Matthew Davies Looks at Why Artists Don’t Become Famous Until After Death

Matthew Davies Looks at Why Artists Don’t Become Famous Until After Death


How many times have you heard this quote, ‘An artist is only appreciated after he is dead’? Numerous times I reckon. According to Matthew Davies, the notion that an artist has to die to get famous is a myth. In fact, there are countless popular artists throughout the world that are alive and well. Still, it can be debated that there have been many artists that didn’t gain the popularity they deserved while they were alive or that their artworks got more recognition after they died. Let’s look at the reasons why this happened:

The Reasons

  1. Their works become limited edition – When an artist is still alive, they can continue to create new pieces whenever they desire to do so. However, when they die, their work becomes a limited edition. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that limited edition products that have a set quantity will generally sell for more than products that can be easily available at a later date. Simply, because more people will bid for the same number of artworks. Plus, there is also a different kind of sentiment associated with such artworks.

However, the real worth of the artwork will depend not only based on the supply vs demand math but their value as well. So, if the artworks are not any good, their prices may not increase even after the death of the artist.

When the price of artworks created by an artist suddenly increases or gradually grows with time, it catches the interest of people who truly appreciate art. This spreads the awareness about the art pieces created by such artists.

  1. Interests change with the era – There have been many artists who were popular during their time, slowly fell out of popularity and then rose to fame again. One such example is Piero Della Francesca who was popular when he was alive but lost popularity for a few hundred years. Then, in the 20th Century, he was elevated to the upper echelon of Renaissance painters.

Similarly, many genre artists don’t get fame because of the type of art they produce during their time. However, later in their life many years later or in a different era, after they die, their works are appreciated because it matches with the mentality of that generation.

This is evident if you look at the history of sophisticated tourist souvenirs or postcards created by Japanese Woodblock printmakers. The Impressionists in Europe were deeply influenced by their approach to using color and framing scenes.

  1. There was no standard to judge their work – The value of artworks is generally judged by art historians, curators, and art critics but these professions have emerged not too long ago. In the modern era, thousands of people are properly educated and know what to look for in an artwork. Thus, they are able to find interesting patterns and concepts embedded in the artworks of a few genius artists, something which is unique to them and cannot be replicated exactly by other artists. This creates a new appreciation for these artists which they didn’t enjoy when they were alive a long time ago.


When we think of a great artist, the name of Vincent Van Gogh pops into our minds. While he was alive, he didn’t gain any fame or recognition for his famous artworks. However, in the modern era, the painting created by this master painter is valued at millions. This is the reason why most people believe this myth to be true. Matthew Davies believes that a good artist will definitely gain recognition in the modern era because now, we have studied history and know how to recognize good art.

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