Jan 9th 2019

In Search of Past Times

by David Galenson

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).

Marcel Proust was the master of artistic time travel, as he spent the final decades of his life exploring the nature of memory, in a quest to understand the relationship between past and present. In today’s troubled present of economic malaise and political agitation, the art world of Paris is currently engaged in a Proustian exercise of reexamining, and celebrating, a lost golden age of splendor and creativity.

DG Cubism
Le Cubisme at Centre Pompidou, Paris, France

 

But it is a poet, rather than a novelist, whose spirit informs the current gathering of masterpieces in Paris’ museums. Guillaume Apollinaire was not only a great poet, but also moonlighted as an art critic – perhaps the most important French critic of the early 20th century. And it was in this latter guise that he extolled the triumphs of his close friend Pablo Picasso. Apollinaire first wrote of Picasso’s prodigious talent in 1905, and it is just this period that is now saluted in an enormous exhibition at the Musee d’Orsay that puts Picasso’s Blue and Rose periods in a spotlight. Apollinaire later became the first critic to write a book about Cubism, the most important art movement of the 20th century, and the crowning achievement of Picasso. The Pompidou currently presents a vast survey of that movement, that includes Picasso’s Still Life with Chair Caning, the first collage, that touched off a century of new genres created by conceptual young geniuses who were inspired by Picasso’s brash defiance of centuries of artistic tradition.

 

DG Giacometti
Giacometti exhibit at Musée Maillol, Paris, France

 

Apollinaire later coined the term surrealism, which was taken over by the poet André Breton as the name of his literary and artistic movement dedicated to automatism and the unconscious mind. Alberto Giacometti would become a key figure in Breton’s cause, as the inventor of the Surrealist object, before Giacometti was banished by Breton because of his realization that he had to pursue the art of reality. Giacometti’s sculpture, and its influence, is currently on display at the elegant Musee Maillol.

And the Grand Palais presents a major retrospective of another child of Surrealism, Picasso’s fellow Catalan Joan Miró. The younger Spaniard was influenced by both Fauvism and Cubism during his early years in Paris, but it was Surrealism that “opened a universe”

 

DG Miro
Joan Miró exhibit at the Grand Palais, Paris, France

 

In a celebrated article of 1913, Apollinaire explained that Paris was the capital of art in the 19th century, because it combined the great talents of French artists with those of geniuses from other countries. This status continued in the period that Apollinaire celebrated with his critical essays and books. Apollinaire was gravely wounded while serving in the French army in 1915, and died at the age of 38 in the 1918 influenza epidemic, so he did not live to see Paris’ demise. Paris’ dominant status in the Western art world was shaken by World War I, and it was ended entirely by World War II: France ceased to produce great artists, and Paris ceased to be a magnet for the most ambitious artists from other countries.

 

Today France struggles with economic adversity and social unrest. Yet amidst their current troubles, the French can nonetheless take pleasure from the masterpieces that serve as visual reminders of a magical time when the western world’s greatest artistic advances were made in the studios and workshops of Paris.

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Dec 8th 2017

In the wake of the deluge of news about sexual harassment and alleged assaults by several high-profile and powerful men, it is important to look at the causes and consequences of forced sex in the workplace – but also in intimate relationships.

Dec 5th 2017

A place of spacious dimensions, and large population, with fine bazaars. It contains numerous mosques, and there is no wall around it.

Nov 29th 2017

The announcement that Prince Harry is set to marry American actress Meghan Markle provoked a flurry of articles about the British royal family becoming multicultural.

Nov 29th 2017

People discuss their problems with friends in the hope that they’ll gain some insight into how to solve them. And even if they don’t find a way to solve their problems, it feels good to let off some steam. Indeed, having close friends to confide in is a good buffer against poor mental health.

Nov 23rd 2017

Everyone knows what it feels like to have consciousness: it’s that self-evident sense of personal awareness, which gives us a feeling of ownership and control over the thoughts, emotions and experiences that we have every day.

Nov 21st 2017

Paul Cézanne painted his uncle Dominique Aubert at least 9 times in 1866, when the artist was 27 years old.

Nov 20th 2017

MILAN, Italy – The ambitiously conceived exhibition 'Dentro Caravaggio' (Inside Caravaggio) wants us to see this extraordinary painter with new eyes.

Nov 16th 2017
2017 marks the anniversaries of two revolutions that tore Europe apart. They both shredded existing structures of authority and unleashed mass fervour, ideological zeal, passion and popular agitation for greater self-rule.
Nov 16th 2017

There is a desperate humanitarian crisis underway in Myanmar, centring around the Rohingya Muslims.

Nov 11th 2017

Priti Patel’s ignominious departure from the UK cabinet after it emerged that she had held undeclared meetings with Israeli officials during a personal holiday exposes many flaws in her conduct.

Nov 3rd 2017
The posting of 95 theses is not the only act for which Martin Luther is famed. In 1522, he began the work that would last a lifetime: translating the Bible. This was not a neutral act.
Oct 31st 2017

On Oct. 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Germany’s Wittenberg Castle Church and inadvertently ushered in what came to be known as the Reformation.

Oct 27th 2017

When Martin Luther published his 95 theses 500 years ago this month, so the story goes, his general target was the corruption of the church.

Oct 26th 2017

The Trump administration’s proposals on the annual budget, the efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), and restructuring of the tax system all point to a sad and even tragic conclusion.

Oct 23rd 2017

Extract:

"As far as the Chinese authorities are concerned, Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency in the US and the chaos of Brexit in the UK are glaring examples of democratic failure,..."

Oct 18th 2017

It never ceases to surprise me how merely the suggestion that our current global capitalistic system is not the best humanity can do for itself, is so often met with virulent hostility. One would think that when we are still recovering from the economic crisis of 2007-2008 (and many

Oct 15th 2017

The theft of an estimated 143 million Americans’ personal details in a data breach of consumer-credit reporting agency Equifax and the Russian hack of the U.S.