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.
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.
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.
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?
Copycat artists always abound and even flock together as they can earn a living seeming to plough a popular pre-ploughed field, so there are many artists today who are Warhol, Dali, Twombly, Rothko, etc., knock-offs. We even have Rembrandt, van Gogh, Monet and Picasso knock-offs. Apparently more people have artistic talent than artistic vision.
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/ ]
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.