Do artists – and other creatives – peak when they are young or do they improve with age?
In his remarkable book Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton University Press, 2006), University of Chicago economist David Galenson studies great artists, authors, and filmmakers to discover the answers. In a similar way to Charles Murray’s book on Human Accomplishment that I reviewed recently, Galenson looks at their life’s work and how it is valued today to try to figure out when they were at their best.
His conclusion is that “conceptual” creatives peak early in life with a whole new way of seeing the world, whereas the “experimental” creatives keep trying new things throughout their life, always learning more, and creating some of their best work well after youth strikes.
Galenson’s subjects include Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Robert Frost, Alfred Hitchcock, van Gogh, Picasso, Herman Melville, James Joyce, and Orson Welles. As you would expect in a book I like – even about art – there are plenty of graphs, tables, and charts of data.
If you are interested in the arts – or in the basis of creative breakthroughs – this book is for you.




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