November 11, 2008

Process trumps product for late blooming artists

In The New Yorker, Malcom Gladwell contributes an article about late bloomers in which he looks at David Galenson's research comparing the careers of Picasso and Cézanne. "The examples that Galenson could not get out of his head were Picasso and Cézanne. He was an art lover, and he knew their stories well. Picasso was the incandescent prodigy. His career as a serious artist began with a masterpiece, 'Evocation: The Burial of Casagemas,' produced at age twenty. In short order, he painted many of the greatest works of his career—including 'Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,' at the age of twenty-six. Picasso fit our usual ideas about genius perfectly.

"Cézanne didn’t. If you go to the Cézanne room at the Musée d’Orsay, in Paris—the finest collection of Cézannes in the world—the array of masterpieces you’ll find along the back wall were all painted at the end of his career. Galenson did a simple economic analysis, tabulating the prices paid at auction for paintings by Picasso and Cézanne with the ages at which they created those works. A painting done by Picasso in his mid-twenties was worth, he found, an average of four times as much as a painting done in his sixties. For Cézanne, the opposite was true. The paintings he created in his mid-sixties were valued fifteen times as highly as the paintings he created as a young man. The freshness, exuberance, and energy of youth did little for Cézanne. He was a late bloomer—and for some reason in our accounting of genius and creativity we have forgotten to make sense of the Cézannes of the world.

"Prodigies like Picasso, Galenson argues, rarely engage in that kind of open-ended exploration. They tend to be 'conceptual,' Galenson says, in the sense that they start with a clear idea of where they want to go, and then they execute it. 'I can hardly understand the importance given to the word research, ' Picasso once said in an interview with the artist Marius de Zayas. 'In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.' He continued, 'The several manners I have used in my art must not be considered as an evolution or as steps toward an unknown ideal of painting. . . . I have never made trials or experiments.'

"But late bloomers, Galenson says, tend to work the other way around. Their approach is experimental. Their goals are imprecise, so their procedure is tentative and incremental.” Read more.

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