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The Reappearing Masterpiece: Ranking American Artists and Art Works of the Late Twentieth Century

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  • David W. Galenson

Abstract

A survey of the illustrations in textbooks of modern art produces the startling finding that art scholars consider Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty to be the most important individual work made by an American artist during the past 150 years. More generally, quantifying the evidence of the textbooks reveals the source of the pluralism,' or stylistic incoherence, of American art since the late 1960s. A persistently high demand for artistic innovation has produced a regime in which conceptual approaches have predominated. The art world has consequently been flooded by a series of new ideas, usually embodied in individual works, generally made by young artists who have failed to make more than one significant contribution in their careers. The dramatic and monumental Spiral Jetty, made in 1970 by a young artist who was killed soon thereafter while in the process of making his art, has become a symbol for the art of this era.

Suggested Citation

  • David W. Galenson, 2003. "The Reappearing Masterpiece: Ranking American Artists and Art Works of the Late Twentieth Century," NBER Working Papers 9935, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9935
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. David W. Galenson, 1999. "Quantifying Artistic Success: Ranking French Painters - and Paintings - from Impressionism to Cubism," NBER Working Papers 7407, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David W. Galenson, 2005. "The Methods and Careers of Leading American Painters in the late Nineteenth Century," NBER Working Papers 11545, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. David W. Galenson, 2002. "Was Jackson Pollock the Greatest Modern American Painter? A Quantitative Investigation," NBER Working Papers 8830, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. David W. Galenson, 2004. "A Portrait of the Artist as a Very Young or Very Old Innovator: Creativity at the Extremes of the Life Cycle," NBER Working Papers 10515, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    2. David W. Galenson, 2004. "One Hit Wonders: Why Some of the Most Important Works of Modern Art are Not by Important Artists," NBER Working Papers 10885, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J0 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - General
    • J4 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Particular Labor Markets

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