Jerry Lebo, 2007
"I seek in Painting"--Paul Cezanne
Many people seemed to like my "Ho-Hos" painting--thanks to all who sent comments. I will be starting a blog link trading system, as it appears everybody seems to want to exchange blog links. Stay tuned, I will try to get it up over the weekend. Once it is up and running, I will be happy to cross-link with those who are interested.
Well, if you're into junk food, then you must have eaten Hostess Cupcakes at some point. I found out during my latest visit to the 7-Eleven that these little babies come in a new orange flavor (yellow frosting), which I had never tasted until I took a bite out of the one above. I have to say that I prefer the Chocolate version, however, I did enjoy painting the Yellow ones. I hope you like them as well--if you like them enough, I have put them up on Ebay for sale for a starting price of $99. Click here to bid.
Okay, so back to the theme of the post, "Are you an Old Master or Young Genius"? The idea for this posting comes from a book from David W. Galenson (see reference at bottom), where he presents an interesting hypothesis, namely, that there are basically two types of artists in the world; Those that do their best work early in their life (young geniuses), and those that do not achieve greatness until late in life (old masters).
So how do you tell which on you are? According to Galenson, it is by looking at your underlying motivation for making art. In the first type of artist (old master) the motivation for making art is aesthetic, that is, trying to make something beautiful (that's me, for sure). For the other type of artist (young genius) the motivation is concept, that is to make a piece of art that says something new. The artist motivated by aesthetics is primarily interested in presenting visual perceptions or sensations to the viewer as a means of communicating his/her own artistic goals, while the conceptual artist has the desire to communicate specific ideas or emotions.
The book goes on to describe the typical working mode of each artistic type as follows:
1. The "Aesthetically Motivated" Artist. "Their goals are imprecise, so their product is tentative and incremental. The imprecision of their goals means that these artists rarely feel they have succeeded, and their careers are consequently often dominated by the pursuit of a single objective...Each work leads to the next and none is generally privileged about others...[These] artist build their skills gradually over the course of their careers, improving their work slowly over long periods. These artists are perfectionists and are typically plagued by frustration at their inability to achieve their goals."
2. The "Conceptually Motivated" Artist. "[They] have been motivated by the desire to communicate specific ideas or emotions. Their goals for a particular work can usually be stated precisely, before its production, either as a desired image or as a desired process for the work's execution. Conceptual artists often make detailed preparatory sketches or plans for their paintings. Their execution of their paintings is often systematic, since they may think of it as primarily making a preconceived image...Because it is the idea that is the contribution, conceptual innovations...[and] are often embodies in individual breakthrough works that become recognized as the first statement of innovation."
Galenson then goes onto to describe various artists working styles and connects breakthrough and productivity of various artists back to their age--mainly by looking at Cezanne and Picasso--but also other post-WWII artists, such as De Kooning and Frank Stella, among others.
I have to say I found this book a very interesting read. However, since most of the book spends nearly 190 pages trying to convince you of the hypothesis, if you don't like the premise from the beginning the book can get pretty dull. It is not light reading, it is more of an empirical study of various artists to see if the hypothesis is born out in the data. Just to give you a few tidbits:
1. The price peak for Picasso's art during his lifetime was in his late 20s and early 30s, while for Cezanne it was at two points, in his mid-forties and then up again even higher in his mid-sixties.
2. The number of textbook illustrations (a proxy for number of citations) shows that Pissarro, Degas, Kandinsky, Dubuffet, and O'Keeffe all hit their peak in mid- to late-forties--while Munch, Derain, Braque, Gris, and de Chirico hit their peak in the mid to late twenties.
3. Looking at the age of artist who have paintings in the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, Rothko, Gorky, de Kooning, Newman and Pollock painted these works mainly in their late forties and as late as 55 (Rothko), while Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Warhol, Johns, and Steel did their work in their 30s and even 20s.
So, there you go. If you are mainly interested in the aesthetics of your art--you are in for a long haul and your best work will come late in life. If you are interested in concepts and expressing emotions--you are most likely to make an early breakthrough (if you make one) and do your best work when you are young.
So, what does this mean for the average artist? First, I think it is useful to know your artistic temperament, so that you know that you are not alone in your artist struggle. If you are an "aesthetically motivated" artist like myself, then you should also now that it is normal to be dissatisfied with your work, grind on your paintings, and to see slow progress. If you are a “conceptually motivated” artist, it is also good to know that you are not alone in your careful planning of your work and need to make a clear conceptual statement—even if the aesthetics are not always pretty. Anyway, I found the book useful and you might want to get a copy. Here is a link on Amazon.
So that is it for today, all the best. Sixtyminuteartist.
The full citation for the book is: Galenson, David W. "Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity". Princeton University Press. 2006.