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This Art Map Will Startle You

Which artists would you guess are searched for most often in the U.S.? What if that data were broken down by state, so we could see which artist Georgians are looking for versus which one by New Yorkers? It might be enlightening–nowadays, museums might even use it to choose their exhibitions, given all the emphasis on listening to their communities.

Maybe this map which change their minds. Granted, it has one big flaw–it’s an infographic of searches on eBay by its customers, who may not be representative of a museum’s “community.” On the other hand, I doubt that museums are taking statistically sound surveys when they say they want to listen to their communities. Certainly, crowdsourced exhibitions are not representational from a statistically sound point of view.

In any case, this map tells a cautionary tale.


Maybe the Newark Museum will now want to present a Picasso show, but will the Portland Art Museum start mounting exhibits that feature the likes of Emek?It’s nice to see interest in Mary Cassatt in Kentucky, but I find it disappointing that with all the wonderful art owned by museums in Massachusetts Norman Rockwell is what residents want to see. And I had to look several names on the map, being unfamiliar with them.

Yes, there are many holes in what I just wrote–just as there are many, many holes in the argument for asking residents of a community what they want to see. Curators should do most of the deciding, imho.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of eBay 


  1. Charles Desmarais says

    I suspect that the sample is very small (Gentileschi?). And eBay may be a place to look for a poster. Looking at that might be one good way to gauge audience interest in decor, but it’s not necessarily an indicator of the breadth of art history knowledge or interest. What does analysis of Google say?

    • I agree, Charles — that’s about what I said in my last paragraph. But the same might be said of crowdsourcing in general. As for Google, I’ve not seen a graphic like this but would be happy to post it if someone does find one.

  2. I know the map is not of your making, Judith, but V. C. Andrews in Ohio??? Sure, almost anything goes in the art world these days, but have trashy, best-selling posthumous novels become the performance art of the moment?

  3. Artemisia Gentileschi’s marvelous “Judith and her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes” is one of the beloved treasures of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I had expected Diego Rivera to be the artist who captured the greatest focus of Michiganders.

  4. Jim McCaffery says

    The reason we need curators is that people think they want to see what they’ve already seen, while what they really want is the memory of discovering what they haven’t seen before, a desire they can only express in terms of past discoveries, hence the conservatism of polls, computerized Amazon recommendations, Hollywood executives, commercial radio programmers, etc.

  5. Emek lives in Portland, Oregon and has had good press on the Oregon Art Beat TV show here. He also seems a pretty good fit for Portland’s current arts culture, so no great surprise there. What I find most interesting are the states that didn’t meet whatever the minimum quantity of searches are to get an artist listed at all.

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