NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art

David Galenson

NBER Working Paper No. 15073
Issued in June 2009
NBER Program(s):   ED   LS

Art critics and scholars have acknowledged the breakdown of their explanations and narratives of contemporary art in the face of what they consider the incoherent era of "pluralism" or "postmodernism" that began in the late twentieth century. This failure is in fact a result of their inability to understand the nature of the development of advanced art throughout the entire twentieth century, and particularly the novel behavior of young conceptual innovators in a new market environment. The rise of a competitive market for advanced art in the late nineteenth century freed artists from the constraint of having to satisfy powerful patrons, and gave them unprecedented freedom to innovate. As the rewards for radical and conspicuous innovation increased, conceptual artists could respond to these incentives more quickly and decisively than their experimental counterparts. Early in the twentieth century, the young conceptual genius Pablo Picasso initiated two new practices, by alternating styles at will and inventing a new artistic genre, that became basic elements of the art of a series of later conceptual innovators. By the late twentieth century, extensions of these practices had led to the emergence of important individual artists whose work appeared to have no unified style, and to the balkanization of advanced art, as the dominance of painting gave way before novel uses of old genres and the creation of many new ones. Understanding not only contemporary art, but the art of the past century as a whole, will require art scholars to abandon their outmoded insistence on analyzing art in terms of style, and to recognize the many novel patterns of behavior that have been created over the course of the past century by young conceptual innovators.

download in pdf format
   (73 K)

email paper

This paper is available as PDF (73 K) or via email.

Machine-readable bibliographic record - MARC, RIS, BibTeX

Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w15073

Published: David W. Galenson, 2009. "Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number gale08-1, December.

Users who downloaded this paper also downloaded these:
Galenson w14066 The Back Story of Twentieth-Century Art
Galenson w12499 A Conceptual World: Why the Art of the Twentieth Century is So Different From the Art of All Earlier Centuries
Galenson w13377 Artists and the Market: From Leonardo and Titian to Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst
Galenson w14005 The Globalization of Advanced Art in the Twentieth Century
Galenson w16024 Understanding Creativity
 
Publications
Activities
Meetings
NBER Videos
Data
People
About

Support
National Bureau of Economic Research, 1050 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02138; 617-868-3900; email: info@nber.org

Contact Us