Cezanne’s dream team

I’ve seen this article cited in a number of blogs this past week; generally the take-away seems to be what Gladwell starts with, that some artists (or writers, or whatever) do their best work seemingly right out of the blocks, while others are comparably late bloomers. What’s perhaps most interesting in terms of culture-making, though, is the article’s later sections, which deal with just what sort of necessary conditions allow for the emergence of a late bloomer. Such success is, indeed, “highly contingent,” which I think you can take two ways: on the one hand, to despair a bit about the difficulty of any artistic or cultural greatness to ever get off the ground; but on the other, to rejoice that for every Cezanne who we know about, there must be scores we never will, going about their business in our midst.

But for Zola, Cézanne would have remained an unhappy banker’s son in Provence; but for Pissarro, he would never have learned how to paint; but for Vollard (at the urging of Pissarro, Renoir, Degas, and Monet), his canvases would have rotted away in some attic; and, but for his father, Cézanne’s long apprenticeship would have been a financial impossibility. That is an extraordinary list of patrons. The first three—Zola, Pissarro, and Vollard—would have been famous even if Cézanne never existed, and the fourth was an unusually gifted entrepreneur who left Cézanne four hundred thousand francs when he died. Cézanne didn’t just have help. He had a dream team in his corner.

This is the final lesson of the late bloomer: his or her success is highly contingent on the efforts of others.

from “Annals of Culture: Late Bloomers,” by Malcom Gladwell, The New Yorker, 20 October 2008

Originally published at culture-making.com.

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