Scientists Discover the Key to Artistic Success: ‘Promising New Ideas’ and Intense Focus

In a new study published on Monday in Nature Communications, a team of scientists said it had discovered the key to “hot streaks,” or periods of intense and successful artistic productivity. The paper cites Jackson Pollock’s four-year period of intense productivity and success with his drip paintings. 

In a previous paper, Dashun Wang and a team of researchers had proven the existence of hot streaks. “In scientific careers, we see that it is in a four to five year period where scientists publish their best work,” he said. “Ninety percent of scientists experience a hot streak, and it usually happens once.”

But one discovery complicated his findings. “There is equal probability that the hot streak could occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a career,” Wang said. “It seemed like a random magical period.” This puzzle set the team on a three-year journey to understand what kinds of conditions precede a hot streak.

To produce its new paper, Wang and his team relied on artificial intelligence to track the kinds of outputs artists, filmmakers, and scientists made in the period leading up to a hot streak. In particular, they were looking to see if exploration or exploitation best predicted periods of peak creativity. For the researchers, exploitation meant focusing on a narrow range of subjects or style, not abuse of some kind.

The researchers’ specially designed AI was able to consider the evolution of an artist’s art style over time. It was exposed to 800,000 images culled from museum and gallery collections that represent the careers of 2,128 artists. If the AI detected a lot of variety in style this was termed as a period of exploration, or if the AI detected little variety, it was a period of exploitation. An artist’s hot streak was identified by examining which period of time resulted in the artist’s most expensive works.

The scientists found that neither exploration nor exploitation on its own could significantly predict a hot streak, writing, “Not all explorations are fruitful, and exploitation in the absence of promising new ideas may not be as productive.”

On the other hand, the researchers did find that a sequence of exploration followed by exploitation could predict hot streaks in the careers of not only artists but filmmakers and scientists, too. The researchers cited Jackson Pollock as an example in the paper, saying that the Abstract Expressionist’s hot streak took place between 1946 and 1950, when he produced some of the drip paintings for which he is best known. For Pollock, this era was a time of intense focus on a very specific style, and this, the researchers said, preceded by a good amount of experimentation.

“We searched for an answer for three years,” Wang says, “I was surprised the answer was this simple. But the best kind of results are the results that are so obvious once you know the answer.”

Share This Post:

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on pinterest
Share on linkedin

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts

Basel is Back: A Review of Art Basel 2021

And just like that, almost as if there was no global pandemic that crippled the world for the past year and a half, Art Basel returned to the Swiss city where it started over 50 years ago, bringing together 272 premier galleries from 33 countries and territories. Including the now irreplaceable Unlimited section with monumental

RIP, Eiichi Yamamoto, Director of “Belladonna of Sadness”

We got word last night the cult-followd Japanese film director, Eiichi Yamamoto, has passed away on September 7, 2021 at the age of 80. He is probably most remembered for his classic film, Belladonna of Sadness from 1973, one of the iconic films of Japanese erotica and precursor to many more salacious anime works in the

Speed Wheels Stories: A Conversation with Mike Giant

Coinciding with are recent feature in our Fall 2021 quarterly on the Art of the Speed Wheels and the current exhibition, The Art of the Santa Cruz Speed Wheel on view at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History through January 2, 2022, we will spend the next few months dipping into the Santa Cruz skate archives and speak with

Scroll to Top


Yes! Sign me up for AFYC's weekly newsletter featuring valuable info for artists, nonprofits, upcoming contests, and our new product offerings.

Count Me In!