Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Contemporary Art

First Advisor

Elizabeth Pergam

Second Advisor

Aliza Shvarts


The frequent reappearance of artistic celebrity imagery and portraits is something to which I have paid particular attention in the last five years of having studied art and art history, and from having worked intimately with contemporary works of art in the commercial art sector. The artist who I was particularly taken with who has for years been relying on found images of celebrities as source material for his art is Sam McKinniss, and my fascination with him is what led me to pursue this study. Observing the trajectory of McKinniss’ career, as well as having interest in depicting the images of celebrities in my own artistic endeavors brought me to the question of whether artworks featuring celebrities is something which has had a consistent timeline over the history of contemporary art, or whether such subject matter has had particular momentums. Documenting and analyzing a historical survey of how artists have captured the likenesses of celebrities over the course of contemporary art led me to discover that artists have for decades been influencing the next generations to paint celebrities. With movements such as fashion photography carrying influence into Pop Art, and both movements having ties to the high society portrait of the early twentieth century, celebrity imagery is something that has been highly saturated and become even more so with the introduction of the Internet and Social Media. The depiction of celebrities in works of art have followed parallel trends with the way that the public have treated celebrities for centuries, with reportages in the press and the rise of the paparazzi and tabloid media causing celebrities to become central to the day to day lives of many people around the world.