Other examples are Amy Winehouse or Tupac Shakur and their stories show how it basically works: The death of a famous person creates a lot of media coverage which is like a huge advertisement which then leads to more records sold. Of course there are also artists who weren’t famous at all while they were living and only reached fame long after they died. There’s a number of painters who barely sold a painting in their lifetime but now their artworks sell for millions. And then there are artists who don’t get famous after their death but trough their death. The English playwright Sarah Kane is a disturbing example of this. Her play weren’t wildly recognized until she committed suicide at the age of 28 which became her breakthrough. All of a sudden people realized that maybe she had something to say. We seem to expect that a true artist has to suffer which is why suffering can become a way of proofing you’re an artist.
What is it all about? Is only a dead artist a good artist? Once I talked with an unsuccessful musician and after it was late at night and we had a lot of wine he admitted that he always indulges in this fantasy: After his funeral they clean up his apartment and someone discovers all his tapes with his compositions no one ever listened to. And now that he as a living person is out of the way people finally open themselves to his artistic vision and really start to appreciate what he’s done. Later I found out that this fantasy is not uncommon among artists. So here we have yet another case. In this example dying is not so much about getting attention or proofing you suffer enough to be a true artist. It’s more about solving a conflicting roles. To be a citizen and an artist are conflicting roles and as long as you’re alive people will always try to push you into the role of the citizen. One way of doing this is not recognizing your role as an artist. Jesus famously sais in the Bible "a prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home." Maybe this applies for artists too if you replace “his own town and his own home” by “his own life and his own time”. Circling back to the example of Michael Jackson I do believe the artists persona can get in the way of appreciating his artwork – which might be yet another reason why death can be disturbingly an important step in the career of an artist.