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Anthropologist on Adolescence


In my office I have an extensive library of art novels, books by dealers and memoirs of various art market figures. These are not the hard core of the library, but they can be a lot of fun. Perhaps I’ll re-read them when I’m in my dotage. That won’t happen for a while because I’m still following my very successful formula for managing aging: deep denial.

One such book is Bets and Scams: A Novel of the Art World written in 1996 by Gary Schwartz, the authority on Dutch painting of the 17th century. He has an imaginary anthropologist do a riff on human development. Here it is:

“Human beings have the latest and the longest adolescence in the animal kingdom. It doesn’t end until a good quarter of their expected life-span has gone by. At that point, most humans begin supporting themselves. They mate and have offspring like any other animal. But some, especially in our society, choose to prolong their adolescence by going to college. At an age when most of their  contemporaries are responsible adults with their own households, college students live in individual cells, pairing randomly and fruitlessly, and letting their parents pay for their keep. A small number of this cohort goes on to graduate school. There they become dependent for their living and their status on a professional hierarchy which bullies and charms them into imitating the established figures. This treatment turns the adult capacities of the student against himself , leading to an increased dependency on  his elders. If it takes, the student loses his ability to make normal demands of life. The need he had as a child for parental love becomes a need for approval from his professors. And he gets it, in measured doses, cut with contempt. By the time you finish graduate school, your emotional metabolism is a wreck.”

This didn’t happen to me, of course. By the time I finished my doctoral studies at the University of Florida, the University of London and the University of Ghana (West Africa), I had done so much traveling, exploring (I hitch-hiked back and forth from Nigeria to Cote d’Ivoire) and research in interesting places that I had a self-knowledge and self-reliance that has stood me in good stead ever since; even when dealing with the worst characters the art market produces.