Jun 7th 2016

Words and Pictures

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).

“I mean, all us lot, we fucking caned the fucking art world. Absolutely totally phenomenal. We caned the art world as fucking kids.” Thus spoke Damien Hirst in 1999, in one of a series of interviews that were to be published as a book. “All us lot” referred to the Young British Artists (YBAs), of whom Hirst was the universally recognized leader, and who had taken the advanced art world by storm in the 1990s. Hirst spelled this out later in the same interviews: “The center of the fucking art world’s in England. You know that, don’t you?”

Hirst’s declarations were taken by many casual observers as the arrogant, obnoxious, and probably drunken rantings of an uneducated and boorish punk. And they were deliberately intended to make this impression. In fact, however, Hirst’s rhetoric was a sophisticated and calculated contribution to one of the most vital traditions of advanced modern art, that had been initiated 90 years before, by the equally brash and iconoclastic young leader of an earlier artistic movement.

F.T. Marinetti (1876-1944) was not a painter, but an Italian symbolist poet who liked to describe himself as “the caffeine of Europe.” He was a thoroughly modern intellectual, who enthusiastically embraced all the most recent developments in technology, culture, and communications, and had an intuitive understanding of how to use them for his own benefit. Long before scholars had begun to analyze opinion polls and study popular attitude formation, Marinetti understood that whatever the message, its form would be as important as its substance: in a world of what would later be named sound-bites, how you said something was as important as what you said. He also understood that in modern society culture would no longer be restricted to the select few: he was a pioneer of the goal of reaching a mass audience with personal art, rather than that of the church or state. He approached the marketing of culture as if it were a political campaign, advertising with posters, newspapers, and leaflets, aimed above all at producing excitement and controversy. As in politics, he realized that it was important not only to praise his own work and that of his allies, but also to denounce his predecessors, and abuse his opponents. Above all, he recognized that the most important thing was to get attention, whether favorable or unfavorable.

Having mastered the existing forms of publicity for art, Marinetti created a new one, that was to reverberate throughout modern art. In 1909, he published The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism, in full, on the first page of the French newspaper Le Figaro. Marinetti’s vigorous attack on Italy’s failure to move beyond its decaying artistic past into the excitement and vitality of the future gained greatly in impact from its prominent placement in the most respected newspaper in the cultural capital of Europe. The Manifesto of Futurism became a model for the development of Futurism as a movement, and an important precedent for many later artistic movements.

The literary scholar Marjorie Perloff observed that Marinetti was mediocre as a poet and unoriginal as a thinker, “but as what we now call a conceptual artist, Marinetti was incomparable, the strategy of his manifestos, performances, recitations, and fictions being to transform politics into a kind of lyric theater.” Drawing on many earlier precedents, including the mixture of political and poetic rhetoric in the Communist Manifesto (“A specter is haunting Europe…”), Marinetti transformed the manifesto from a vehicle for political statements into an artistic instrument. He instructed his Futurist followers that the new literary genre required violence and precision—“the precise accusation, the well-defined insult.” His own manifestos used a variety of literary devices to increase their impact, including narrative, satire, theatricality, and abstraction. Titles—critical for attracting attention—were to be concrete and provocative. And Marinetti’s manifestos were theoretical: in his highly abstract intellectual world, theory not only preceded practice, but to a great extent became practice.

The Futurist movement became closely associated with manifestos. Futurism had begun as a literary movement, but when Marinetti expanded it by incorporating five young Italian painters in 1910, the first thing these artists did was to publish two leaflets—Manifesto of the Futurist Painters and Technical Manifesto of Futurist Painters—declaring their distaste for earlier art (“our deep disgust, our haughty contempt, our joyful rebellion against the vulgarity, the mediocrity, and the fanatical and snobbish cult of the past which are suffocating art in our country”) and their love of the modern (“we must now draw our inspiration from the tangible miracles of contemporary life”). How they would express this on canvas was less clear, and in fact Futurist painting never developed a specific style to capture pictorially the dynamism of the modern city and its technology. Indeed, the manifestos of the Futurist painters became more influential than their art. So for example in 1912, the German Expressionist Franz Marc wrote to his friend Wassily Kandinsky that “I cannot free myself from the strange contradiction that I find their ideas, at least for the main part, brilliant, but am in no doubt whatsoever as to the mediocrity of their works.”

Dozens of Futurist manifestos, on subjects ranging from painting and sculpture to architecture and clothing, spread across Europe in leaflets, newspapers, and magazines. Many other ambitious young artists soon appropriated the new genre for their own purposes.  (These young artists were conscientious students of Marinetti, and they demonstrated their mastery of his lessons by following his example.  Prime among his commandments was to denounce one’s predecessors.  Since Marinetti was the spiritual father of the next generation of manifesto authors, he and his Futurist movement took a considerable verbal beating from artists all over Europe.) In London in 1914, the painter Wyndham Lewis issued a manifesto extolling the advantages of Vorticism—“England is just now the most favorable country for the appearance of a great art”—over earlier styles (“The artist of the modern movement is a savage—in no sense an ‘advanced’, perfected, democratic, Futurist individual of Mr. Marinetti’s limited imagination”). In Moscow in 1916, the painter Kazimir Malevich published the Suprematist Manifesto, announcing “The first step of pure creation in art,” and again rejecting its ancestors: “Yesterday we, our heads proudly raised, defended Futurism—Now with pride we spit on it.” In Zurich in 1918, the poet Tristan Tzara’s Dada Manifesto declared that “We have enough Cubist and Futurist academies: laboratories for formal ideas,” and “so Dada was born of the need for independence.” Each of these movements produced a cluster of manifestos, as did Surrealism in Paris after the end of World War I, beginning with the poet André Breton’s Manifesto of Surrealism in 1924.

Surveying the history of this flood of manifestos, the philosopher and critic Arthur Danto remarked that “manifestos were among the chief artistic products of first half of the twentieth century,” and in recognition of this, christened this period the Age of Manifestos. Danto observed that all these manifestos shared the characteristics of defining a particular movement, or style, and proclaiming that this was the only kind of art that mattered. Manifestos were thus intended to establish a particular movement’s claim to be the one true and valid approach, that would become the point of departure for all future art. Ironically, however, Danto noted that in all cases these programs failed: “The manifestoed movements of the twentieth century had lifetimes of a few years or even just a few months, as in the case of fauvism.”

Danto’s description of the role of these manifestos is correct, but it fails to account for the key historical question: why did art manifestos appear when they did, and why did their use spread so widely in this period? Danto’s inability to explain the relevant causation can be traced to a failure to consider the economic history of art, specifically the market conditions underlying this episode.

Manifestos were one consequence of the radical changes in advanced art that were caused by a transformation of the structure of the market for advanced art that began in the late nineteenth century. For centuries, from the time of the Renaissance, there were stylistic variations in advanced art, but these were relatively subtle, for artists were tightly constrained by the need to satisfy powerful patrons—the church, the state, or the agents of the state, as in the case of the French Salon in the nineteenth century. The rise of a competitive market for art, that began with the Impressionist exhibitions of the 1870s and ‘80s, and culminated with Picasso’s shrewd manipulation of Paris’ leading private dealers in the first decade of the twentieth century, for the first time allowed advanced artists an unprecedented degree of freedom. The result was a proliferation of radical new styles, most prominently created by young, conceptual innovators. Early in this new regime, F.T. Marinetti perceived that sophisticated advertising could be a valuable adjunct to the production of radically innovative art, and a new artistic genre was born.

Manifestos were chiefly associated with conceptual artistic movements, for several reasons. One of these was apparent to one of the pioneering conceptual innovators early in the modern era. In 1883, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo, “One of these days I shall write you a letter; I shall write it carefully and try to make it short, but say everything I think necessary. You might keep that letter then, so that in case you should meet somebody who might be induced to buy some of my studies, you could tell that man my own thoughts and intentions exactly. My thought in this being especially: one of my drawings taken separately will never give complete satisfaction in the long run, but a number of studies, however different in detail they may be, will nevertheless complement each other.” Van Gogh was a prototypical example of a kind of artist who would become common later in the modern era, a conceptual innovator who created a personal symbolic  language that held meanings for him that would not be apparent to anyone looking at one or two works. Hence Vincent’s suggestion that he could write a statement explaining his works to potential collectors. This would be one central role of the manifestos of the next generation of conceptual artists.

In addition to explanation, Marinetti recognized that written texts could powerfully complement the intellectual appeal of conceptual paintings or sculptures, because of their shared basis in ideas. The controversy created by the Futurist manifestos created an aura of exhilaration around the paintings they accompanied, or often preceded, and thus added an extra dimension of intellectual enjoyment to the experience of viewing the canvases. Malevich’s novel painting of a black square on a white ground must have gained considerably in power when accompanied by his oracular text that proclaimed that “The square is a living, regal infant,” and declared that “Our world of art has become new, non-objective, pure.” With the new sophistication of artistic manifestos, a succession of articulate conceptual innovators demonstrated Perloff’s observation that “To talk about art becomes equivalent to making it.” And, we might add, to read about art became equivalent to seeing it. Thus in the highly competitive market for advanced art of the early twentieth century, a powerful and appealing new form of advertising emerged, to educate and intrigue collectors, in the form of the manifesto. Its rapid diffusion and widespread adoption provide strong evidence of its value to the many artists who made it a trademark of the era.

Although there are notable exceptions, manifestos have rarely been produced by experimental artists. In part this is a function of the visual goals of experimentalists: they are likely to say that if they could explain verbally what they wanted to achieve, they wouldn’t have to paint. Experimental artists also typically lack the confidence and certainty that Marinetti and his conceptual heirs all displayed in abundance. Thus for example Robert Motherwell observed that it was difficult to find a true Abstract Expressionist manifesto, because “the very nature of a manifesto is to affirm forcefully and unambiguously, and not to express the existential doubt and the anxiety that we all felt.”

Formal artists’ manifestos dwindled in importance in the second half of the twentieth century (in 1989, the painter R. B. Kitaj introduced his First Diasporist Manifesto by noting that “I just read in an art column that the time for manifestos has passed. So I thought I’d write one.”) There appear to be a number of reasons for this. Ironically, one may be the rise of a mass audience for art. With an increasing public appetite, newspapers and magazines have devoted more attention to contemporary artists and their movements, and this may have reduced the need for artists effectively to write their own advertisements. Such general interest magazines as Time and Life wrote about the Abstract Expressionists in the late 1940s and the ‘50s, and Pop Art further expanded public curiosity about advanced art in the early ‘60s. Artists’ interviews became more prominent in the ‘60s, and Andy Warhol provided a prime example of how artists could dramatically increase their fame by speaking to journalists rather than writing themselves.  (During the 1970s, Warhol extended his fame beyond the boundaries of the art world by publishing a monthly magazine he named Interview, which featured interviews of celebrities by celebrities, including Warhol himself.)

Some important contemporary artists have continued to take advantage of the manifesto. In 1961 Claes Oldenburg, one of the original Pop artists, wrote I Am for an Art to affirm his belief in popular art (“I am for an art that embroils itself with the everyday crap & still comes out on top”), at the same time that he endorsed a model of the artist quite different from that of Warhol (“I am for an artist who vanishes, turning up in a white cap painting signs or hallways”). In 1970 Gilbert and George, who had earlier declared themselves to be living sculptures, in What Our Art Means produced a manifesto that not only promoted their own art (“We want Our Art to speak across the barriers of knowledge directly to People about their Life”), but also denounced their predecessors (“The 20th century has been cursed with an art that cannot be understood”). In 2000, Takashi Murakami wrote The Super Flat Manifesto to define his new form of art, asserting that “’Super flatness’ is the stage to the future.’”

For the most part, however, contemporary artists do not write manifestos, preferring to have others record and publish their words. Yet this should not be taken to mean that the traditions of the manifesto have disappeared, for tones of F.T. Marinetti and his many descendants can still be heard to echo in the words of prominent contemporary artists. Damien Hirst, for example, has consistently used interviews to promote his art and that of his YBA followers over the competition: “With the exception of my own generation of artists, who are friends, there’s not a living artist that I know that I respect.” He doesn’t hesitate to identify the competition: “these Americans have had it all their own way for far too long.” He openly embraces attention: “I think all publicity helps everything.” He takes credit when he believes it is due: “Art’s popular. That’s my generation. It wasn’t before.” And he freely expresses his vast ambition: “I want to live for ever. And the best way to live for ever is to be better than everyone else.” It’s difficult to believe that F.T. Marinetti would not be proud.




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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."