NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

And Now for Something Completely Different: The Versatility of Conceptual Innovators

David W. Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 12034
Issued in February 2006
NBER Program(s):   LS

Art scholars have puzzled over the behavior of Pablo Picasso, Gerhard Richter, and Sigmar Polke - important modern painters who have made frequent and abrupt changes of style. Yet in each case the scholars have assumed this behavior to be idiosyncratic, and have consequently failed to recognize its common basis. Versatility is in fact often a characteristic of conceptual innovators, whose ability to solve specific problems can free them to pursue new goals. This contrasts sharply with the practice of experimental artists, whose inability to achieve their goals often ties them to a single style for a whole career. The phenomenon of the conceptual innovator who produces diverse innovations is an important feature of twentieth-century art; Picasso was the prototype, and he was followed by a series of others, from Marcel Duchamp through Damien Hirst. Versatility has furthermore been a characteristic not only of modern conceptual painters, but also of conceptual innovators in other arts, and conceptual scholars. Recognizing the common basis of this behavior increases our understanding of human creativity.

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12034

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