Whether it’s Sally Rooney, Bong Joon-ho, Arca, or Lil Nas X, there are many creatives who seem to continually be on their A-game. In a bid to find out what sparks a run of success that pushes someone to the top of their field, researchers have been looking into the existence of ‘hot streaks’, or “bursts of high-impact works clustered together in close succession”.
Lead researcher Dashun Wang of Northwestern University said that “in scientific careers, we see that it is in a four to five-year period where scientists publish their best work. 90 per cent of scientists experience a hot streak, and it usually happens once.”
However, Wang found it hard to determine what provoked these streaks. “There is equal probability that the hot streak could occur in the beginning, middle, or end of a career,” he said. “It seemed like a random magical period.”
A new study, published in Nature Communications, used artificial intelligence to analyse the careers of artists, film directors, and scientists. The research collected over 800,000 images of visual arts from museum and gallery collections, and looked at metrics of success like the auction price of artworks, IMDb ratings, and research paper citations to identify hot streaks for 2,128 artists, including Jackson Pollock and Frida Kahlo, 4,337 directors, and 20,040 scientists.
The AI then analysed the type of works within each hot streak. If there was 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’.
Researchers found that a sequence of ‘exploration’ followed by ‘exploitation’ could predict hot streaks in the careers of not just artists, but filmmakers and scientists, too. But, as Wang adds: “Not all explorations are fruitful, and exploitation in the absence of promising new ideas may not be as productive.”
The paper cites Pollock’s four-year period of intense productivity and success with his drip paintings as an example of one of these streaks. This era saw him focus intensely on a very specific style, preceded by a long run of experimentation.
So there you have it: the formula to creative success! Simple!