David Galenson

David Galenson

Fellow: Awarded 2008
Field of Study: Fine Arts Research

Competition: US & Canada

University of Chicago

Born in Boston, David W. Galenson received his B.A. (1973), M.A. (1976), and Ph.D. (1979) from Harvard University. He joined the faculty of the University of Chicago in 1978 as an Associate Professor of Economics, and is currently a Professor of Economics and the College. Since 1983, he has also been a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Previously, he had taught at the California Institute of Technology (1980-82). He is a Fellow of the American Philosophical Society.

Even as a student, Mr. Galenson was looking at economic history from previously unexplored angles. For example, his senior thesis, on the demise of the Texans’ Long Drive, argued that the drive had ended, not because of the proliferation of barbed wire blocking ranges and trails as many earlier historians had assumed, but because years of successful drives had resulted in an increase in cattle stock in the North, which drove prices down there, and made it uneconomical for the Long Drive to continue. He won the Allyn Young Prize for best senior thesis, and before he had even received his Ph.D. he had portions of his study published in three major academic journals: Journal of Economic History, Journal of the West, and Agricultural History.

His doctoral research on indentured servitude also upended conventional theory, showing that far from being peopled with victims of either slavery or kidnapping, the system was highly competitive, with higher skilled people or those agreeing to work in more dangerous places being paid more than others. The volume of materials he forged through in coming to this conclusion was daunting—over 20,000 contracts from the English courts. His four years’ work on this subject was supported successively by an Arthur Cole grant from the Economic History Association, a Westengard Scholarship from Harvard University, and a Rovensky Fellowship from the Lincoln Educational Foundation. Again, he won accolades for his work, receiving the David Wells Prize for the best dissertation in economic history in the Harvard economics department in 1979-80.

In fact, he showed in his next line of research that part of the reason for the rise of slavery in the South was a sharp rise in the price of indentured servants, and a concurrent drop in the price of slaves, which argued that economic considerations, not racism drove the trade. That project was funded by grants from the American Philosophical Society and the Alfred Sloan Foundation.

For the next five years, he sifted through nineteenth-century federal census data, tracing the settlement patterns of European immigrants and how they fared in various locations. The National Science Foundation and the Spencer Foundation helped support his research.

As a kind of respite, he then began what has become his current line of inquiry: the interplay of art making and the art market. He was curious to know what connection there was between the financial success of an artist and the point in his career at which that success came. He found an interesting correlation between the auction prices realized by an artist’s work and the subsequent coverage in texts and exposure in exhibitions: higher-priced works were illustrated more often, and hung in retrospective exhibitions more frequently than less costly pieces. He also studied the creative curve, so to speak, finding that those artists whose success came early tended to be more deductive and theoretical, while those who made their mark later in life were more inductive and empirical. Mr. Galenson then extended his study to other fields, and found that, whether examining scientists, novelists, filmmakers, or even economists, the same rule applied.

Some of his publications dealing with this topic are Painting Outside the Lines: Patterns of Creativity in Modern Art (Harvard UP, 2001), Artistic Capital (Routledge, 2006), and Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity (Princeton UP, 2006). During his Guggenheim Fellowship term, he is studying conceptual revolutions in twentieth-century art.

Father: Walter Galenson, Guggenheim Fellow in Economics, 1954

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