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Artistic styles: revisiting the analysis of modern artists’ careers

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This paper is based on a global sample of the 214 most prominent modern visual artists born 1850–1945. Two analytical methods are used to analyse the age at which artists produce their best works—one based on year-of-birth cohorts of modern visual artists and the other on stylistic groups. The cohort-analysis shows that the career patterns develop similarly over time for artists working in the USA and Europe; over time the artists’ peak ages first increase, reach their maximum for artists born between 1890 and 1909, and then decrease again. The study of stylistic groups shows that artists associated with Fauvism, the Nabis and Post-Impressionism experience an early peak, whereas artists associated with Surrealism, Impressionism, Abstract Expressionism, Art Informel, Pop Art, Expressionism and Cubism peak later in their careers.

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  1. This classification of artists is described in detail in Galenson (2001, 2006).

  2. The old masters analysed in Ginsburgh and Weyers (2006) cover a birth-range from 1450 to 1634.

  3. Of course, there are other ways of assessing the quality of an artist’s oeuvre, such as art criticism or the number of paintings reprinted in an arts dictionary or hung in a museum. However, as an objective measure and not least of all due to the number of observations for each artist, this paper is solely based on results of art auctions. Furthermore, one would expect there to be a large correlation between auction outcomes and other measures of quality.

  4. Galenson and Weinberg use artists born between 1820 and 1900 for their study of French artists, and a birth range from 1900 to 1940 for American artists.

  5. Galenson and Weinberg (2001) analyse French artists, however, in order to capture all European art movements, this paper is based on artists who work anywhere in Europe.

  6. The time of one’s birth is unarguably exogenous to an artist’s decision to join a particular art movement.

  7. Simonton (1988) focuses on interdisciplinary comparisons. The disciplines that peak early are lyric poetry, pure mathematics and physics; those that peak late are novel writing, history, philosophy and medicine.

  8. The impact of technology and the production of human capital on productivity has been discussed by Bartel and Sicherman (1998) and Ben-Porath (1967).

  9. The purpose of this cross-comparison is to avoid any oversampling of artists from the USA and the UK; O’Hagan and Kelly refer to this as a ‘country marketing bias’. For full details, see O’Hagan and Kelly (2005) or Kelly and O’Hagan (2007).

  10. The ranking of the most influential actors in a discipline has, for example, been undertaken by Murray (2003).

  11. The nominal prices were adjusted using the US CPI retrieved from the IMF’s International Financial Statistics.

  12. If this information was not available, the observation was not included in the sample.

  13. These are the 133 artists who could be classified as a member of a particular stylistic group. The remaining 81 of the 214 artists could not be uniquely identified in terms of their styles.

  14. A similar selection of formative art movements is presented and discussed in Janson (1977).

  15. The sample period in this paper does not include artists born before 1850 and hence, early Impressionists like Cézanne who are included in Galenson and Weinberg (2001) are not covered.

  16. This imposes the same relationship between age and price for each artist of a certain cohort or group, but nevertheless, allows for comparability of the results.

  17. Galenson and Weinberg (2000, 2001) use the same polynomial in age as does Hodgson (2007).

  18. We expect larger paintings to yield higher prices at auction. Similarly, oil paintings might sell for a higher price than paintings produced with less durable materials.

  19. This weighting method follows Galenson and Weinberg (2000, 2001). The results are similar when each artist receives the same weight and when an unweighted estimation is used.

  20. Only four artists out of the first cohort worked in the US. Similarly, only four artists out of the last cohort were active in Europe.

  21. Eighty-four percent of European paintings are oil paintings, whereas this is the case for only 46% of American paintings.

  22. Interestingly, the coefficients on size are within the range of Galenson’s and Weinberg’s results (2000, 2001), despite the differences in the sample considered.

  23. The results are similar when each artist receives the same weight and when an unweighted estimation is used. In addition, we obtain similar results when estimating separate regressions for each art movement.

  24. The peak age of the Post-Impressionists is only a lower bound as the estimation produces a corner solution due to insignificant coefficients on the age polynomial.

  25. As a robustness check for this very early peak age, individual peak ages for each artist were estimated. Also with this estimation method, the average peak age for the ‘early peakers’ is lower than the average for all other art movements.

  26. This is probably also the reason why Galenson and Weinberg (2001) find a much higher peak age for these artists. They find the peak age to be 46.6 for artists born 1820–1839 and 37.0 for those born 1840–1859

  27. Harris (1929) refers to this as the portrayal of the meaning of things or their essential nature.

  28. In an automatic painting, the hand is allowed to move ‘randomly’ across the paper. By allowing chance into the creative process, painting is to a large extent free of rational control. Hence, the paintings produced may be the result of the subconscious (see Grove Dictionary of Art 2008).

  29. In fact, Simonton’s model would be another interesting application of this sample of artists.

  30. The Impressionists can either be considered an outlier in this analysis or an artistic movement that is still more focused on a methodical innovation compared to classical art.

  31. Eleven artists were identified as Surrealists out of the 32 artists who were classified to any stylistic group in this cohort.


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I am thankful for excellent comments and discussions to the editor Michael Rushton and two anonymous referees, Martin Schmitz, and Danielle Kedan. I am grateful to John O’Hagan for very helpful advice and comments. The author gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the IIIS and the Department of Economics, Trinity College Dublin.

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Correspondence to Christiane Hellmanzik.

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Hellmanzik, C. Artistic styles: revisiting the analysis of modern artists’ careers. J Cult Econ 33, 201–232 (2009).

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