"Now let us look at the striking Bull's Head by Pablo Picasso (fig. 2), which seems to consist of nothing but the seat and handlebars of an old bicycle. ... Of course, the materials Picasso used are fabricated, but it would be absurd to insist that he must share the credit with the manufacturer, since the seat and handlebars in themselves are not works of art.
"While we feel a certain jolt when we first recognize the ingredients of this visual pun, we also sense that it was a stroke of genius to put them together in this unique way, and we cannot very well deny that it is a work of art."
Okay, I like it, it's cute, but the thought that occurred to me in art history class in 1979 was this: "Why does everybody assume this was 'unique?'"
I would guess that more than a few people preceded Picasso in connecting handlebars and seat to imitate a bull's head. It's the kind of thing my dad came up with every year or two while puttering around in the garage. Maybe he got the idea of assembling two things to look like an animal from Picasso, but I really doubt it. I suspect lots of folks' dads came up with a bicycle seat and handlebars Bull's Head before Picasso did.
If somebody came up with proof that, say, a Bulgarian bicycle repairman created basically the same thing in 1927, would that render Picasso's 1943 version valueless? Would Janson take out Picasso's Bulls Head and put in a picture of the repairman's Bull's Head as the exemplification of artistic creativity?
On the other hand, that Picasso from Spain, the land of bullfighting, an artistic genius obsessed with masculine vitality, who had prominently painted a bull's head a few years before in his famous Guernica, one day looked at some junk from an old bicycle and realized that he could create from two everyday objects a bull's head ... now that's a story! It's easy to riff off that because so much is known about Picasso, unlike that poor Bulgarian bastard.
What people are really interested in are personalities. But not too many personalities or the thread of the story gets lost. We pay attention to familiar personalities. Thus, Britney Spears going to Starbucks is the kind of story that interests millions. Granted, it's kind of a boring story ... except that it's about Britney Spears! Similarly, Picasso noticing that two pieces of junk make a bull's head has been taught to millions of college students as the epitome of artistic "creativity," a "unique" "stroke of genius."
What this means is that there's a high degree of path dependency and thus contingency in terms of who is famous. Those who grab the brass ring of fame, whether Britney or Pablo, tend to stay famous.
Thus, Andy Warhol has been famous for 40 years for saying, "In the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes." That Andy got the future backwards -- celebrity is much more enduring these days than in 1968 -- is not the point. The point is that he got famous, so he's going to stay famous. That's how it works.