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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More Essays

May 19th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Thus experimental creativity could be witnessed, but not verbalized.  When five leading Abstract Expressionist painters founded an art school in New York in the late 1940s, they offered no formal courses, because, as Robert Motherwell explained, "in a basic sense art cannot be taught." ------ "Conceptual artists are ...... more inclined to use written texts to accompany their works in other genres.  In 1883, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, "One of these days I will write you a letter;  I shall write it carefully and try to make it short, but say everything I think necessary."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unfortunately, it’s common for dark triad personalities to become leaders. ..... their ruthlessness and ability to manipulate means they attain positions of power quite easily. When a “dark” leader attains power, conscientious, moral people rapidly fall away. A government operating under these conditions soon becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski called a “pathocracy” – an administration made up of ruthless individuals devoid of integrity and morality. This happened with Donald Trump’s presidency, as the “adults in the room” gradually headed for the exit, leaving no one but staffers defined by their personal allegiance to Trump. A similar decay in standards has occurred in the UK."
May 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "The proportion of US electricity deriving from wind and solar in the month of April climbed to 20%. Thus, the renewables total was 26.5 if we add in hydro. This statistic is unprecedented."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Every year, around 12,000 men in the UK die from prostate cancer, but many more die with prostate cancer than from it. So knowing whether the disease is going to advance rapidly or not is important for knowing who to treat." ...... "For some years, we have known that pathogens (bacteria and viruses) can cause cancer. We know, for example, that Helicobacter pylori is associated with stomach cancer and that the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer." ....... "....we have identified five types (genera) of bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer." ...... "We examined prostate tissue and urine samples from over 600 men with and without prostate cancer," ..... "....men who had one or more of the bacteria were nearly three times more likely to see their early stage cancer progress to advanced disease, compared with men who had none of the bacteria in their urine or prostate."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTARCTS: "Steve Jobs dreaded turning 30, because he knew it would be fatal to his creativity: "It's rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to contribute something amazing." ....... "When Ford introduced the Model T, he was 45 years old" ...... "Ford’s Model T arrived only after a series of earlier cars – Models A, B, C, K, N, R, and S." .... "Sam Walton opened Wal-Mart No. 1 in Rogers, Arkansas, at 44, and discovered “that there was much, much more business out there in small-town American than anybody, including me, had ever dreamed of.” At 53, Warren Buffett wrote in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that “your chairman, always a quick study, required only 20 years to recognize how important it was to buy good businesses.” "
Mar 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... Christie's web site calls Shot Sage Blue Marilyn [1964], to be auctioned in May, 'among the most iconic paintings in history', " ------ "Andy Warhol's annus mirabilis was not 1964, but 1962. This is recognized both by the market and by scholars. Thus in a paper published in the Journal of Applied Economics, Simone Lenzu and I found that in all auctions held during 1965-2015, the average price of Warhol's paintings executed in 1964 was significantly lower than the average price of those he made in 1962. And in a survey of 61 textbooks of art history published during 1991- 2015, whose authors included such eminent scholars as Martin Kemp and Rosalind Krauss, we found that fully 45% of the total of 137 illustrations of Warhol's paintings were of works from 1962, compared to only 12% of works from 1964. Thus not only do collectors value Warhol's works of 1962 more highly than those of 1964, but so do scholars of art history,.... "
Mar 29th 2022
EXTRACTS:".....there is plenty of space to scale. For internet-based businesses, the addressable total market is often large. In many areas, such as software, it spans the globe. Chinese estimates indicate that the average distance between seller and buyer on e-commerce platforms is roughly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), compared to five kilometers for a traditional retail or service business." ------- "While the internet has removed many geographical barriers, high-growth companies cannot emerge just anywhere. In fact, though such firms can be found in more countries than ever, they remain concentrated in entrepreneurial hotspots. For example, of the 24 unicorns in Germany (as of March 2022), 17 are based in Berlin and five in Munich. Of France’s top 24 unicorns, 19 are based in Paris and one in a Paris suburb." ------ "Tech entrepreneurship has become global, but its beating heart remains local."
Mar 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: " We are supposed to be living in a post-ideological era, where everyone one is a cynic, not so gullible as to believe in anything anymore, least of all in the quaint notion of objective truth. This rejection of truth as such is among the great disasters to have befallen our relations with each other and between nations.  We appear to be beyond truth’s demise – we are now witnessing its unpleasant putrefaction and decay." ------ " If we want to grasp how ideology functions in America today, there is no better place to look than at the phenomenon of Trumpism. While he may be only a symptom, Trump himself is the quintessential embodiment of America’s moral and epistemic decline. " ------ "By its disavowal of truth and perpetuation of lies for the sake of self-aggrandizement, Trumpism represents an existential threat to this country and to the future of the Republic. It is a cancer that threatens whatever is good and decent in American life. " ----- "All they know is negative freedom – freedom from – but ignore the need for positive freedom, the freedom to… as in the freedom to flourish, to realize oneself in the world; to make and re-make oneself and the world through action."
Feb 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the decades since its inception, there has been heavy criticism directed towards the War on Drugs. These complaints include the increased incarceration rates, the increase in the number of prisoners in jail due to nonviolent offenses, uneven sentencing guidelines often based on the drug type and race, and suggestions of a racist component in terms of who was targeted by law enforcement. Various studies show that instead of reducing crime, the strict sentencing guidelines created more criminals and undermined many of the communities most strictly targeted by law enforcement. Long sentences for non-violent offenses made it difficult for those released to find work and weakened their bonds with family and their broader community."
Feb 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "......... there are countries that have had a relatively high number of infections but which have still managed to keep their death numbers low – countries like Japan. It’s had 17,612 infections per million people yet only 146 deaths per million. This is despite almost one in three people in Japan being over the age of 65 and so at greater risk of severe COVID (the average age of people dying from COVID is over 80). What has kept the death rate there down? A recent Japenese study has proposed an answer. It reports that the risk of people dying of COVID in Japan is related to the microbes present in their guts. "
Jan 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Then there was a revolution. In 1964, Bob Dylan created a new kind of popular music. The simple, clear love songs ...... were replaced by complex and opaque lyrics, filled with literary allusions and symbolism. Dylan rejected the role of craftsman: "I'm an artist. I try to create art." Nor were his songs intended to be universal: "My songs were written with me in mind." "
Dec 13th 2021
EXTRACT: " We all know that Father Christmas would struggle to deliver presents to everyone around the world without the help of his magical reindeer. But why were they chosen to pull the sleigh rather than any other animal? It turns out that the biology of reindeer makes them ideal for the job. Here are five reasons why."
Dec 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Planting more forests is a potent tool for mitigating the climate crisis, but forests are like complex machines with millions of parts. Tree planting can cause ecological damage when carried out poorly, particularly if there is no commitment to diversity of planting. Following Darwin’s thinking, there is growing awareness that the best, healthiest forests are ones with the greatest variety of trees - and trees of various ages."
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."