There were two major influences during this time period that greatly affected the European world – the changes in the Church and the changes in the economy. The Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter Reformation both made significant impacts on how people lived their lives. In addition, the changing economic climate of Europe was creating a merchant / middle class. People began to have discretionary income that had never had it before.
The Catholic Church had previously been the major source of commissions for an artist. An artist didn’t create works, hang them in a gallery and have someone come by and purchase it. For the most part, they created works based on a commission – and commissions came from a very limited number of sources. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods this began to change – artists began to have a larger audience and commission base.
A number of economic rules come into play now - supply and demand, branding, and marketing to name a few. Now that artistic works were sought by greater numbers of people there was a greater demand, but due to the Humanistic movement people where now a little more discerning – as always people want quality for their hard earned money – but then, who wants a Kia when you can have Mercedes?
I do believe that we have art stars today – probably more so than we did during the Renaissance. Of course, we have better marketing and branding research than they did. We also have more academic institutions, museums, and discretionary income. If we didn’t have “art stars” I don’t think you would get $40 million for a Rothko or a Pollock and only spend a few hundred thousand on other artists who were equally or more talented. I personally would consider Andrew Wyeth an “art star” of today and perhaps Annie Lebowitz , Andy Warhol, or Judy Chicago.