You want fame? Well, fame costs, but forget about sweat

Do you remember that famous scene, repeated during the opening montage of each episode of the TV series Fame, where dance teacher Lydia Grant tells her students:

“You’ve got big dreams? You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying … in sweat.”

I have repeated that sentence many times, in different contexts. It sounds really good. And now (again) it seems it is not exactly sweat what you have to put in to excel in your art, and eventually become famous.

In “Fame as an Illusion of Creativity: Evidence from the Pioneers of Abstract Art,” Paul Ingram and Mitali Banerjee examine the link between fame, creativity, and social networks, concluding that social networks are actually a more reliable predictor of fame(1).

And no, it is not because of Facebook or Twitter. They study 90 pioneers of the early 20th century (1910–25) abstract art movement.

Peer Network of 90 Early 20th Century Abstract Artists

Their results demonstrate that social structure shapes a producer’s fame independent of her creativity. Those artists with more diverse contacts were ultimately seen by virtue of their cosmopolitan peer groups as possessing more creative identities and, as a result of this perception, achieved greater fame.

Vanessa Bell (The Tug) vs. Suzanne Duchamp (Brooklyn Bridge): Which one is more creative?

we go beyond prior work by building a social structural theory of fame, whereby social structure shapes a producer’s fame through three channels – creativity, others perception of her (her creative identity) and access to promotional opportunities.

If you think twice, it makes a lot of sense. Creativity is to a large extent, arbitrary, especially if we are talking about creativity in art. And the truth is that the world, in general, disapproves of creativity. Therefore, you need a lot of support to sell your creativity.

At the same time that we desire creativity, we also fear it. This widespread bias then acts as a “concealed barrier” that innovators must be prepared to confront when attempting to gain acceptance for novel ideas.

(The Bias Against Creativity)

It is only afterward that a new idea seems reasonable. To begin with, it usually seems unreasonable. It seems the height of unreason to suppose the earth was round instead of flat, or that it moved instead of the sun, or that objects required a force to stop them when in motion, instead of a force to keep them moving, and so on. A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.

Isaac Asimov “How Do People Get New Ideas?”

In “The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success”, Albert-Laszlo Barabasi says the secret to getting ahead is to build a strong network. Networks matter a lot in fields where there’s no agreed-upon standard of excellence. That’s the case of art. And to achieve success in the future, you need to have had success in the past. Which, of course, is impossible out of the blue. In other words creativity is in the eye of… your support network.

All this may sound pretty depressing. It is indeed if you have an idealised vision of creativity. Let’s face it: sweat was too easy to be true…

Are you convinced yet? Then, please, read this: Take it from a career headhunter: Networking is a waste of time.


(1) Mitali, Banerjee, and Paul L. Ingram. Fame as an Illusion of Creativity: Evidence from the Pioneers of Abstract Art. SSRN Scholarly Paper, ID 3258318, Social Science Research Network, 1 Aug. 2018.,

Featured Image: Hst Oil On Canvas Suzanne Duchamp Painting Table


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.