From Van Gogh to Lord of the Rings: algorithms decode the legendary “hot streaks”

Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood) in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001)

New Line Cinema

Have you ever heard of The Potato Eaters, Bulb Fields, and the Reclining Cow paintings? What if I told you they were made by the same artist who inspired the The Starry Night mug you bought at a museum gift shop?

Vincent Van Gogh‘s repertoire conceals a mystery. He painted his most prized masterpieces – his sunflowers and angular chamber, for example – in a few compact years of a very long career. His works before and after this duration have never really been so worthy of attention.

Why those years? Coincidence, maybe?

Dubbed his “hot streak,” the rapid success of the master of Impressionism has been attributed to luck, fate and even chance. But after researchers analyzed dozens of his paintings with deep learning algorithms, they found that the sudden surge in artistic victories was anything but a coincidence. Their findings appeared Monday in the journal Nature Communications.

They may have discovered a formula: “exploration”, then “exploitation”.

“Before your streak of success happens, the work you engage in tends to be exploratory, in terms of exploring with various styles and topics,” said lead author of the study, Dashun Wang, professor of industrial engineering and management science at the McCormick School of Engineering at Northwestern. .

“When the hot streak begins,” he said, “your job has to be exploitation – in the sense that you will become very focused on what you are working on.”

Art careers that continually evolve and experiment with different approaches, or those that only focus on one angle, are less likely to have a hot streak, research shows. It is the sequence of the two – a pattern that Van Gogh’s collections indicate – that spikes in the creation of masterpieces.

“The training streaks sort of dominate the primary impact of a career,” Wang said. “Often, career-defining work has been produced during the hot streak.”

Van Gogh is not the only outstanding example of the phenomenon. Jackson Pollock is famous for his drip period between 1947 and 1950. It was around this time that he produced his iconic and unique canvases layered with colorful paint scribbles – which your elementary school teacher likely has. tried to breed you.

Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, only experienced the outward success of his films at a defining moment in his career – bringing the beloved fantasy series to the screen. Thank you, great series, for helping to bring Sméagol to life.

“You feel like it’s magic. It’s happening somewhere in your career, but it’s deeply unsatisfying,” Wang said. “The contribution of this article is to show that all is not magic.”

Maintain a hot streak

Although explaining the results is more of a correlation than a causation, meaning that they are not a recipe for success, Wang insists that “there is a certain consistency” in the way artists perform. hot sequences.

To unravel the mystery, his team’s algorithms – repurposed from those used in driverless cars – scanned artists’ paintings for brushstroke trends, linear orientation, and use of various objects. They analyzed the filmography of the directors for the selection of actors, the genre and the structure of the identifiable plot, and they dissected the publications of the scientists for the literature and the subjects cited. In total, they studied thousands of incidences of hot streaks.

“If we want to know what’s going on around the hot streak, we have to look at the work itself, see if the character of the work is different – before and after the hot streak starts,” said Wang.

Sure enough, before his hot streak began in 1888, Van Gogh’s brush strokes were ubiquitous – just like Pollock’s before his own streak. Jackson’s films have looked at contrasting directions of genre and casting choices.

But during their stretches, every career has focused on what works best for the creator.

Wang hopes the team’s new findings on the onset of hot streaks will lead to predictive tools that can help achieve such fleeting, yet solid, success for people on-demand.

Imagine if one day we could look back on our careers and calculate which style or subject we explored will most likely promote a masterpiece. But the team’s next big question is, “How do we know when to enter the exploitation phase in the first place?”

Wang reflected on how he used to say, “May the hot streak be with you,” during his book signings.

“For a very long time, I felt like it was just a wish. That what I told them equated to luck. But I think now – at least in my mind – it goes to the point. – beyond mere luck. “

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About Bernice D. Brewer

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