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

Jul 16th 2017

Renewables continue to take the world by storm, which is good news for the climate.

Jul 15th 2017

Only a few weeks after being diagnosed with a late-stage liver cancer in late May 2017, the world learned that China’s most prominent dissident, Liu Xiaobo, died at 61 in a hospital in the north-east region of China

Jul 14th 2017

We face a crisis of ignorance in this country, with potentially tragic consequences both at home and abroad. But not all is lost. We can avoid disaster by using this crisis to understand where we went wrong, and from that insight identify opportunities to correct our course.

Jul 11th 2017

·          

Jul 11th 2017

 

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is now clear that the sheer quality of the Obama intellect, and the solid integrity of his character, lulled many of those who twice voted for him into a false sense of security.

Jul 6th 2017

After decades of intense observation and campaigning by conservation groups, awareness of microplastic pollution has fortunately grown.

Jun 27th 2017

I doubt that Google and Microsoft ever worried about the prospect that a book retailer, Amazon, would come to lead one of their highest-growth markets: cloud services. And I doubt that Apple ever feared that Amazon’s Alexa would eat Apple’s Siri for lunch.

Jun 20th 2017

A note by the Editor of The Convesration: A conservative grassroots organization, ACT for America, organized a “March against Sharia” in at least 20 cities across the United States on Saturday, June 10.

Jun 16th 2017

Saudi Arabia has gotten too big for its britches, and the oil-producing Middle East is turning even more unstable. Not to mention that global warming is getting worse and worse because of burning fossil fuels like petroleum.

Jun 16th 2017

 

President Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris climate agreement reaffirmed what was already clear: The federal government is no longer leading American efforts to shrink our carbon footprint.

Jun 14th 2017

Silicon Valley has not had a great year for governance, and ride-sharing business Uber has been struggling more than most.

Jun 11th 2017

In Amazon’s warehouses, there is a beehive of activity, and robots are increasingly doing more of the work. In less than five years, they will load self-driving trucks that transport goods to local distribution centers where drones will make last-mile deliveries.

Jun 2nd 2017

The high ambition of the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to “well below 2°C”, was driven by concern over long-term sea level rise. A warmer climate inevitably means melting ice – you don’t need a computer model to predict this, it is simple common sense.

Jun 1st 2017

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is advancing so rapidly that even its developers are being caught off guard.

May 21st 2017
 
As Donald Trump traverses the Middle East and Europe on his first international trip, there is considerable discussion domestically concerning the possibility that he might be removed from office, either involuntarily through impeachment, or through voluntary re
May 21st 2017

Karel Appel was born in Amsterdam in 1921, the son of a barber in a poor neighborhood. As a child, he painted with his uncle, an amateur artist. In 1942, he entered Amsterdam’s Royal Academy of Visual Art.