David Galenson, an economist, has an interesting theory about innovation and creativity and points to creators as being either ‘Conceptual Innovators’ or ‘Experimental Innovation’.
When looking at modern art, he believes there are two different trajectories that great artists take.
Conceptual Innovators are those that do their best work early in their life, they work quickly with specific ideas they want to communicate and they can articulate those ideas clearly. They plan precisely and then execute. Someone like Picasso, who bursts on to the art scene, epitomizes the conceptual innovator.
Experimental Innovators are those who never have a clear easily articulated idea, they don’t work quickly and when they start off they don’t really know where they’re going as they work by trial and error. With endless drafts they are perpetually unsatisfied taking time to figure out what they want to say. For example, Cezanne coming back to the same subject with no clear linear plan, with many versions until he stumbles onto the idea that would seize his imagination.
Malcolm Gladwell takes this theory and goes further and asks when does something become genius? What happens when genius takes time to emerge? He explores what happens when an experimental innovator labours over a piece of work, going back to it and editing it over a long period. Then further what happens when artists take someone else’s piece of work, like a song and builds on to to create the next improved iteration.
Conceptual works are easily found and captured, but experimental works can be illusive and can be lost as we miss them in their early stages, before they are perfected by the creator or over time, perfected by other creators.
So are you Cezanne? …always unsure, producing a version after version, and unclear where it will take you and sometimes your own worst enemy.
Creativity is sometimes illusive and that takes time, struggle and doubt.
For more go to Revisionist History, Hallelujah Podcast Season 1 Episode 7 by Malcolm Gladwell