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Creativity is one of those words that I consider to be elastic. That is, they are stretched to cover whatever one wishes them to. Artful Dodgers: Fraud and Foolishness in the Art Market looks at others such as original; limited edition, authentic and others.

Creativity is like a virus. It’s morphing all the time. That’s what makes it so special and far more rare than most people realize. Just by existing, art does not denote creativity in its creator. It is not a one-time revelation or even a pattern or style that is then repeated. By its nature, creativity is almost always unique, even if it is derivative and only one step in the development of an idea or an expression.

When I encounter the work of a visual artist, this is certainly one characteristic I hope to see. I am frequently disappointed. Some artists do essentially the same thing (subject, palette, style) over and over and unless there is development and progression of the art, I don’t consider it creative. Art based on a once-upon-a-time thought, discovery, epiphany or effect may be very far from expressing more recent creativity.

In the 1970s I served for a time as the agent of Taos painter Emil Bisttram whose works are widely appreciated and avidly collected. At the time, I had difficulty interesting art dealers in them because they were insecure about the fact that at various times in his fecund career the artist has painted in different styles. The transcendental works, the abstracted cowboy and Indian themes, the impressionistic landscapes and the Nicholas Roehrig-inspired pieces all exhibited very high quality and finish, but the dealers said, “I’m just waiting for the real Emil Bisttram to stand up.”  

To me, the various styles were a strength of the artist’s. Like Pablo Picasso, he never stopped experimenting, trying new things and intellectually developing ideas and effects. That is not to say the work was chaotic or eclectic. There were clear lines of development and improvement within each style period. The artist’s laudable creativity was evident and, like that virus, always morphing. This above all else is what distiguishes Salvador Dali from almost every other artist. But then, that’s another story.