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Analyzing Artistic Innovation: The Greatest Breakthroughs of the Twentieth Century

David W. Galenson

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

May 2006

NBER Working Paper No. w12185

This paper considers not only when in their careers the greatest artists of the twentieth century made their greatest discoveries, but also how quickly they made them. The results underscore the dominant position of Picasso and Cubism in twentieth-century art: Picasso alone accounts for the two best three-year periods produced by any artist, and he and Braque account for three of the best five-year periods, all for the work the two young artists did in developing Cubism. Warhol%u2019s innovations in Pop art and Matisse%u2019s development of Fauvism also rank among the century%u2019s most important breakthroughs. In general, identifying the most important short periods of artistic creativity emphasizes the differing methods of conceptual and experimental artists: great conceptual innovators, like Picasso, Matisse, and Warhol, made their greatest discoveries abruptly, whereas great experimental innovators, like Mondrian, Kandinsky, and Pollock, made their discoveries more gradually. The finding that artists who innovate early in their lives do so suddenly, while those who innovate late do so more gradually, adds an important dimension to our understanding of human creativity.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 23

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Date posted: May 23, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Galenson, David W., Analyzing Artistic Innovation: The Greatest Breakthroughs of the Twentieth Century (May 2006). NBER Working Paper No. w12185. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=900091

Contact Information

David W. Galenson (Contact Author)
University of Chicago - Department of Economics ( email )
1126 East 59th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
United States
773-702-8191 (Phone)
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National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)
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