How the N.Y. Times deals with Galenson

The New York Times is the latest major publication to recognize David Galenson’s insights into the world of art.

The Nov. 15 article “The Art of Pricing Great Art” by David Leonhardt (access with free signup) focuses almost entirely on whether Galenson’s discoveries can predict auction prices, barely mentioning its broader implications.

Gauguin’s “Man With an Ax” at  Christie’s auction

The approach is a bit bizarre. It’s odd to pay attention to what innovators’ careers have to say about prices, but not to care about the insights into the innovation process that can be revealed in patterns of prices.

The article does delve into the reasons for the intensity of opposition to Galenson’s work.

Leonhardt writes:

“Its real problem is that it’s not what we want to hear. We like to believe that human judgment is too complex and nuanced — too magical — to be captured by something as clinical as statistics. …

“While Mr. Galenson has been studying the art world over the last five years [actually, for at least eight years], all sorts of other fields have been engaged in their own debate about judgment versus rules. Some doctors have been resisting a push toward ‘evidence-based medicine’ because they believe their clinical judgment trumps the data. In Major League Baseball, scouts who have been watching games for decades roll their eyes at a group of young executives who prefer numbers to descriptions.

“When the traditionalists in these fields describe their skepticism of statistics, they sometimes make the argument that their craft is as much art as it is science. That’s a nice line, but the next time you hear it, think back to Mr. Galenson’s work. Even art, it turns out, has a good bit of science to it.”

As for the wider applications of Galenson’s theory, Leonhardt merely summarizes them with the sentence, “Mr. Galenson has extended the theory to novelists, poets and beyond, arguing that most creative people fall on one end or the other of the spectrum, and he has earned a fair bit of attention. “

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