The Life Cycles of Modern Artists


David Galenson

Published: September 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 applies this analysis to the careers of the leading members from the two generations of painters who made New York the center of the art world in the 1950s and ‘60s. The results not only yield a new understanding of the life cycles of creative individuals, but also provide new insights into the rationale behind the prices paid for works of art at auction.



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