Young geniuses and old masters: The life cycles of great artists from Masaccio to Jasper Johns

David W. Galenson, Robert Jensen

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


Artists occupy a distinctive place in our economic life. As the art historian Meyer Schapiro (1979: 224) observed, the works they produce are “perhaps the most costly man-made objects in the world.” Supporting evidence abounds. Thus in the twelve months ending in July 2000, worldwide auction sales of works by Pablo Picasso totaled $232 million; this raised total auction sales of Picasso's work since 1988 to $1.5 billion (Barker 2000). And impressive as these numbers are, they vastly understate the wealth created by Picasso, for his most important works have long since been captured by museums, where they attract millions of viewers annually. It is not possible to estimate with any precision the market value of such landmark works as Les Demoiselles d'Avignon, the single most famous work owned by New York's Museum of Modern Art, or Madrid's Guernica, or the Picasso Museum's Still Life with Chair Caning. And although Picasso stands at the head of the line of modern painters, even among moderns he is hardly alone in having created work of enormous value, and it is likely that the wealth embodied in his work is modest compared to that of a number of old masters. Curiously, economists have shown little interest in the extraordinary productivity of these workers: economists have devoted little attention to the determination of the market value of works of art, and even less to the process by which artists produce this value.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHuman Capital and Institutions
Subtitle of host publicationA Long Run View
Number of pages29
ISBN (Electronic)9780511605390
StatePublished - Jan 1 2009

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Cambridge University Press 2009 and Cambridge University Press, 2010.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Arts and Humanities


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