Mar 22nd 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different

by David W. Galenson

Dr. David W. Galenson is Professor of Economics at the University of Chicago; Academic Director of the Center for Creativity Economics at Universidad del CEMA, Buenos Aires; and a Research Associate of the National Bureau of Economic Research. His publications include Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton University Press, 2006) and Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art (Cambridge University Press and NBER, 2009). David W. Galenson, picture aboce. Derek Walcott, picture in the text.

In the modern era, conceptual innovators have radically transformed the function and role of style in the arts. Traditionally, style was the artist’s signature or trademark, the unique and distinctive means by which he expressed his ideas or perceptions. Style was nurtured painstakingly: Cézanne reflected that “style does not develop from the slavish imitation of the old masters; it develops from the artist’s personal manner of feeling and expression.” A personal style was the distinguishing characteristic of a true artist: Frank Lloyd Wright angrily declared that “The style of the thing…will be the man – it is his. Let his forms alone.”


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La Vie (1903). Image courtesy of Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio by Pablo Picasso.

The break with this traditional conception was pioneered by Picasso, who was known from early in his career for his abrupt and frequent changes of style. Experimental artists and critics puzzled over Picasso’s versatility, which they perceived as arbitrary and insincere, but in a celebrated interview in 1923 Picasso explained that his shifts and alternations of styles were a product of his conceptual approach to art: “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 would later reflect that he perhaps had no style: “I’m never fixed and that’s why I have no style.”


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Family of Saltimbanques (1905). Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

In Picasso’s radical new conception, style was no longer a unique expression of personality, but merely a convenient means of expression, like a language, to be taken up or put aside depending on the particular idea to be represented. This new approach spread rapidly throughout the world of advanced art. Marcel Duchamp was among the early practitioners of stylistic versatility. Setting out to undermine the rigidity of the art world, and reasoning that taste was a product of habit, he determined to avoid repetition, and once declared that “I’ve had thirty-three ideas; I‘ve made thirty-three paintings.” In 1943, Duchamp paid tribute to Picasso’s innovation, writing that his “main contribution to art” was his ability, in each of the many phases of his career, “to keep free from preceding achievements,” without any “repetition in his uninterrupted flow of masterpieces.”


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Les Demoiselles d'Avignon (1907). Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City.

Duchamp’s friend Francis Picabia shared his attitude toward style; Picabia declared that “If you want to have clean ideas, change them as often as you change your shirts.” Picabia’s refusal to follow any fixed formula earned him Duchamp’s praise as “the greatest exponent of freedom in art.” Another friend of both Duchamp and Picabia, the painter and photographer Man Ray, also deliberately avoided a fixed style: he explained that “each new approach demanded its particular technique which had to be invented on the spot.”


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Portrait of Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1910). Image courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois.

Whether directly or through the intermediation of Duchamp, Picasso’s novel approach to style spread widely among conceptual painters in the following generations. Robert Rauschenberg, who admired Duchamp so much he tried to steal a marble cube from Duchamp’s Why Not Sneeze? on a visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, explained that whenever he began to work, he tried to clear his mind of all he knew: “Everything I can remember, and everything I know, I have probably done, or somebody else has.” In 1960, David Hockney felt liberated by seeing a large exhibition of Picasso’s work, because it showed him that “style is something you can use, and you can be a magpie, just taking what you want.” Two years later, Hockney’s entry in London’s Royal College of Art student exhibition comprised four paintings, collectively titled Demonstrations of Versatility.    In a 1963 interview, Andy Warhol asked, “How can you say one style is better than another? You ought to be able to be an Abstract Expressionist next week, or a Pop artist, or a realist, without feeling you’ve given up something.” In 1984, Gerhard Richter explained that changing styles gave him “the freedom to do what I like…not to become an artist-painter who is tied down to a single trick.” He recognized that “historically speaking, changeable artists are a growing phenomenon. Picasso, for instance, or Duchamp and Picabia – and the number is certainly increasing all the time.” Seeing a Man Ray retrospective inspired the young Bruce Nauman: “What I liked was that there appeared to be no consistency to his thinking, no one style.” Nauman subsequently avoided predictability: “it’s never going to be the same, there is no method.” Damien Hirst prides himself on heterogeneity: “I curate my own work as if I were a group of artists.” He deliberately avoids repetition: “I mean, I don’t want to make ‘Damien Hirsts.’”


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Olga in an Armchair (1917-18). Image courtesy of Musée Picasso, Paris.

John Berger observed in 1965 that Picasso’s stylistic practice had no precedent: “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.” And at the close of the 20th century, David Sylvester reflected that Picasso’s behavior would not have been possible earlier: “Picasso is a kind of artist who couldn’t have existed before this century, since his art is a celebration of this century’s introduction of a totally promiscuous eclecticism into the practice of art.” What even Berger and Sylvester failed to understand, however, was the underlying change that allowed Picasso to pioneer this practice. Unlike in virtually all earlier times, when artists were subject to the demands of specific individual or institutional patrons, in the first decade of the 20th century Picasso effectively completed the process, that had begun in 1874 with the Impressionists’ challenge to the official Salon, of transforming a monopolistic art market into an atomistic and competitive one. Instead of having to submit his work for the approval of a powerful individual patron or a conservative academic jury, Picasso had a number of independent dealers competing for the right to buy his paintings, and to find purchasers for them. This gave him a freedom in making his art that had almost no precedent in the entire history of Western art. The radical innovation of stylistic versatility was just one of the bold and imaginative responses Picasso made to this situation, as he successfully attained his goal of becoming the most innovative artist of his time, and of ranking among the greatest of any time.


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Two Women Running on the Beach (1922). Image courtesy of Musée Picasso, Paris.

Picasso’s novel approach to style spread widely among painters, but only among those who were conceptual. Stylistic versatility has remained anathema to experimental artists, who almost universally regard the painstaking construction of a unique personal style as a necessary condition for the creation of sincere and truthful art. But for conceptual artists interested in expressing ideas, the flexibility of changing styles was a powerful and liberating innovation. As Picasso explained, “style is often something which locks the painter into the same vision…sometimes during one’s whole lifetime…I myself thrash around too much.” In language that would echo through generations of brash young conceptual innovators, Picasso declared that “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 and not what I am looking for.”


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Girl before a Mirror (1932). Image courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art, New York City




Previous article by David Galenson:


Derek Walcott, Old Master

by David W. GalensonAdded 10.03.2014
Fortunately, Derek Walcott didn't study psychology. So he never had to read Harvey Lehman's claim that he was supposed to peak early -- "the golden decade for the writing of secular poetry occurs not later than the '20s" -- or Howard Gardner's...




     

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Nov 19th 2021
EXTRACTS: "At a time when the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is so intense, if not fateful for the future of democracies, NATO and the EU must warn these countries [Editor's note: Poland and Hungary, EU and NATO, Turkey NATO] that they are on the precipice of being kicked out if they do not change their governing practice. They must be required to restore the principles of democracy by upholding universal human rights and abiding the rule of law, or else they will forfeit their membership and suffer from the consequences of their crimes." ------ "A narcissistic leader, such as Trump, whose hunger for power seems to know no limit, has happily sacrificed the good of the country on the altar of his twisted ego. America’s democracy cannot be repaired unless he and those who helped him are held accountable and face the weight of the law."
Nov 18th 2021
EXTRACT: "Many people who go through intense trauma, for example, become deeper and stronger than they were before. They may even undergo a sudden and radical transformation that makes life more meaningful and fulfilling. Indeed, research shows that between half and one-third of all people experience significant personal development after traumatic events, such as bereavement, serious illness, accidents or divorce. Over time, they may feel a new sense of inner strength and confidence and gratitude for life and other people. They may develop more intimate and authentic relationships and have a wider perspective, with a clear sense of what is important in life and what isn’t. In psychology, this is referred to as “post-traumatic growth”. "
Nov 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Notably, Murdoch thinks that really knowing or understanding another person is a difficult task: “It is a task to come to see the world as it is”. According to the Freudian psychology Murdoch subscribes to in The Sovereignty of Good, humans are prone to “fantasy” – refusing to face the truth because it can damage our fragile egos."
Nov 9th 2021
EXTRACT: "People do not believe false information because they are ignorant. There are many factors at work, but most researchers would agree that the belief in misinformation has little to do with the amount of knowledge a person possesses. Misinformation is a prime example of motivated reasoning. People tend to arrive at the conclusions they want to reach as long as they can construct seemingly reasonable justifications for these outcomes."
Oct 28th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Brood with me on the latest delay of the full release of the records pertaining to the murder of President John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. That was 58 years ago." -----"Mark my words: ...... No one who remembers 1963 will live to see the US government admit the full truth about Kennedy’s murder. And the American people’s faith in democracy will continue to fade. There is only one way to prevent this, and that is to release every record, withholding nothing – and to do it now."
Oct 27th 2021
EXTRACT: "..... we may defy the warnings of modern medicine, convinced of our own superiority. Researchers at the University of Chicago Divinity School reported half of their participants, all of whom indicated some religious affiliation, agreed with the statement “God will protect me from being infected”. To cope with our dread of death, we delude ourselves into thinking we are invincible: death might happen to other people, but not to me."
Oct 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "Wes Anderson’s new film The French Dispatch is about the final issue of a magazine that specialises in long-form articles about the goings-on in the fictional town of Ennui-sur-Blasé. The film is an anthology of shorts representing three of the articles. A piece by the magazine’s art critic (Tilda Swinton) explores the life and late success of the abstract artist Moses Rosenthaler (Benicio Del Toro). Talented from a young age, Rosenthaler pursued art with a dogged determination that drove him to slowly lose his mind." ---- "Like everything else, mental illness is understood within the context of its time. In their study of melancholy and genius Born Under Saturn, the art historians Margot and Rudolf Wittkower show how Renaissance artists embraced mental alienation. This was shown by a withdrawn, slothful gloom. Such heavy sadness was considered both the symptom and the price of divine inspiration." ---- "Today, the association of creativity and mental illness often implies regression from an adult and orderly state of mind to one that is primal, impulsive, or infantile. The artist in Anderson’s film is such an example: he is noisy, impetuous, and extravagantly mad. And it is while he is at his “maddest” that he paints his best work." ---- "Here I explore the work of four painters whose work has been shaped by various mental illnesses, highlighting how the idea of the “mad artist” need not be tied up with a loss of control but rather a bid to gain it."
Oct 21st 2021
EXTRACT: "So much of Succession holds a mirror to real life, and the way that Logan Roy’s hand-picked board members allowed these abuses to continue by turning a blind eye to them is a good example. We have just published research that shows that public companies whose directors are chosen by their CEOs are statistically more likely to be involved in corporate misconduct, along with various other shortcomings. So why does this happen, and what should be done about it? "
Oct 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "Born in Zanzibar in 1948, Gurnah came to Britain in the 1960s as a refugee. Being of Arab origin, he was forced to flee his birthplace during the revolution of 1964 and only returned in 1984 in time to visit his dying father. Until his retirement, he was a full-time professor of English and postcolonial literatures at the University of Kent in Canterbury."
Oct 7th 2021
EXTRACT: "As the 25th James Bond film No Time to Die hits the cinemas, we are once again reminded of the way that disability is depicted negatively in Hollywood films. The new James Bond film features three villains, all of who have facial disfigurements (Blofeld, Safin and Primo). If you take a closer look at James Bond villains throughout history, the majority have facial disfigurements or physical impairments. This is in sharp contrast to the other characters, including James Bond, who are able-bodied and presented with no physical bodily differences. Indeed, many films still rely on outdated disability tropes, including Star Wars and various Disney classics. Rather than simply being part of a character’s identity, the physical difference is exploited and exaggerated to become a plot point and visual metaphor for villains" ----- "The British Film Institute (BFI) was the first organisation to sign up and has committed to stop funding films that feature negative representations depicted through scars or facial differences – a step in the right direction."
Oct 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "The trillions of microbes inside of our gut play many very important roles in our body. Not only does this “microbiome” regulate our metabolism and help us absorb nutrients from food into the body, it can also influence whether we are lean or obese."
Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."