Monday, October 15, 2007

Are you an Old Master or Young Genius?

"Hostess Cupcakes (Yellow)", Oil On Panel, 6x6 inches
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.

30 comments:

Carol H. said...

Awesome cupcakes! I really like the way you handled the edges and the shadows on this one. Do I sound like a broken record?

Danielle said...

After reading your last blog, i got a craving for junk food and went looking for Chocolate hostess cupcakes and was also disappointed not to find any! I settled for Oreos! lol... The yellow ones do make a good painting though. :)

Kidicarus said...

Another fascinating post, thank you. I would say there is at least a third type of artist too though, the expressionist, motivated by the emotion and action of the work, the process being on an at least equel level has the finished product.

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"Angeldust" said...

You have found a wonderful way to "assert" yourself... :)


It brought joy to my heart heart to read how you came about your sixty minutes.

I seldom check out "blogs of note" but I am glad I did, as I prepare for the "grand opening" of my "studio/galeria" open house tomorrow - so, now I live in my studio as opposed to painting in my apartment...

Where there is a will, there is a way.

Inspiring.
Alicia

chimerastone said...

Another interesting book is the Artist way. It has very good details on how to unlock.

But I wonder how artist make it from studio to the gallery. How to sell my work in galleries but don't know how.
Took the wrong degree, stucking studying part time and doing menial, back breaking jobs.

As for cravings I have one for chillies because can't stand bland foods.

CJ's Woodland Shed said...

Interesting synopsis... the cupcakes are nice, although I don't know how you eat that stuff. :)

Anonymous said...

Jerry,
I always get a chuckle and then a sad feeling when someone comes up with the newest theory to finally explain the artistic process. Its even sadder when it comes from a author whose credentials is in economics.
I heard the author on NPR and believe his back ground is as an economist.
I think it is because he doesn't have an art background that his thoery seems even more foolhardy. I mean, what has comparing Cezannes prices and Picasso's prices have to do with aesthetics? Not only were they completely different markets but the art market in general is constantly changing, shifting and growing.
I haven' t read the book but have looked into it. Doesn't seem to appealing or informative into what the poetry of art is all about.
Heres a more interesting question. Is the plethora of small daily painters out there the sign of young genius or of crafty entrepreneurs?"

Dash said...

I read a similar book by the same author called 'Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art'. It's an interesting idea but I think it has its failings.

Anyway, I found your blog through the 'Blogs of Note' link and am very glad I did. I love what you are doing here and look forward to reading more.

sixtyminuteartist said...

Dash, I agree. The theory has some failings--artist cannot be lumped into two categories. But, I did see myself in one of the archetypes he describes--which made me feel less alone and somehow connected to other artists in a practical way.
Jerry

Marsha Stopa said...

Thanks for this explanation. It explains why my artist friends and I don't agree on many things. I have come back to art in mid-life and am interested in aesthetics and creating beauty. I don't mind, at this point, taking the time to go through the academic exercises I missed when I was younger that will improve my skills. Many of my most vocal artist friends are interested in concept and expressing an opinion to the world.

And thank you for sharing your thoughts on structure, which I have also discovered on my own, to the confusion of my artist friends. Right now I am painting small, 6 X 8 in. works almost exclusively, and am limiting myself to landscapes, mostly plein air. Staying within this structure for at least 100 paintings is feeding my current growth process, even though my friends have labeled me as a "landscape painter who just paints small."

And I've joined the blogging world to share this process, which is also feeding my growth. I'll keep reading. Many thanks. Keep it up.

Marsha Stopa
http://marshastopa.blogspot.com/

Dash said...

Jerry - It's funny. I see myself described perfectly under the "Aesthetically Motivated" Artist heading!

The only difference is that I'm a craftswoman rather than an artist.

Keep up the good work!

Von Thrauthemburg said...

I hope your still painting, not sure about the ebay thing, any luck with that, have you tried boundlessgallery.com

Nat said...

I can't believe you haven't seen the Hostess orange cupcakes before. I was never much of a fan of chocolate cake, and I used to get those all the time (along with Tastycake Peanut Butter Tandy Takes). We're talking back in the 60s.

gwadzilla said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Heather said...

It is an interesting theory--I too recognized myself as a late bloomer and have never been much of a conceptual artist and found it very frustrating since I was surrounded by them in college. I am not sure about the theory in the long run but it does seem to fit in several ways--I know many of the artists I focus on now seem to be older and late coming into the arena (like myself) and I don't have much patience for those who are "trying to say something".

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