What was the real secret to Van Gogh’s success?

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Before developing his famous “drip technique,” ​​abstract artist Jackson Pollock dabbled in drawing, printmaking, and surreal paintings of humans, animals and nature.

According to a new study involving researchers at the Penn State College of Information Sciences and Technology, this period of exploration followed by the exploitation of his new drip technique has prepared Pollock for a “hot series” or flurry of works. high impact grouped together. in close succession. In Pollock’s case, it was a three-year period, from 1947 to 1950, during which he created all of his dripping and splashing masterpieces for which he is still famous today.

Using artificial intelligence to extract big data related to artists, filmmakers and scientists, the researchers found that this model is not uncommon but rather a magic bullet. Hot sequences, they discovered, are a direct result of years of exploration (studying various styles or subjects) immediately followed by years of exploitation (focusing on a narrow area to develop deep expertise).

The research was published last month in the journal Nature Communications.

With this new understanding of what triggers a news sequence, institutions can intentionally create environments that support and facilitate alert sequences in order to help their members thrive.

“Neither exploration nor exploitation in isolation is associated with a sequence of success. That’s their sequence, said Dashun Wang, a professor at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who led the study. “While exploration is considered a risk because it might get nowhere, it increases the likelihood of stumbling upon a good idea. In contrast, exploitation is generally viewed as a conservative strategy. If you run the same type of work over and over again for a long time, it could stifle creativity. But, interestingly, exploration followed by exploitation seems to show consistent associations with the appearance of hot sequences. “

The study uncovers among the first empirical regularities underlying the emergence of a series of problems in various fields, according to Lu Liu, PhD student in information science and technology at Penn State and first author of the article.

“Prior to this work, the predominant evidence suggests a haphazard view of hot sequences and individual creativity,” Liu said. “But the document suggests that the start of a hot streak is not random. On the contrary, people tend to explore different opportunities, deliberate on different choices, and then reap promising directions through exploitation.”

C. Lee Giles, David Reese professor of information science and technology at Penn State and co-author of the study, added C. Lee Giles: “The existence of hot streaks has been the subject of much debate. . This work clearly proves that they are happening. “

Inspired by Van Gogh

In 2018, Liu and C. Lee Giles, David Reese professor of information science and technology at Penn State, along with Wang and other Northwestern collaborators published an article in Nature, characterizing the scorching streaks of artistic careers, cultural and scientific. After establishing that these hot streaks are occurring, the team were motivated to find out what triggers them. Wang found a clue while visiting the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam.

Van Gogh had an artistic breakthrough from 1888-1890, during which he painted his most famous works, including The Starry Night, Sunflowers and Bedroom in Arles. Before that, however, his work was less impressionistic and more realistic. He also tended to use dark earth tones rather than the bright, vibrant colors for which he is best known today.

“If you look at his production before 1888, it was everywhere,” Wang said. “It was full of still lifes, pencil drawings and portraits that are very different in character from the work he created during his hot streak.”

Mining data of artists, scientists

In the new study, the researchers developed computational methods using deep learning algorithms and network science, then applied these methods to large-scale datasets tracking the career outcomes of artists, directors and scientists.

For artists, the researchers used image recognition algorithms to extract data from 800,000 visual art images collected from museums and galleries, which spanned the careers of 2,128 artists, including Pollock and Van Gogh. For directors, the team collected datasets from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), which included 79,000 films by 4,337 directors. For the scientists, the team analyzed the career paths of 20,040 scientists by combining publication and citation datasets from the Web of Science and Google Scholar.

Liu and colleagues quantified a sequence of success within each career based on the impact of the works produced, measured by auction price, IMDB ratings, and citations of academic papers. Then, they correlated the timing of the hot streaks with each individual’s creative trajectories. Looking at careers four years before and after the hot streak, the researchers looked at how each individual’s job changed at the start of a hot streak.

“Powerful” combination

The team found that when an exploration episode was not followed by mining, the risk of a hot streak was significantly reduced. Likewise, exploitation alone – which was not preceded by exploration – did not guarantee a hot sequence either. But when exploration was closely followed by exploitation, the researchers noted that the likelihood of a hot streak increased steadily and significantly.

“It’s important to produce a lasting contribution,” Liu said. “This is particularly relevant for identifying, training and nurturing talent, especially since there are various forces that currently appear in tension with the exploration-exploitation dynamic, ranging from the pressure to publish to the evaluation of the tenure.”

“This knowledge can help individuals and organizations understand the different types of activities to engage in – such as exploring new areas or harnessing existing knowledge and skills – and the optimal sequence to use to achieve the most significant impact, ”added the co-study. author Jillian Chown, associate professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School.

On average, a hot streak lasts about five years. After that, the researchers found that people return to “normal” and no longer follow any pattern of exploration or exploitation.

The study, “Understanding the onset of Hot Streaks in Artistic, Cultural, and Scientific Careers,” was supported by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (award numbers FA9550-15-1-0162, FA9550- 17-1-0089 and FA9550- 19-1-0354).

About Mark A. Tomlin

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