Influence is a strange and powerful thing in 2015. As it’s become one of our foremost cultural ideals, it now functions as something of a protective shield against critique. While criticism continues to evolve towards an approach that considers a work’s sociocultural impact alongside its perceived artistry, influence has become inherently valuable in its own right—regardless of what that influence actually entails, more is self-evidently better. So artists of great influence feel increasingly immune to criticism on moral or aesthetic terms; in the same way that clickbait almost always commands the most traffic, being “influential” tends to wield far more power than being “good.” Whether this is democratic or soul-crushing depends on where you’re standing.
One recent example of influence as the ultimate 21st century ideal involved the art world clamoring over Kim Kardashian’s selfie anthology with a fervency that often rang fake-deep. Thing is, there’s no need to paint Kim as an artistic genius to acknowledge her very real cultural contributions. The past decade has seen a slow, begrudging acceptance of Kim as more than a sexual object or harbinger of the death of culture, but instead, as someone who is savvy, self-starting, and able to direct the collective dialogue—someone who just gets it, whatever “it” may be. Uncoincidentally, that shift lines up with the rise of social media and our expanding obsession with DIY networking, branding, and self-actualization.