“Is it true that you only become famous after you die???”

One of my 10-year-old art students recently asked a question in class the other day, “Is it true that you only become famous after you die???”

To be quite honest, I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that question. As I was trying to think of a sincere answer, my thoughts were interrupted by another young student who innocently added, “Yeah…I heard that you’re only famous if your artwork is really, really old…”

(Ahem)…where in the world do kids learn these things???

The idea that artists are ‘ahead of their time’ and not fully recognized or appreciated for their art during their era, until much later after their death — for instance, ‘posthumously’ famous artists such as, Vincent Van Gogh and Emily Dickinson — is one that is widely accepted.

(However, this idea is debatable – and a whole-nother story – because the definition of fame and success have very different meanings from one artist to another. Not all artists create art for the sake of being famous. Also, many great artists’ talents have been and are recognized and appreciated while still alive…just like my young, beautiful, and wonderfully talented art students!)

This brings us to my latest obsession, the late (posthumously famous) photographer, VIVIAN MAIER (February 1, 1926 – April 21, 2009). As we approach the 2nd anniversary of her passing, it is just absolutely astonishing how her images have almost instantly revealed a culture from the past – more like a time machine, if you will – and one that the world will learn from in the days, months, and years to come.

(Alright, so let me back up)…I don’t know if any of you have been following the story of Vivian Marier, but the more it unfolds, the more intrigued I am.

FIRST, let’s talk about photography (I’m kind of working backwards, here, so please bear with me). The fascinating thing about capturing images, is that you get a glimpse of what the person behind the lens is viewing. It’s how they interpret the world as they see it.

Now, I’m not talking about specific assignments that professional photographers are hired for, and I’m not talking about a project that was assigned to you as homework in Beginning Photography 101. I’m talking about raw, candid shots. Shooting from the hip. Street photography. Urban photography. Whatever you want to call it.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT AN IMAGE, ask yourself:

What was it that motivated the photographer behind the lens to take that shot?

Is there a compelling story on the other side of the lens?

Perhaps the lighting had casted the perfect hue on the subject…

Or maybe the objects presented a strong composition in relation to each other…

It might have simply been the quirky expression on a child’s face or the crow’s feet extending from the sparkling eyes of an eldery person.

“Okay, so what’s your point?” you ask?

Most artists have an opportunity to express what their intent is. Reading an Artist’s Statement along with their work is the norm. It invites the viewers into their world in a compelling way, explaining the style of their work, or perhaps, the intent or message of the series of artwork that they are featuring.

Then we have the late Vivian Maier. Not a world-renowned artist (at least not, yet). Just a nanny. No artist statement. No nothing.

Except for the astounding images, of course. Oh, and the mystery audio tapes and documentaries captured on endless reels of film.

No one knew who Ms. Maier was until the random bulk of prints, negatives, and undeveloped rolls of film was acquired at an antique auction by historian, John Maloof, in 2007.

Since then, the story of her mysterious past have been unraveling before our eyes. Hundreds of thousands (literally) of negatives and rolls of film have been carefully dodged and burned onto photo paper. As each print is currently being rustled through, we are slowly starting to learn about this amazingly gifted artist.

As an educator and art lover, I am very excited and very thankful that John Maloof and Jeff Goldstein and their amazing network of support have decided to share this process of this project with the rest of the world. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU…

This is ART HISTORY, people. It is unfolding in front of our eyes, and WE are part of it. This is the moment to appreciate the unveiling of a great artist — the Emily Dickinson and Vincent van Gogh of photography, the hidden world of VIVIAN MAIER.

2013 UPDATE! ‘FINDING VIVIAN MAIER’ HAS BEEN SELECTED BY THE TORONTO INT’L FILM FESTIVAL FOR ITS WORLD PREMIERE IN SEPT 2013:

HOW DO YOU THINK THE DISCOVERY OF THIS ARTIST WILL INFLUENCE SOCIETY IN THE YEARS TO COME? ANY THOUGHTS? FEEL FREE TO SHARE BELOW!

To learn more about this fascinating project, please visit the official site of Vivian Maier.

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