Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Why Picasso Triumphed (perhaps)

An interesting and provocative read by Ian Leslie...

Certain innovations have the power to reset reality. Cubism, like Darwin’s theory of evolution, Edison’s lightbulb, or Apple’s iPhone, was an idea that made everything around it seem instantly obsolete. When we think about why such ideas succeed, our instinct is to hail their creators as godlike visionaries, and their success as somehow inevitable.
Stoyan Sgrouev thinks we’re missing something. Sgrouev is a management professor at ESSEC in France. Scholars of innovation usually study the incremental improvements that give existing products a slight edge over their competitors and which, in the long run, add up to progress. Sgourev focuses on the rarer bird of radical innovation: great leaps forward. The lens through which he examines this phenomenon is the history of art.
Cubism burst out of its niche and into the mainstream, and did so with extraordinary force and velocity. Impressionism took several decades to make its movement from the margins of the Parisian scene to its heart; Cubism made a comparable impact within a few years, and the stylistic experiments it led to defined the international art market for the rest of the century.
Understanding why this happened is no easy matter. Was it simply that Picasso was special? Sgourev finds the “genius” explanation wanting. He cites the counter-example of Vincent van Gogh, an artistic innovator of comparable talent and radicalism to Picasso. Ten years before Picasso arrived in Paris, Van Gogh killed himself, aged 34, having never sold a painting in his life. Neither is it as if Picasso was a superior marketer of his work; he shied away from promoting it and refused to assume leadership of the group of artists associated with Cubism.
Sgourev’s analysis of Cubism suggests that having an exceptional idea isn’t enough: if it is to catch fire, the market conditions have to be right. That’s a question of luck and timing as much as it is of genius. The closest modern analogy to Picasso’s Paris is Silicon Valley in the early days of the dotcom boom, with art dealers as venture capitalists and entrepreneurs as artists.
Link to the full article...

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