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Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity Hardcover – January 16, 2006

4.3 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Galenson's idea that creativity can be divided into these types--conceptual and experimental--has a number of important implications."--Malcolm Gladwell, New Yorker

"David Galenson has developed something approaching a unified theory of art . . . [that] does a surprisingly good job of explaining the relative value of the world's great paintings. . . . While Mr. Galenson has been studying the art world over the last five years, all sorts of other fields have been engaged in their own debate about judgment versus rules. . . . When the traditionalists in these fields describe their skepticism of statistics, they sometimes make the argument that their craft is as much art as it is science. That's a nice line, but the next time you hear it, think back to Mr. Galenson's work. Even art, it turns out, has a good bit of science to it."--David Leonhardt, The New York Times

"After a decade of number crunching, Galenson, at the not-so-tender age of 55, has fashioned something audacious and controversial: a unified field theory of creativity. Not bad for a middle-aged guy. What have you done lately?"--Daniel Pink, Wired

"An intriguing book."--The Age (Sunday Edition)

From the Back Cover

"[A] really wonderful book. . . . There's something important to be learned about the way our minds work by entertaining the notion that there are two very different styles of creativity, the Picasso and the Cézanne."--Malcolm Gladwell, author of Blink

"Beautifully written, well argued, and an exciting read, Old Masters and Young Geniuses is a strikingly novel interpretation of the creative process by a leading scholar in the economics of the arts. It realizes the exceedingly rare accomplishment of providing a fresh way of looking at the careers of the greatest artists of Western civilization."--William N. Goetzmann, documentary filmmaker, coauthor of The West of the Imagination, Edwin J. Beinecke Professor of Finance, Yale School of Management

"A very well written and intellectually stimulating piece of scholarship that deserves to be widely read and debated."--Dean Keith Simonton, author of Creativity in Science: Chance, Logic, Genius, and Zeitgeist, Distinguished Professor of Psychology, University of California, Davis

"This extremely lucid, logical book is very much a voyage of discovery, exploring different ways of extending the author's theory of the two polar types of creative behavior to all forms of artistic and intellectual activity. As with all truly original work, it will be controversial."--Robert Jensen, author of Marketing Modernism in Fin-de-Siècle Europe, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Kentucky


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (January 16, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691121095
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691121093
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,362,061 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAME on October 14, 2008
Format: Paperback
The contrast between 'conceptual' and 'experimental' artists, the first being the prodigy- geniuses, and the second being the slow- developers is at the heart of this work. The idea is that the first kinds of creators work in accordance with a scheme, arrive at a kind of fixed solution. They usually do their greatest work when they are young. They are sure of themselves, and receive their idea and inspiration suddenly. The second learn through experience and never come to the kind of Certainty that the first do . Galenson contrasts F.S. Scott Fitzgerald who became famous overnight at the age of twenty- six with Mark Twain who wrote 'Huckleberry Finn' over a ten year period. He contrasts T.S Eliot who wrote 'Prufrock' and 'Wasteland' with Frost who came to his best work later in life. He contrasts film- directors Orson Welles who revolutionized film with 'Citizen Kane' when Welles was in his twenties, with John Ford whose whole body of work developed slowly and is richer towards the end. The prodigy Picasso is contrasted with the late- blooming, experimenting Cezanne. The distinction does give certain insight but is also extremely problematic. It ignores in the Picasso-Cezanne case the fact that Picasso experimented all his life, created many new styles, produced some of his greatest work including 'Guernica' when he is well out of his twenties.Is Wordsworth whose great poems came in his early years , not an experimental artist in those years? Did Wordsworth stop experimenting in the years when he wrote his longest, if not his greatest work, 'The Prelude?Read more ›
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Format: Hardcover
As a creative artists who moves in slow incremental steps-searching, exploring, and experimenting-, I am much gratified to have Galenson's positive take on my plodding nature. It is the unknown that draws me forward (the experimental), not the laborious execution of a well thought-out scheme (the conceptual).

I have studied art and art history my entire life and Galenson has given me my first ever clear understanding of 'conceptual' art. I realize now that my own methods have little in common with most conceptual artists, much more in common with the 'experimental' artists of which he writes.

I find it quite refreshing and commendable that an Economics professor who comes from outside the insular field of art has delved so successfully into the minds of artists. Shouldn'd we all take more than a moment to step outside our own fields, get a fresh perspective on the world around us, and thus, on ourselves?

Kudos to professor Galenson for doing such a fine job of expanding our understanding of the creative mind, and for taking the risk to have a look from the outside.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Nate Silver revolutionized the field of political predictions. He aggregated polls and weighted them given their historical accuracy and leveraged their information using statistical tools. Using stats, he has accumulated a track record in politics predictions that is far superior to political pundits.

David Galenson has done pretty much the same thing for art history and the benchmarking of creativity over the life cycle of artists. Galenson by first focusing on modern painters uncovered that artists career were determined by their own temperament and approach to painting. He observed two very different archetypes: conceptual vs. experimental artists.

The conceptual artists think deductively and first develop in their mind a completely finished product. Next, they plan out their product in exhaustive detail with many preliminary sketches and drawings. Then, the actual execution of the product is almost a formality done in a decisive and quick manner. And, the painting is finished with much confidence. Such artists are deemed young geniuses as very early in their career, they come up with radical innovations representing a departure from the past. Picasso and his cubism innovation is such an example. However, their career often peak out early with less to show for in the remainder of their career.

The experimental artists think inductively. They have no clear direction where their art work will take them. They go through numerous random iterations. They don’t plan ahead. They are plagued with uncertainty. They rarely have a sense of completion or closure. Contrary to conceptuals, the experimentals take much longer to mature and succeed. But, their art often improves continuously throughout their entire life.
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I'd read about this book for years and finally snagged a copy. Dry, very, very dry. The concepts are interesting but you can get the same information by reading the Wired article on Galenson. Basically it comes down to: just because you're not a young genius don't give up hope. The best is still to come. However if you are a young genius, the game is over for you by the time you're in your late thirties-early forties. If you're an academic this may be the book for you. I'm not. Again, it's okay but very dry, just the facts, ma'am. A different, more humanistic approach, ala Malcolm Gladwell, would've made it more palatable.
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