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Old Masters and Young Geniuses

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

David W. Galenson
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Old Masters and Young Geniuses
    Book Description:

    When in their lives do great artists produce their greatest art? Do they strive for creative perfection throughout decades of painstaking and frustrating experimentation, or do they achieve it confidently and decisively, through meticulous planning that yields masterpieces early in their lives?

    By examining the careers not only of great painters but also of important sculptors, poets, novelists, and movie directors,Old Masters and Young Geniusesoffers a profound new understanding of artistic creativity. Using a wide range of evidence, David Galenson demonstrates that there are two fundamentally different approaches to innovation, and that each is associated with a distinct pattern of discovery over a lifetime.

    Experimental innovators work by trial and error, and arrive at their major contributions gradually, late in life. In contrast, conceptual innovators make sudden breakthroughs by formulating new ideas, usually at an early age. Galenson shows why such artists as Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Jackson Pollock, Virginia Woolf, Robert Frost, and Alfred Hitchcock were experimental old masters, and why Vermeer, van Gogh, Picasso, Herman Melville, James Joyce, Sylvia Plath, and Orson Welles were conceptual young geniuses. He also explains how this changes our understanding of art and its past.

    Experimental innovators seek, and conceptual innovators find. By illuminating the differences between them, this pioneering book provides vivid new insights into the mysterious processes of human creativity.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3739-7
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Psychology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvii)
  5. introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    In May 1902, already suffering acutely from the illness that would cause his death the following year, Paul Gauguin wrote from the Marquesas Islands to Georges-Daniel de Monfreid, his most loyal friend, “For two months I have been filled with one mortal fear: that I am not the Gauguin I used to be.” Gauguin’s fear was less for his life than for his art. Shortly before his death, he recorded in his notebook his faith that at any age “an artist is always an artist.” Yet he was forced to continue by posing a question: “Isn’t he better at some...

  6. CHAPTER ONE theory
    (pp. 4-20)

    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...

  7. CHAPTER TWO measurement
    (pp. 21-46)

    There is no single direct and obvious way to measure the quality of an artist’s work over the course of his career. Instead, there is a variety of indirect ways. Each is based on a different kind of evidence, and each of these types of evidence was produced by a different group of judges. None of these groups of people were engaged in the activity that is my concern, of measuring individual artists’ creative life cycles. Yet as will be seen, each of the groups’ actions has the effect of generating evidence that can be used for just this purpose....

  8. CHAPTER THREE extensions
    (pp. 47-66)

    The theory presented here has a variety of implications that can add significantly to our understanding of the history of modern art, and a number of these will be considered later, in chapter 4. Before proceeding to those applications, however, it is useful to examine three important questions that arise in the course of using the theory to explain artists’ careers. One of these involves the level of simplification used by the theory, and how the two categories I have described in fact stand for a continuous range of variation in practice. The second concerns whether artists can change categories...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR implications
    (pp. 67-93)

    This analysis of artists’ life cycles has implications for many significant issues in the history of modern art. Some of these have long been of interest to art historians, but others have actually not been noticed by historians. One of the latter is posed by tables 4.1 and 4.2. These list the individual paintings, by artists who lived and worked in France during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, that are most often reproduced in the 33 American and 31 French textbooks surveyed earlier in chapter 2. Both lists rank the top 10 paintings by number of illustrations; because...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE before modern art
    (pp. 94-110)

    Recent research has begun to demonstrate that the differences in artistic goals and practices that separate experimental and conceptual artists are not exclusively a phenomenon of the modern era, but that the two types can clearly be identified much earlier. Although the process of categorizing old masters has just started, it is already apparent that the same distinction can provide a coherent and unified framework for many of the features of the art of the great painters of the past that have previously been regarded as either unrelated or idiosyncratic.

    An example is afforded by considering a number of facts...

  11. CHAPTER SIX beyond painting
    (pp. 111-161)

    The analysis of the two life cycles of creativity that has been presented in this book was initially developed by studying modern painters. The preceding chapter, however, showed that it can profitably be extended to the careers of premodern painters. Recent research has in fact established that the analysis can be applied much more broadly, to other intellectual activities. The value of doing this will be demonstrated in this chapter, through reference to selected important practitioners of four other arts. In each case, although the number of artists considered will not be large, the purpose is to illustrate how the...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN perspectives
    (pp. 162-186)

    The preceding chapters of this book have been concerned with defining, elaborating, and applying the analysis of the two types of artistic creativity and their associated life cycles. This chapter will conclude the book by placing this analysis in perspective from several different vantage points. The first of these will consider instances in which important modern artists recognized the distinction between experimental and conceptual practitioners. The second section will then examine the views of a number of other artists on the relationship between age and artistic creativity. The third section will compare my analysis with that of psychologists who have...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 187-206)
    (pp. 207-222)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 223-233)