For the purpose of this list, artistic greatness is defined as possessing a variety of attributes and experiments that add up to artistic eminence. These include unique processes, prestigious awards won, books written, classes taught, films, museum collections, and high-profile clients, to name but a few. It is difficult to rank artists based on the perceived quality of their work, so instead, this list is ranked by the overall length of their resume.
1. Annie Leibovitz
Anna-Lou “Annie” Leibovitz is an American portrait photographer. She photographed John Lennon on the day he was assassinated, and her work has been used on numerous album covers and magazines. She became the first woman to hold an exhibition at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery in 1991. Inspired by photographers such as Robert Frank and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Leibovitz began her career as chief photographer at Rolling Stone magazine in 1973, a position she held for ten years before branching out on a solo career. Her work quickly became known for the intimate moments she seemed to capture with subjects she says “open their hearts and souls and lives to you.” Over the years, Leibovitz has photographed the Rolling Stones, John Lennon, Queen Elizabeth II, Miley Cyrus, Demi Moore, Dolly Parton, and so many more.
2. Kathryn Bigelow
Kathryn Ann Bigelow is an American director, producer, and writer. Covering a wide range of genres, her films include Near Dark, Point Break, Strange Days, K-19: The Widowmaker, The Hurt Locker, Zero Dark Thirty, and Detroit. Over the years, Bigelow has become known for the flawless and feminine imagery brought to gritty films such as The Hurt Locker and Zero Dark Thirty. In fact, Bigelow became the first woman to ever win the Academy Award for Best Director with 2009‘s The Hurt Locker (she also won the Directors Guild of America Award for Direction, the Critics Choice Award for Best Director, and the BAFTA Award for Best Direction).
3. Vivienne Westwood
Vivienne Isabel Westwood DBE RDI is a British fashion designer and businesswoman, largely responsible for bringing modern punk and new wave fashions into the mainstream. Westwood came to public notice when she made clothes for Malcolm McLaren’s boutique in the King’s Road, which became known as “SEX”. Since then, she has opened a number of her own stores and become the go-to designer for companies and private clients. Marion Cotillard, Duchess Camilla of Cornwall, Gwen Stefani, and Pharrell Williams are just a handful of the many notable figures to frequent Westwood. Not surprisingly, Westwood has served as the major influence for a number of up-and-coming designers throughout her long career.
4. Yayoi Kusama
Artist and Writer
It is impossible to pin Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama into one single artistic category. Throughout her long career, Kusama has worked in painting, collage, scat sculpture, performance art, and environmental installations. In fact, Kusama dealt with pop art, minimalism, and feminist art movements before they were popular, making her an influence on contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Even more impressively, Kusama is also a published novelist and poet and has even created notable work in film and fashion design. In 2008, Christie’s New York sold a Kusama piece for a record $5.1 million, and in 2015 Artsy named her as one of the Top 10 Living Artists.
5. Eunice Golden
A one-time psychology student, Eunice Golden is now a well-known figurative expressionist who explores sexuality and the women’s liberation movement. Golden produced much of her most iconic work in the 1960s and 1970s, during which time she was one of many artists actively fighting censorship in the art world. Her revolutionary series “Male Landscapes” was highly controversial, but created a buzz among art historians that still exists today. In the 1990s, Golden’s work evolved into a study of the relationship between mother and child — a theme brought on by the untimely death of her son. Golden’s work is still included in various exhibitions depicting the political side of women’s art.