NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

One Hit Wonders: Why Some of the Most Important Works of Modern Art are Not by Important Artists

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 10885
Issued in November 2004
NBER Program(s):   LS

How can minor artists produce major works of art? This paper considers 13 modern visual artists, each of whom produced a single masterpiece that dominates the artist's career. The artists include painters, sculptors, and architects, and their masterpieces include works as prominent as the painting American Gothic, the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D. C. In each case, these isolated achievements were the products of innovative ideas that the artists formulated early in their careers, and fully embodied in individual works. The phenomenon of the artistic one-hit wonder highlights the nature of conceptual innovation, in which radical new approaches based on new ideas are introduced suddenly by young practitioners.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w10885

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