Monday, October 20, 2008

Quick Links Monday and A Modest Proposal : Open Thread

Still trying to catch up with something, but here are three quick links to things folks sent me over the weekend (and one that appeared just today). UPDATE: Yes, yes, yes, this first entry is a parody. My bad for not knowing that wouldn't be obvious:

1. Damien Hirst sets new auction record with ‘Investment Banker in Formaldehyde' [h/t SDP]
A piece of art by Damien Hirst has set the new record for a single item at auction. The piece entitled ‘Oh Shit’ fetched £2.3bn after frantic bidding by an anonymous investor. The work, which features a Merrill Lynch employee suspended in a tank of formaldehyde secured the highest price yet paid for a single piece of banking history. [...] Meanwhile, Hirst’s agent said he was delighted at the amount raised by the sale of his latest work. ‘Although we’re a bit worried about where he should deposit the cheque.’
2. Late Bloomers: Why do we equate genius with precocity? [h/t E.H.]
Genius, in the popular conception, is inextricably tied up with precocity—doing something truly creative, we’re inclined to think, requires the freshness and exuberance and energy of youth. Orson Welles made his masterpiece, “Citizen Kane,” at twenty-five. Herman Melville wrote a book a year through his late twenties, culminating, at age thirty-two, with “Moby-Dick.” Mozart wrote his breakthrough Piano Concerto No. 9 in E-Flat-Major at the age of twenty-one. In some creative forms, like lyric poetry, the importance of precocity has hardened into an iron law. How old was T. S. Eliot when he wrote “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old . . . I grow old”)? Twenty-three. “Poets peak young,” the creativity researcher James Kaufman maintains. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the author of “Flow,” agrees: “The most creative lyric verse is believed to be that written by the young.” According to the Harvard psychologist Howard Gardner, a leading authority on creativity, “Lyric poetry is a domain where talent is discovered early, burns brightly, and then peters out at an early age.”

A few years ago, an economist at the University of Chicago named David Galenson decided to find out whether this assumption about creativity was true.[...] There is no evidence, Galenson concluded, for the notion that lyric poetry is a young person’s game. Some poets do their best work at the beginning of their careers. Others do their best work decades later. [...]

The examples that Galenson could not get out of his head, however, 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.

3. Museums Fear Lean Days Ahead
“We know there’s a storm at sea and we know it’s going to hit land and it could get ugly,” said Glenn D. Lowry, the museum’s director. “But we don’t know how hard it will be or when it’s coming. So we are trying to make educated guesses.”

As a result, the museum instituted a temporary hiring freeze last week as well as a 10 percent cut in its general operating budget that will be revisited in December.

Across the country directors like Mr. Lowry are bracing for the effects of an economic crisis that could change everything from the size and kinds of exhibitions a museum presents to the acquisitions it could afford and the merchandise it should offer in its shops.

A Modest Proposal

And we're back at Link #1...If MoMA is seeking new merchandise for its gift shops, might I suggest that rather than stopping with just an investment banker, Mr. Hirst consider working with a few AIG executives, a de-regulating Senator or two, and perhaps a taxidermied Texan about to officially have as much free-time on his hands as he's apparently been taking anyway the past 8 years. Yes, yes, I know Mr. Hirst's prices aren't exactly gift shop friendly, but I'm assuming subject matter weighs in pricing, even among his works, no?

Consider this an open thread on the market, genius, late-bloomers, and laughing rather than moping about it all.

Labels: art careers, art market, genius


Blogger nathaniel said...

good morning, ed! thanks for the smile, first thing.... warmly, n

10/20/2008 08:51:00 AM  
Anonymous Obsolete Shit said...

As a too old artist to be a young artist or a too young artist to be an old artist, I like the Cezanne story. I may add that Garibaldi didn't do anything with his life until he was forty. I don't recall Cezanne selling much while alive, though.

10/20/2008 10:22:00 AM  
Blogger pam farrell said...

Regarding the issue of "late bloomers" and genius: While I can't speak to the genius part of this so much, I can relate my own experience of beginning an art career in my late 40's. Seems to me that in this day and age, having a few decades of life experience might serve the artist well. I can't imagine creating the type and quality of work that I do now when I was a young(er) pup with a freshly minted degree from a bona fide art school. I simply didn't have it in me--neither the focus or the ability. I'm 51, producing work that I am happy with, that is somewhat accomplished technically, conceptually, and with great regard for material integrity. To me, it's work that speaks to and of my life. I show and sell my work, and enjoy responses that are positive from both critical and popular realms. The genius part? Well, my mom thinks I'm a genius, and that's good enough for me. Does my work show flashes of brilliance? Maybe...but not for me to judge. Will I enjoy a modest career doing what I love as I age? Yes, if I can help it. The rest is gravy.

10/20/2008 10:39:00 AM  
Blogger Joanne Mattera said...

Ah, youth vs. experience, the eternal topic. Can we really make a pronouncement either way?

Run down a list of hot young participants from the 2002 Whitney Biennial and for a surprising number of names you'll find yourself asking, "Who?"
On the other hand, Mary Heilmann's been on a roll since her featured appearance at Basel Miami a few years ago, her heating-up status signaled shortly thereafter by twin coverage of Art Forum and Art in America covers in the same month. She's having her first major museum solo here at the New Museum, following its installment at the Orange County Museum where it originated. There's a fabulous catalog, too. She's 68.

And Louise Bourgeis is the patron (matron?)saint of late bloomers. Her career, burning pretty brightly for the past 25 years, didn't really heat up until she was in her early 70s.

10/20/2008 11:06:00 AM  
Anonymous sharonA said...

Ah, hurray for late bloomers! It's a comfort to know I don't have to be 24 with an MFA to have a stab an art career ;)

I'm not worried about being a late bloomer. I'm glad for my prior experience in the world because it's actually liberated my ability to be the artist I've become. I'm more focused on what's important, and making my art true to myself.

A little outside inspiration always helps, though. I love hearing stories of artists' previous careers too, if they've had them. Thanks to everyone for their examples!

10/20/2008 12:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

About that Damien Hirst: Isn't it a little too soon for April's Fool?
A Merryll Lynch employee inside a tank?? I mean, even if it's made of plastic, it doesn't make sense. If it's Damien art than it's self-parody.

Late bloom: many of my fave artits are late starters. I feel more confident with people of experiences. The way I think now is different from when I was 17. And I had my first show at 17 (absolutely awful stuff), so whatever people assume is the moment a career starts, when you have that big gallery show I suppose, for me thinking about art is all what it's about.


Cedric Caspesyan

10/20/2008 01:44:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

Are Hirst's bad jokes getting "better and better"? Doesn't say much for precocity, does it. And it's a shame that the market Hirst encouraged would ever have been so detrimental to the museum, as I believe it has been. Maybe public/private shifts will encourage new forms of patronage that can withstand the downturn. But I do sincerely hope that no museum will ever accept the "gift" of this Hirst.

10/20/2008 02:09:00 PM  
Blogger Oly said...

The Hirst thing is a spoof.

Too bad, tho-- that actually would probably be Hirst's best work of all time if it were real.

10/20/2008 02:41:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

The Hirst thing is a spoof.

Yes. Sorry, I thought that would be obvious.

10/20/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

that hirst is a joke right? i think you've been suckered. i haven't explored the link, but that can't be real

10/20/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


It's the new frontier of portraiture, like Andy soon all of NY will be clamoring to have their loved ones embalmed in their living rooms.

I saw this work when I was in London last September, the likeness is uncanny.

10/20/2008 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Catherine Spaeth said...

HA! - The joke is on me - that I didn't find it obvious shows you what I think. EXPOSED in blogland! Love it.

10/20/2008 03:59:00 PM  
Anonymous Michelle Williams said...

Perhaps that is precisely what life is: a dream and an anxiety

10/20/2008 04:46:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

But who made the spooof anyway? As a critique of damien, it's interesting.


10/20/2008 11:22:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric C said...

Catherine, I would never laugh at you. Your writting about art is too great. I have been in similar situations countless times.



10/20/2008 11:40:00 PM  
Anonymous Franklin said...

Indeed! There isn't the slightest chance that the inability to distinguish parody and parodied stems from deep-seated gullibility about the latter. Carry on!

10/21/2008 09:04:00 AM  
Blogger measured said...

The 'peak' age for discovery or invention varies with pursuit or area. Numerical skills (incl music - even with lyrics) seem to excel in youth. So scientists and artists in this area often do their best work early.

(As a matter of fact I've known physicists who literally took this advice to heart and would begin the day at 5 or so with an inter-department/laboratory game of soccer - in order to rev up their metabolisms and ensure optimum blood circulation, once they faced those big clean whiteboards).

But other literature and painting requires longer development. While Giotto, Raphael and Picasso are often acknowledged as 'child-prodigies' - the work of their youth is at best 'advanced' by student standards, some like Picasso (carefully schooled by his artist father) is scarcely remarkable for his age and situation at all.

They do not make any notable contributions to art until their adult years both for reasons of skill and attendant knowledge/judgement.

It's hard to think of any novelist who excelled in their teens - but easy to think of great novels written later in life by many writers. Again, because it requires a more diffuse knowledge base - it's not a closed set of rules like maths, or a strict technique, like playing the violin or piano. Youth can often be channelled in those things and succeed with fanatic energy, but more circumspect consideration obviously takes time.

Kandinsky is another example of an artist who started late (in his forties).

10/21/2008 10:29:00 PM  
Anonymous Marilyn Picasso said...

Gorky, deKooning, Pollock, Hoffman fit the late bloomer bill. Less well know is Johannes Baader of Berlin Dada. My favorite is Monet, which surprisingly no one mentioned. He is both. Art historians often point out how he is a painter of two centuries painting right up to his death in 1926 at the age of 83. His late Nymphaea help w/ the 'muralization' of the above painters sensibility.

10/22/2008 01:11:00 PM  

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