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One-Hit Wonder Artists (PHOTOS)

First Posted: 08/23/11 04:37 AM ET   Updated: 10/22/11 06:12 AM ET

One-hit wonders are much rarer in the art world than they are in music. It seems like every week there's a new single by someone you've never heard of, but artists can often parlay one early hit into a productive career.

In the slideshow below, we present some of our favorite one-hit wonder artists, artists who are disproportionately well-known for one work of art which we show followed by a lesser-known work of the same artist.

Much of our inspiration was drawn from David Galenson's fascinating paper, "One Hit Wonders: Why Some of the Most Important Works of Modern Art are Not by Important Artists," published in the National Bureau of Economic Research, November 2004. Galenson compared one-hit wonder artists to their more prominent contemporaries, noting artists whose fame (at least from the perspective of art history books) rests disproportionately on a single work.

Of course, just because these artists are labeled one-hit wonders doesn't necessarily mean that the rest of their output was sub-par. Some of the artists, like Paul Sérusier and Grant Wood, were cult favorites but only had one work earn a place in popular art history. A one-hit wonder artist may not be art's Billy Ray Cyrus, in other words, but more like art's The Cars.

Looking at these artists' "hits" juxtaposed with their less famous work can be puzzling. Why did the art world see the potential in this one but not that one? Do popular favorites match up with the artists' own favorite work? And why are so many of these images at the Art Institute of Chicago? Give your interpretations and suggest more one-hit wonder artists in the comments below.

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Grant Wood - American Gothic
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Filed by Travis Korte  |