Turns out… It REALLY is more about who you know

A group of friends taking a selfie at a party.

A recent post led with the headline, Study Finds Artists Become Famous through Their Friends, Not the Originality of Their Work.

It’s something I have known for a long time, a bitter pill for many of us in the industry, but also a VERY clear and direct path to success, if we choose it. I am sharing this article ahead of my sold out one day Networking Masterclass for writers and filmmakers, as it underscores the importance of relationships.

It was all sparked by study at an art show at MoMA in New York a while back. The show was all about how abstract art came into being between 1910 and 1925, and it threw a spotlight on how artists like Picasso and Kandinsky were all buddies and influenced each other’s work. Leah Dickerman, who curated the exhibition, got inspired by this idea that your network could be your ticket to success, thanks to a class she took with Paul Ingram, a professor at Columbia Business School.

Ingram, along with Mitali Banerjee from HEC Paris, decided to dig deeper into this. They wanted to see if being a creative genius was what made artists famous, or if it was more about who they knew. To find out, they looked into how often these artists were mentioned in historical texts and who they hung out with, using MoMA’s detailed research on who knew who.

Their findings? It turns out, having a wide circle of friends from different places mattered more for fame than how original your art was. Basically, the artists who were buddies with people from all over the world were the ones who ended up being household names. And being super creative didn’t necessarily mean you’d be famous.

For writers and filmmakers today, this study has a sobering takeaway: networking and making friends in the industry can be just as important, if not more so, than just grinding away in solitude on your next masterpiece. It shows that having a diverse group of friends and contacts can open up all kinds of opportunities and maybe even spark some creative ideas along the way.

And yes fame is NOT the metric we might want to focus on, but you could just as well argue it’s reputation.

The study also highlighted artists like Vanessa Bell and Suzanne Duchamp, who had famous siblings and were part of influential art groups. Despite their talents, Bell got more recognition, likely because she had a wider social circle that included a bunch of different creative folks, not just her immediate Dadaist or Bloomsbury group buddies.

So, the lesson here? Don’t just stick to your niche. Branch out, meet new people from different walks of life, and expand your creative horizons. It could be your golden ticket in today’s interconnected world, just as it was for artists a century ago. Networking isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a crucial part of the creative process and building a name for yourself.

Chris Jones
Filmmaker, Author and Firewalk Instructor
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What am I doing now?
Directing splinter unit on Mission: Impossible 8
Exec producing The Enfield Poltergeist

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