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Finding a Constructive Approach

Two Types of Artists: Which One Are You?

We have all heard the "Young Geniuses and Old Masters" description of artists, epitomized by Picasso and Cezanne.  The distinction was based on the age when the artist peaked, producing his best work and contributing his greatest contribution to art.

But author David W. Galenson presents this concept from a different - and far more insightful - viewpoint.  Galenson's book, Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, defines the two major differences not through age, but through the way the artist approaches the work. 

The significant - and perhaps most valuable - ideas that Galenson presents are these:

  • The Young Genius artist works from a Conceptual foundation, forming his idea, making numerous preparatory sketches, color studies, and compositional studies before starting the work that he sees clearly in his mind.   What defines him is the method of working out conceptual ideas first - where the real creative work is conducted.  The resulting painting is merely a visual record of what the artist imagines, executed with the confidence of one following a map. Artists working Conceptually include Picasso, Gauguin, George Seurat, Pissarro, Matisse, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Roy Lichtenstein.
  • The Old Master artist works from an Experimental foundation.  He does not have a preconceived vision of what he wants to produce, and often changes directions in the course of working because he sees something new or exciting.  He is searching for something visual which cannot always be defined, and is prone to reworking, feeling dissatisfied with the work, working intuitively, and reworking the same subjects in series.  He seldom feels a painting is finished, which is why the Experimental Artist may rarely sign the work.  Artists working Experimentally include George Innes, Cezanne, Monet,Van Gogh, Degas, Frankenthaller,  Pollack, Rothko, among others.

The insight I most appreciated from Galenson came from his reversal of the traditional viewpoint of the young vs old creativity cycle.  He effectively moves the discussion away from the age at which an artist produces his greatest work to the method by which he works to achieve it, with some fascinating research and art historical information to support the position. 

If you are curious about Galenson's research and interested in discovering more fully about the life cycle of your personal style of creativity, this book might be of interest to you.  The more we understand about our personal creative life cycle, the more powerful our experience will be.