reject and dismiss this ‘popularity’, but that doesn’t mean they cease to have it.

In some cases this may only fuel that popularity fire.



This is an introductory post to outline the question…

What makes new popular art popular?

I’m going to do some research, and have a think.

And in the next post attempt to answer this question.


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