Peaking early or climbing slowly

Back to the bibliography for my book. Today: David Galenson, “Old Masters and Young Geniuses.”

Folks, this is an important book. Notice I did not say “riveting” or “thrilling” or “entertaining”. It’s short and academic, not for the beach. But let me say it again: It’s important.

Galenson has looked into the life cycles of creative types. And he has found something. Gaze at this table for a while and try to figure out why these artists are split into two columns:

Painters
Picasso C├ęzanne
Munch Pissaro
Braque Degas
Derain Kandinsky
Lichtenstein Pollock
Rauschenberg de Kooning
Warhol Rothko
Poets
Eliot Frost
Pound Lowell
Cummings Stevens
Authors
Fitzgerald Dickens
Hemingway Twain
Joyce Woolf
Melville James

On the left are what Galenson calls “conceptual” types. They are the “young geniuses”.

  • They tend to succeed early in life, in their twenties or thirties, with huge breakthroughs of the imagination.
  • They have a big idea, then execute it boldly.
  • Their youth and inexperience, rather than hurting them, helps them because they don’t let the complexity of life experience confuse them.
  • They often cannot follow up later in life with more success.

On the right are “experimental” types, the “old masters”.

  • They tend to succeed late in life and gradually build toward a legacy.
  • They don’t have one big idea, but try things out, refine their craft, work hard, learn and discover.
  • They get better with age and experience, because they incorporate the complexity of life into their art.
  • They often succeed right up to the end.

By now, you will have figured out how this plays into my book. For some of the young geniuses, early success is an impostor, as Kipling would say, while for some of the old masters, early failure is an impostor.

Which type are you?
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