Review: Old Masters and Young Geniuses by David W. Galenson

What happens when an economist becomes an art critic? That’s the premise David Galenson writes in [amazon_link id=”0691133808″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Old Masters and Young Geniuses[/amazon_link] with as he examines numerous artists, primarily from mid 1800s impressionists through mid 1900s modernists. The thesis is that two life cycles of an artist: old masters and young geniuses. Old masters are those that reached their peak later in life, and Galenson believes, due largely to a life of artistic experimentation.  Young geniuses succeed due to conceptual innovation, simplifying previous complexities.  His two metrics to quantify and distinguish artists into either category are the price of an artist’s work from a certain point in their career, or the number of prints, or citations, of their work from a time in their life.

Galenson also applies his framework for analysis to the Renaissance painters of Michelangelo and Carravagio, 19th century and early 20th century American writers, directors, poets and sculptors. (Photographers are noticeably absent.) The book is dry and reads like a mixture of art criticism and art history.  The depth of research provides an overwhelming, yet comprehensive analysis of creating art, and the citations are provided at the end of the book.  My criticism of the book is probably one of scope.  The artist compared were clumped at particular time periods in history.  What would be interesting would be to see if more contemporary artists fit the same framework for analysis.

I’d recommend this book as a Kindle read.  I found myself wanting to mark and highlight the book and look up words or research an artist, particularly the poets.  The analysis of poets alone should make someone somewhat informed of Frost, Plath, Eliot and Pound.



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