Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity

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Overview

"[A] really wonderful book. . . . There's something important to be learned about the way our minds work by entertaining the notion that there are two very different styles of creativity, the Picasso and the Cézanne."—Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

"Beautifully written, well argued, and an exciting read, Old Masters and Young Geniuses is a strikingly novel interpretation of the creative process by a leading scholar in the economics of the arts. It realizes the exceedingly rare accomplishment of providing a fresh way of looking at the careers of the greatest artists of Western civilization."—William N. Goetzmann, documentary filmmaker, coauthor of The West of the Imagination, Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance, Yale School of Management

"A very well written and intellectually stimulating piece of scholarship that deserves to be widely read and debated."—Dean Keith Simonton, author of Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis

"This extremely lucid, logical book is very much a voyage of discovery, exploring different ways of extending the author's theory of the two polar types of creative behavior to all forms of artistic and intellectual activity. As with all truly original work, it will be controversial."—Robert Jensen, author of Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Sicle Europe, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Kentucky

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Editorial Reviews

New Yorker - Malcolm Gladwell
Galenson's idea that creativity can be divided into these types—conceptual and experimental—has a number of important implications.
The New York Times - David Leonhardt
David Galenson has developed something approaching a unified theory of art . . . [that] does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world's great paintings. . . . While Mr. Galenson has been studying the art world over the last five years, all sorts of other fields have been engaged in their own debate about judgment versus rules. . . . When the traditionalists in these fields describe their skepticism of statistics, they sometimes make the argument that their craft is as much art as it is science. That's a nice line, but the next time you hear it, think back to Mr. Galenson's work. Even art, it turns out, has a good bit of science to it.
Wired - Daniel Pink
After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?
From the Publisher
"Galenson's idea that creativity can be divided into these types—conceptual and experimental—has a number of important implications."—Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker

"David Galenson has developed something approaching a unified theory of art . . . [that] does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world's great paintings. . . . While Mr. Galenson has been studying the art world over the last five years, all sorts of other fields have been engaged in their own debate about judgment versus rules. . . . When the traditionalists in these fields describe their skepticism of statistics, they sometimes make the argument that their craft is as much art as it is science. That's a nice line, but the next time you hear it, think back to Mr. Galenson's work. Even art, it turns out, has a good bit of science to it."—David Leonhardt, The New York Times

"After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?"—Daniel Pink, Wired

"An intriguing book."—The Age (Sunday Edition)

New Yorker
Galenson's idea that creativity can be divided into these types—conceptual and experimental—has a number of important implications.
— Malcolm Gladwell
Wired
After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?
— Daniel Pink
The New York Times
David Galenson has developed something approaching a unified theory of art . . . [that] does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world's great paintings. . . . While Mr. Galenson has been studying the art world over the last five years, all sorts of other fields have been engaged in their own debate about judgment versus rules. . . . When the traditionalists in these fields describe their skepticism of statistics, they sometimes make the argument that their craft is as much art as it is science. That's a nice line, but the next time you hear it, think back to Mr. Galenson's work. Even art, it turns out, has a good bit of science to it.
— David Leonhardt
The Age
An intriguing book.
Wired
After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?
— Daniel Pink
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691133805
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/12/2007
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

David W. Galenson is a professor in the Department of Economics and the College at the University of Chicago, and a research associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. He is the author of several books, including "Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art".

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Read an Excerpt

Old Masters and Young Geniuses

The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity
By David W. Galenson

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-12109-3


Chapter One

THEORY

EXPERIMENTAL AND CONCEPTUAL INNOVATORS

Does creation reside in the idea or in the action? Alan Bowness, 1972

There have been two very different types of artist in the modern era. These two types are distinguished not by their importance, for both are prominently represented among the greatest artists of the era. They are distinguished instead by the methods by which they arrive at their major contributions. In each case their method results from a specific conception of artistic goals, and each method is associated with specific practices in creating art. I call one of these methods aesthetically motivated experimentation, and the other conceptual execution.

Artists who have produced experimental innovations have been motivated by aesthetic criteria: they have aimed at presenting visual perceptions. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental. The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective. These artists repeat themselves, painting the same subject many times, and gradually changingits treatment in an experimental process of trial and error. Each work leads to the next, and none is generally privileged over others, so experimental painters rarely make specific preparatory sketches or plans for a painting. They consider the production of a painting as a process of searching, in which they aim to discover the image in the course of making it; they typically believe that learning is a more important goal than making finished paintings. Experimental artists build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goals.

In contrast, artists who have made conceptual innovations have been motivated by the desire to communicate specific ideas or emotions. Their goals for a particular work can usually be stated precisely, before its production, either as a desired image or as a desired process for the work's execution. Conceptual artists consequently often make detailed preparatory sketches or plans for their paintings. Their execution of their paintings is often systematic, since they may think of it as primarily making a preconceived image, and often simply a process of transferring an image they have already created from one surface to another. Conceptual innovations appear suddenly, as a new idea immediately produces a result quite different not only from other artists' work, but also from the artist's own previous work. Because it is the idea that is the contribution, conceptual innovations can usually be implemented immediately and completely, and therefore are often embodied in individual breakthrough works that become recognized as the first statement of the innovation.

The precision of their goals allows conceptual artists to be satisfied that they have produced one or more works that achieve a particular purpose. Unlike experimental artists, whose inability to achieve their vague goals can tie them to a single problem for a whole career, the conceptual artist's ability to consider a problem solved can free him to pursue new goals. The careers of some important conceptual artists have consequently been marked by a series of innovations, each very different from the others. Thus whereas over time an experimental artist typically produces many paintings that are closely related to each other, the career of the conceptual innovator is often distinguished by discontinuity.

ARCHETYPES

I seek in painting. Paul Cézanne I don't seek; I find. Pablo Picasso

Two of the greatest modern artists epitomize the two types of innovator.

In September 1906, just a month before his death, sixty-seven-year-old Paul Cézanne wrote to a younger friend, the painter Émile Bernard:

Now it seems to me that I see better and that I think more correctly about the direction of my studies. Will I ever attain the end for which I have striven so much and so long? I hope so, but as long as it is not attained a vague state of uneasiness persists which will not disappear until I have reached port, that is until I have realized something which develops better than in the past, and can thereby prove the theories-which in themselves are always easy; it is giving proof of what one thinks that raises serious obstacles. So I continue to study.

But I have just re-read your letter and I see that I always answer off the mark. Be good enough to forgive me; it is, as I told you, this constant preoccupation with the aim I want to reach, which is the cause of it.

I am always studying after nature, and it seems to me that I make slow progress. I should have liked you near me, for solitude always weighs me down a bit. But I am old, ill, and I have sworn to myself to die painting....

If I have the pleasure of being with you one day, we shall be better able to discuss all this in person. You must forgive me for continually coming back to the same thing; but I believe in the logical development of everything we see and feel through the study of nature and turn my attention to technical questions later; for technical questions are for us only the simple means of making the public feel what we feel ourselves and of making ourselves understood. The great masters whom we admire must have done just that.

This passage expresses nearly all the characteristics of the experimental innovator: the visual objectives, the view of his enterprise as research, the need for accumulation of knowledge, with the requirement that technique must emerge only from careful study, the distrust of theoretical propositions as facile and unsubstantiated, the incremental nature and slow pace of his progress, the total absorption in the pursuit of an ambitious, vague, and elusive goal, the frustration with his perceived lack of success in achieving that goal of "realization," and the fear that he would not live long enough to attain it. The irony of Cézanne's frustrations and fears at the end of his life stems from the fact that it was his most recent work, the paintings of his last few years, that would come to be considered his greatest contribution and would directly influence every important artistic development of the next generation.

The critic Roger Fry recognized the incremental and persistent nature of Cézanne's approach: "For him as I understand his work, the ultimate synthesis of a design was never revealed in a flash; rather he approached it with infinite precautions, stalking it, as it were, now from one point of view, now from another ... For him the synthesis was an asymptote toward which he was for ever approaching without ever quite reaching it; it was a reality, incapable of complete realization." The historian Alan Bowness stressed Cézanne's inductive visual approach and avoidance of preconception: "His procedure is always empirical, not dogmatic-Cé-zanne is not following a set of rules, but trying, with every new picture, to record his sensations before nature." Émile Bernard spent a month in Aix in 1904 and recalled that Cézanne spent the whole month working on a single still life: "The colors and shapes in this painting changed almost every day, and each day when I arrived at his studio, it could have been taken from the easel and considered a finished work of art." Bernard reported that Cézanne "never placed one stroke of paint without thinking about it carefully," and concluded that his method of working was "a meditation with a brush in his hand." Art scholars have often been puzzled by Cézanne's casual disregard for his own paintings, but his lack of concern appears understandable as a consequence of his experimental method. Thus the critic Clive Bell explained that Cézanne's real goal was not making paintings, but making progress toward his goal: "The whole of his later life was a climbing towards an ideal. For him every picture was a means, a step, a stick, a hold, a stepping-stone-something he was ready to discard as soon as it had served his purpose. He had no use for his own pictures. To him they were experiments. He tossed them into bushes, or left them in the open fields."

As Cézanne grew older, his paintings could increasingly be understood as visual representations of the uncertainty of perception, for the more he worked, the more acutely he became aware of the difficulty and complexity of his chosen task. Thus in 1904 he wrote to Bernard: "I progress very slowly, for nature reveals herself to me in very complex ways; and the progress needed is endless. One must look at the model and feel very exactly; and also express oneself distinctly and with force ... The real and immense study to be undertaken is the manifold picture of nature." Cézanne's comments suggest that his uncertainty had a number of sources. He told his friend Joachim Gasquet: "Everything we look at disperses and vanishes, doesn't it? Nature is always the same, and yet its appearance is always changing. It is our business as artists to convey the thrill of nature's permanence along with the elements and the appearance of all its changes." The critic David Sylvester explained that because they alternate between looking at the model and at the canvas, painters do not actually copy what they see: "In fact, one never copies anything but the vision that remains of it at each moment ... Working from life is working from memory: the artist can only put down what remains in his head after looking." For a painter as committed as Cézanne to visual accuracy, this gap between perception and execution becomes a source of anxiety and despair: "The model can go on standing still for ever, but the work will nonetheless be the product of an accumulation of memories none of which is quite the same as any other." Cézanne worked to develop techniques that would represent this process of sequential representation. Thus Meyer Schapiro noted that in his later work "we see the object in the painting as formed by strokes, each of which corresponds to a distinct perception and operation ... The form is in constant making."

Another major source of uncertainty involved contours. A celebrated statement of Cézanne's is that "There is no line; ... there are only contrasts." As he explained in a letter of 1905 to Bernard,

the sensations of color, which give the light, are for me the reason for the abstractions which do not allow me to cover my canvas entirely nor to pursue the delimitation of the objects where their points of contact are fine and delicate; from which it results that my image or picture is incomplete. On the other hand the planes fall one on top of the other, from whence neo-impressionism emerged, which circumscribes the contours with a black line, a fault which must be fought at all costs.

Cézanne struggled with the fact that the contour of an object is not a line, but rather the edge of a surface that is foreshortened because it is seen by the viewer at a sharp angle: "The contour [of an apple] is the ideal limit toward which the sides of the apple recede in depth." To represent this edge by a single outline not only sacrifices an illusion of depth, but violates the artist's knowledge of the existence of the foreshortened surface. Roger Fry observed that "the contours of objects became almost an obsession to Cézanne." Cézanne's treatment of objects reflected his anxiety over the problem: "He almost always repeats the contour with several parallel strokes as though to avoid any one too definite and arresting statement, to suggest that at this point there is a sequence of more and more foreshortened planes ... The contour is continually being lost and then recovered again." Examined close up, the many small hatched strokes that serve to define objects in Cézanne's late paintings create a sense of change: "It is as if there is no independent, closed, pre-existing object, given once and for all to the painter's eye for representation, but only a multiplicity of successively probed sensations." The painting becomes a representation not of something seen, but rather of the process of seeing, and of Cézanne's recognition of the inevitable incompleteness of that representation. Thus Meyer Schapiro declared that Cézanne was "able to make his sensing, probing, doubting, finding activity a visible part of the painting."

In 1923 Pablo Picasso gave a rare interview to a friend, the artist and critic Marius de Zayas, in which he emphasized that art should communicate discoveries rather than serving as a record of the artist's development:

I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research in connection with modern painting. In my opinion to search means nothing in painting. To find, is the thing...

When I paint my object is to show what I have found, not what I am looking for....

The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting....

I have never made trials or experiments. Whenever I had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which I have felt it ought to be said. Different motives inevitably require different methods of expression.

Picasso's rejection of the description of his art as an evolution has been confirmed by generations of critics and scholars. As early as 1920, with Picasso not yet forty years old, Clive Bell described his career as "a series of discoveries, each of which he has rapidly developed," and commented on the abruptness and frequency of his stylistic changes, a theme that would later be echoed by dozens of biographers. Thus decades later the critic John Berger wrote of Picasso's "sudden inexplicable transformations" and observed that "in the life work of no other artist is each group of works so independent of those which have just gone before, or so irrelevant to those which are to follow." Historian Pierre Cabanne made this point by comparing Picasso with Cézanne: "There was not one Picasso, but ten, twenty, always different, unpredictably changing, and in this he was the opposite of a Cézanne, whose work ... followed that logical, reasonable course to fruition."

Picasso often planned his paintings carefully in advance. During the winter of 1906-7, he filled a series of sketchbooks with preparatory studies for Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the large painting that would become his most famous single work. Historian William Rubin estimated that Picasso made more than four hundred studies for the Demoiselles, "a quantity of preparatory work ... without parallel, for a single picture, in the entire history of art." The painting was a brutal departure from the lyrical works of the rose period that immediately preceded it, and its arrival jolted Paris's advanced art world. Henri Matisse angrily denounced the painting as an attempt to ridicule the modern movement, and even Georges Braque, who would later realize that he and Picasso "were both headed in the same general direction," initially reacted to the painting by comparing Picasso to a fairground fire-eater who drank kerosene to spit flames. The importance of the Demoiselles stems from its announcement of the beginning of the Cubist revolution, which Picasso and Braque would develop in the next few years. As historian John Golding has observed, Cubism was a radical conceptual innovation, based not on vision but on thought: "Even in the initial stages of the movement, when the painters still relied to a large extent on visual models, their paintings are not so much records of the sensory appearance of their subjects, as expressions in pictorial terms of their idea or knowledge of them. 'I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them,' Picasso said."

Picasso's certainty about his art contrasted sharply with Cézanne's doubt. Thus in 1946, when he was sixty-five, Picasso told his companion Françoise Gilot that his work was so often interrupted by visitors that he frequently did not push his works "to their ultimate end," but he knew that he could do this when he wished: "In some of my paintings I can say with certainty that the effort has been brought to its full weight and conclusion." He explained to a biographer that his certainty came from the clarity of his conception: "'The key to everything that happens is here,' he said one day, pointing to his forehead. 'Before it comes out of the pen or brush, the key is to have it at one's fingertips, entirely, without losing any of it.'"

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David W. Galenson Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations and Tables ix
Preface xi

INTRODUCTION 1

CHAPTER 1: Theory 4
Experimental and Conceptual Innovators 4
Archetypes 5
Planning, Working, and Stopping 11
Innovation and Age: Old Masters and Young Geniuses 14
Artists, Scholars, and Art Scholars 15

CHAPTER 2: Measurement 21
Quantifying Artistic Success 21
Prices 21
Textbook Illustrations 25
Examples: Ten Important Modern Painters 27
Retrospective Exhibitions 33
Examples: Ten Important American Painters 35
Museum Collections 40
Museum Exhibition 42
Measuring Careers 44

CHAPTER 3: Extensions 47
The Spectrum of Approaches 47
Can Artists Change? 56
Anomalies 61

CHAPTER 4: Implications 67
Masters and Masterpieces 67
The Impressionists'Challenge to the Salon 71
Masterpieces without Masters 73
Contrasting Careers 80
Conflicts 82
The Globalization of Modern Art 86

CHAPTER 5: Before Modern Art 94

CHAPTER 6: Beyond Painting 111
Sculptors 111
Poets 122
Novelists 134
Movie Directors 149

CHAPTER 7: Perspectives 162
Portraits of the Artist as an Experimental or Conceptual Innovator 162
Portraits of the Artist as a Young or Old Innovator 166
Psychologists on the Life Cycles of Creativity 171
Understanding and Increasing Creativity 177
Seekers and Finders 185

Notes 187
Bibliography 207
Index 223

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