Medias Res

Explore the social networks of artists

About this site

In medias res is Latin for “in the middle of things” and is used to describe a story that picks up somewhere in between the beginning and the end of the narrative arc. This site is meant to illustrate that great artists often emerge out of preexisting movements or influences before going on to change culture and, in turn, influence future artists.

I first became interested in the social networks of artists after discovering the online interactive for MoMA’s 2012 exhibition Inventing Abstraction 1910-1925. As outsiders, we tend to experience these cultural epochs through a handful of figureheads, when infact their emergence is often the culmination of the contributions of many individuals over many years.

In order to explore this topic more deeply, I set out to analyze artists’ networks across as many individuals as possible, considering not only the linked inviduals but also how the nature of the link may have changed their practice.

Networks and innovation

In his book Why Information Grows (2015), César Hidalgo credits strong social networks bound by geography with the sustained success and proliferation of innovation. If these networks were essential to the success of industries like automobiles and technology, we could reason that artists can benefit from the same forces.

To fight our individual limitations we need to collaborate.

— César Hidalgo in Why Information Grows

While there are certainly many examples of secluded people producing amazing art, a strong social network has the potential to greatly augment an artist’s career. Would Picasso have become so ubiquitous had he not embedded himself in Gertrude Stein’s salon?

On the otherhand, concepts like “Coase’s Penguin” attribute network effects with motivating production and innovation through jealousy.

Negative space

While it is fascinating to traverse this site and discover connections, it’s hard not to think about those who did not benefit from the network effect. What’s missing can often be more illustrating than what is present. Some organizations are attempting to remedy these historical blindspots. For instance, in 2016 The Denver Art Museum curated the exhibition Women of Abstract Expressionism.

About the data

The information on this site is drawn from the Getty Research Institute. This site is not associated with the Getty Research Institute.

About the author

This site was created and developed by Jay Mollica, you can learn more about his work at jaymollica.com.

Medias Res