Thursday, July 13, 2006

Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity by David W. Galenson

I confess I didn't read the whole book, the concept turned out to interest me more than the specifics, but this is a scholarly study of visual artists who paint their best work (as judged by commercial and critical value) either at a young age or at an older age (nobody seems to do it at middle age). The idea is that some artists (here named "conceptual") have big ideas at the start of their careers that instantly revolutionize painting (as judged by influencing their peers) and then have diminishing returns as they get older, but other artists ("experimental") work their way, painting by painting, study by study, to a new idea that revolutionizes painting. There are obvious correlations to writing, and the last chapter actually covers writers like Hemingway ("conceptual") vs. Faulkner ("experimental"). I, in part, found the book a relief--I hoped to be a young genius, but sadly am not, and now it turns out I can hope to be an old master instead--and also a revelation regarding teaching writing. Workshop in certain ways favors the young genius, since s/he would receive early acclaim (assuming the class was open to revolutionizing art) as does the academic world, where writers need to publish relatively young in order to receive tenure... But at least addressing the fact of old masters in class could probably go a long way toward keeping student writers encouraged. And emphasizing process and long term goals (beyond the degree program) could also help...

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