People have always differed vastly in their opinions about art and artists. Often favored artists were simply artists who an individual had been most exposed to and knew best. Art appreciation was based more on locality, than a considered approach gained from experiences of viewing many artists from different times and countries.

Contemporary artists, like Banksy, have mastered ways to be provocative and gab headlines to gain fame. Fame today does not mean the artist’s work will be revered by future generations. There are famous and prosperous artists who were once revered in their own countries, whose work has not withstood the essential test of time. What are the keys to recognizing a great artist in his or her own time? What artists’ works will prove to be good investments over time?

Thanks to the Internet we can see what our time considers to be great art, from antiquity until present time. We can access images of great art from museums and art galleries around most of the world. Unfortunately, the works of some great artists are not fully captured by a camera image. For example, I have never seen the power and emotion of any of Mark Rothko’s work adequately captured in a photograph. However there are great artists whose works are well enough captured that can inspire and reach us via the internet, as well as through books by splendid art publishers.

This availability allows personal visual art appreciation and even research by anyone with a decent screen (for accurate colors) and an internet connection. From the images on our screens we can begin to discern what sets the most renowned artists apart.

What Do the Greatest Artists Have in Common?

What do undisputed masters, artists who would be counted as certainly some of the greatest ever, such as Giotto, Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Turner, Monet, Cezanne, van Gogh, and Warhol have in common?

Well, for one thing, these artists’ works bring in the crowds to museum shows. People will line up and pay extra money and travel, even from other countries to view a comprehensive show of works by artists such as Rembrandt or van Gogh. A comprehensive show means that works that are owned by other museums and collectors are displayed, that one would not normally see by taking a trip to the Netherlands and visiting the namesake museums — a somewhat once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Van Gogh’s blockbuster money making shows have recently inspired the immersive Van Gogh video exhibit, and a cartoon movie of his works, Loving Vincent, both resoundingly money making ventures.

Vincent van Gogh Psalm 113 (Scripture Portrait) by Judy Rey Wasserman

Just prior to the Covid pandemic, the Louvre in Paris saw one million visitors in just over four months for their Van Gogh show. No matter how many times we have seen images of van Gogh’s works, they reveal new dimensions, emotions, and essential secrets when seen in the flesh.

Then came the pandemic; museums closed, and blockbuster art shows were postponed or cancelled. Travel was cancelled, postponed, and limited. People practiced safe distancing, and when they opened on limited basis museums and galleries limited attendance.

Yet, in the middle of the Covid pandemic, a previously postponed Rembrandt blockbuster drew 42,000 visitors to National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa during the summer of 2021. After just a week, available time slots for the ticketed show were almost gone, leading the museum to extend its hours during the last four days to meet the demand. Like van Gogh, a Rembrandt show is always a blockbuster for its venue. Images of his works do not quite thrill us the way a personal encounter does.

Clearly, these artists meaningfully communicate to people today. Wandering around in great museums that encompass the history of art, such as the Metropolitan in New York City, one realizes that the artists who best communicate in a non-linear way, call that spiritual, emotional or psychological, have the power to overcome time and distances of culture.

Rembrandt Psalm 22 Scripture Portrait Colored Aleph by Judy Rey Wasserman

Does Unique Artistic Style Matter?

Great artists, certainly every one in our sample group of greats, had a distinctive style. Their works are easily distinguished from others of their own time. Although some of their actual signatures are famous, their works are also their signatures, portraying visions that are uniquely their own.

Pissarro Scripture Portrait, Strokes are Psalm 27, Psalm 119:105, Ecclesiastes 2:13, Psalm36:10, Isaiah 60:1 by Judy Rey Wasserman

However, many great artists convey emotional or spiritual visual content and have a unique style but do not quite make it onto the topmost peak reserved for the greatest. What else distinguishes the greatest artists?

The work of every great artist mentioned in our distinguished group found new ways of painting, portraying light, perspective, color and/or space. They used strokes in new ways; they chose subjects that were different and sometimes controversial. They pioneered new ways of making art. This made their work influential.

What Makes Artists Exceptionally Revered?

The work of the greatest artists has inspired and influenced the work of other good to great artists. Their work continues to inspire and even provoke artists today. This seems to be the one attribute that only the greatest artists share. New schools of artistic thought and/or art movements can be traced back to their work. This places them in an ongoing historical context.

Generally, the great artists also “invented” groundbreaking artistic use of materials in their time. Leonardo Da Vinci invented the technique of sfumato. Da Vinci greatly experimented with materials. His successes were adopted by new generations of artists to this day. Likewise, Rembrandt experimented with the use of light and darkness, refining oil painting in new ways. Pissarro and the Impressionists and then Pointillists experimented with color theory, and also the new freedom that could be gained by using paint in tubes, allowing plein air painting. Van Gogh’s exhilarating quick brush strokes convey emotion, as well as the subject of his works. Warhol experimented and created new artistic ways to use video and screen printing.

What Artists Today Will be Revered in a Century?

We are too close to the last half of the twentieth century to have any true perspective on how and if the next generations will relate to the works of the artists of that time. We are just beginning to learn of their influence on innovative Contemporary artists.

For at least the last twenty years the renown and influence of Andy Warhol keeps growing. Many contemporary artists, including myself, credit Andy Warhol for influencing their work. [See: https://ungravenimage.com/blog/2009/04/andy-warhol-is-a-grandfather-to-post-conceptual-art/ ]

Andy Warhol Psalm 19 (Essence Scripture Portrait) by Judy Rey Wasserman

To discover the greatest artists of yesterday we need to find the great artists they influenced today – and tomorrow. Artists who truly innovate based on the innovations and work of previous great artists, while communicating emotional or spiritual content in a unique style that inspires other artists are and will continue to be the greatest artists whose works remain relevant and meaningful for generations.

What do you see that the greatest artists have in common? Please share your ideas in the comments below.

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Judy Rey Wasserman is an artist and the founder of Post Conceptual Art theory and also the branch known as UnGraven Image Art.

Post Conceptual UnGraven Image Art theory is based at the intersection of ancient spiritual wisdom and cutting-edge contemporary science. It shows us a new and enhanced spiritual and science-based way to see the world. It is a life changing vision that can even become an actual new way of seeing that is a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Can this be true? See for yourself.

Check out the Fine Art Limited Edition prints, decorative prints, books, and printables that are currently available to you through Judy Rey’s Art of Seeing The Divine Shop. You don’t have to buy to avail yourself of the art and inspiration available there. However, if you select to collect investment quality archival art, or decorate your home with images created with strokes that are original letters from Bible texts, or buy a gift for someone special, there is a secure shopping cart that accepts most credit cards so your purchase is easy to accomplish. https://artofseeingthedivine.com.

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7 Replies to “What Do the Greatest Artists Have in Common?”

  1. I do not think what you call art is really art. Painters and sculpturers are a lesser artist. They may capture the essence of an emotion or feeling, that a rich person is willng to pay a lot for but real artists are: a person that uses their skills to teach, inspire, or help a person find deeper meaning in their own emotions or life. This is mostly writers, comedians, and musicians. I apologize for sounding antagonistic but the degradation of the word art is a sore spot for me.

  2. Really interesting and thought provoking. I will be back. Thank you.

  3. So you don’t think one can teach and inspire thru painting and sculpture… I almost feel sorry for you. You just have a week mind for the visual medium that’s all. It’s like me saying that writers, comedians and musicians are lesser artists because they think they are so important that they have something to teach and tell others that they don’t allready know… mostly people with stagneted emotional lifes. Well your degrading it aswell. Let’s just enjoy it for what it is.

  4. I definitely believe that art – visual art and all other art forms — can and does teach and inspire
    I do not have a clue as to how you came to the idea that I think or believe otherwise.

  5. This says more about the writer than art. What is considered great, how it is measured, dominant culture perspective, list making (artists hate lists) judging, and maintaining a class perspective….on and on and on….

    This is the type of lecture that a 7th grade art student could take apart and destroy.

  6. Art shouldn’t be limited to specific categories. That said, I think it’s bizarre that expression has to take only a few forms. If you can take it upon yourself to redefine or limit expression, then that’s very simple minded of you. If a 14 year old like me can see that, how can anyone else not see that it’s a problem to do that. Expression is expression, in a nutshell.

  7. Lord Gainz says:

    Anyone who attempts to replicate what already is, I wouldn’t call them artists. Painting another person and their background almost exactly the way they found it is not art, I believe. The more similar something is to an object in existence the less of a work of art it becomes. If an artist perfectly imagined a horse the artist previously saw then went on to replicate it on a canvas or as a sculpture I’d call em immensely skilled, not an artist. But if the artist imagined a horse the artist has never seen, then I suppose it becomes more of a work of art but less so than a self imagined expressionist painting. Any fragment of one’s imagination worked upon the realms of reality is art.

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