Working Papers

Who Becomes Famous Among Creative Pioneers? A Large Scale Empirical Study of the Relationship Between Novelty and Fame Across Time and Space, with Daniel Kaplan

In this study, we undertake a large scale analysis of the relationship between an innovator’s fame and her creativity. We focus on a specific dimension of creativity – the novelty of an innovator’s creative output. Our sample includes 82 pioneers of early 20th century modern art. Using advances in image recognition techniques, we create a computational measure of novelty of over 7000 paintings of these artists.   These measures, in conjunction with the Google nGram corpus, allow us to examine the relationship between the novelty and fame of these artists over 95 years and five languages. Focusing on fame at the level of the artist, rather than the work, we develop a theory that allows us to hypothesize the relationships between an artist’s fame and the creative production over the course of a career. We find that over 95 years and five languages, artists with greater average novelty in their paintings are less likely to be famous. In addition, we find that an artist with higher peak novelty is more likely to be famous, and an artist with greater variability in novelty is more likely to be famous. One key implication of this result is that innovators recognized as pioneers of paradigmatic shifts in a culture are likely to be more conventional rather than novel. These results form a uniquely comprehensive picture of the relationship between fame and novelty over time, and provide a comprehensive framework for further research. Our methods and framework can be applied to understand the relationship between novelty and fame in a broad range of settings such as science, music and start-ups.


Fame as an Illusion of Creativity: Evidence from the Pioneers of Abstract Art, with Paul Ingram

We build a social structural model of fame, which departs from the atomistic view of prior literature where creativity is the sole driver of fame in creative markets. We test the model in a significant empirical context: 90 pioneers of the early 20th century (1910–25) abstract art movement. We find that an artist in a brokerage rather than a closure position was likely to become more famous.  This effect was not, however, associated with the artist’s creativity, which we measured using both objective computational methods and subjective expert evaluations, and which was not itself related to fame.  Rather than creativity, brokerage networks were associated with cosmopolitan identities—broker’s alters were likely to differ more from each other’snationalities–and this was the key social-structural driver of fame.


Recognition and Fame: How Peer Endorsements Influence Artistic Innovators’ Fame, with Damon Phillips

In this study we examine how a producer’s recognition among her peers relates to her fame. Using a unique data set on jazz musicians spanning 1910-60, we disaggregate a producer’s peers across two dimensions of social distance – expertise and formal collaboration. We find that a producer who is more socially proximate to her peer evaluators (the ones who bestow their recognition on her) in the expertise dimension is likely to experience a decline in fame, whereas a producer who is more socially distant from her peer evaluators in the formal collaboration dimension is likely to experience an increase in fame. Further analysis reveals that a producer who is socially distant from her peers evaluators is more likely to receive votes from the public as well as critics. We argue that producer who are more socially distant from their peer evaluators are more likely to create output that appeals to a diverse tastes. As such they are likely to be famous. Our results clarify the ambiguous relationship between two key forms of social capital – peer recognition and fame. They also illuminate, why talented innovators respected by their peers, might remain obscure.