These artists not only make a living, they defy all that your parents and Guidance Counselors might have told you about a career in Art.

Damien Hirst

Photograph for TIME, by Pal Hansen

When you think of Damien Hirst, the first thing that might come to mind is, formaldehyde. This leading member of the Young British Artists is famous for his piece, The impossibility of death in the mind of someone living, A shark carcass, suspended in a glass tank of formaldehyde. The work was commissioned by Saatchi Gallery for $95,000 in 1991.  It was then sold in 2004 for a reported $12 million. Hirst works with a team of assistants to bring his artistic vision to life.

“The impossibility of death in the mind of someone living”

Later works include a human skull encrusted with  8,601 diamonds entitled For the love of God. The cost to produce the work was between $10-15 million and sold to an investor group that included Hirst, for $100 million.

Hirst posing with his work, “For the love of God” courtesy

Recently, Hirst has focused his attention on sculptures of mythical creatures, such as winged-horses and unicorns.

Damien Hirsts’ latest work,  mythical creatures

Hirst might just be the highest paid artist in history. His net worth is now over $500 million dollars. Damien Hirst is no stranger to controversy, but he owns a huge chunk of the contemporary art world.

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons
Jeff Koons, courtesy

Jeff Koons is a larger-than-life art star, in the vein of Any Warhol. And much like Warhol, he employs over a 120 artists who work in a meticulously-run production studio. Koons is most famous for his gigantic stainless steel sculptures of balloon animals. In 1988, Koons put out four life-sized sculptures painted in gold leaf of Michael Jackson and his chimp, Bubbles. In 2001, one of the sculptures sold for $5.6 millon. In 2007, his work, Hanging Heart,  sold for $23.6 million at Sothebys and set a record for the most expensive piece of art sold at auction by a living artist. Koons is an avid student of art history and sees his work in the pantheon of great artists before him. Kitsch or not, Koons has arguably made an indelible imprint on modern culture.

Jeff Koons Ballon Dog, c/o
Jeff Koons,  Michael Jackson and Bubbles
Jeff Koons,  Hanging Heart

Takashi Murakami




Arguably, the most well-branded artist in the world. He coined the term Superflat  to describe his work which is inspired by Japanese Anime and Manga. Murakami also employs a team of artists with studios in Toyko, Long Island City and Queens.  More than likely, you’ve seen his work. He designed the Kanye West bear, his work has been featured on Louis Vuitton bags and he collaborated with hip hop mogul, Pharell Williams, to create The Simple Things that sold for a cool $2 million dollars.

"The Simple Things" Image courtesy of BFLV, July 3, 2012, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution
“The Simple Things” Image courtesy of BFLV, July 3, 2012, via Flickr, Creative Commons Attribution


No wonder Murakami was named Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in 2008. In 2010,  he was the third contemporary artist to exhibit at the prestigious, Versailles. His work filled 15 rooms and the park outside. He is also a savvy merchandiser. His work appears on a variety of paraphernalia; T-shirts, skate boards, lamps and wallpaper, to name a few.

Anish Kapoor

Photo Credit: Wikipedia
Photo Credit: Wikipedia

A turner prize-winning minimalist sculptor who is known for his reflective sculptures that seem to distort the space around them. In 2008, Kapoor made  $27 million, boosting his total net profit from his art to $62.7 million. One of his most famous sculptures, Cloud Gate  also nicknamed The Bean, is the centerpiece of the AT&T Plaza in Millennium Park in Chicago, Illinois. It was constructed from 2004 to 2006 and cost $23 million.

Cloud Gate Creative Commons
Cloud Gate Creative Commons

Anish Kapoor has had solo exhibitions of his work at Guggenheim Museum in New York, The Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Kunsthalle Basel, Reina Sofia in Madrid and CAPC in Bordeaux. His latest work, Moumenta 2011: Leviathan, is a giant 115 foot  red balloon made of three linked spheres. It took two years to engineer and fills more than half of the Grand Palais in Paris, France. Visitors can enter the monochrome red structure through revolving doors. Kapoor hopes they will have a poetic experience. The work was dedicated to imprisoned  Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei. Anish Kapoor’s majestic sculptures are social objects that bring people together to see the world from a different lens.

Leviathan from the outside
Leviathan from the outside
Leviathan: Interior
Leviathan: Interior



Jasper Johns

Widely known for his paintings of  popular iconography such as targets, flags, maps and numbers, the 81 year old painter has maintained a successful career since the 1950’s. In 1998, the Museum of Modern art paid an estimated $20 million for his White Flag painting. In 2006, Johns sold False Start to private collectors for $80 million dollars, making it the most expensive painting sold by any living artist.

Jasper Johns, False Start

Johns’ work is largely experimental and process-oriented. He explains,  “My experience of life is that it’s very fragmented; certain kinds of things happen, and in another place, a different kind of thing occurs,” he adds, “I would like my work to have some vivid indication of those differences.”

In early 2011, Jasper Johns was the first studio artist in 34 years to receive the presidential medal of freedom.

Brice Marden

Brice Marden

A graduate of the Yale School of Art and Architecture, Brice Marden has been described as  “the most profound abstract painter of the past four decades”, by The New  Yorker. He first exhibited his work in 1966 and has been steadily selling work since then. Known for his minimalist style early on, Marden later  graduated to gestural abstraction in the 1980s. The paintings start out as drawings made with sticks. In 2008, Marden’s painting, Cold Mountain 1(Path), one of a series of paintings inspired by a Chinese Tang Dynasty Poet, sold for $9,602,500  at a Sotheby’s auction.

Brice Marden, Cold Mountain 1

from October 2006 to January 2007, he had a retrospective of his paintings and drawings at the Museum of Modern Art. His visit to China in 2006 sparked inspiration for his latest works on paper that were exhibited at the Matthew Marks Gallery in 2010. Brice Marden is an evolving artist who is not afraid to explore and and change his signature. Perhaps, this is why his work is still selling after four decades.