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The Life Cycles of Modern Artists

25 Pages Posted: 7 Feb 2002 Last revised: 26 Oct 2010

David W. Galenson

University of Chicago - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Date Written: February 2002


There have been two very different life cycles for great modern artists: some have made their major contributions early in their careers, while others have produced their best work later in their lives. These patterns have been associated with different artistic goals and working methods: artists who peak late are motivated by aesthetic considerations and work by trial and error, whereas artists who peak early are motivated by conceptual concerns and plan their work in advance. This paper shows that Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and the other leading Abstract Expressionists, who were experimental innovators, produced their best work considerably later in their careers than did Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, and the other leading conceptual innovators of the generation that followed them. These results not only yield a new understanding of the life cycles of creative individuals, but also provide new insights into the value of works of art.

Suggested Citation

Galenson, David W., The Life Cycles of Modern Artists (February 2002). NBER Working Paper No. w8779. Available at SSRN:

David W. Galenson (Contact Author)

University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )

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