In The Guardian, art critic Jonathan Jones names his Top Ten greatest works of art from all time (that we know of). Many of the commenters note that his choices seem narrowly male and Western, so keep that in mind as you explore his mostly classical choices. You won’t find the usual crowd-pleasers; there’s no Mona Lisa, no Van Gogh sunflowers, no Monet waterlilies. Nor are there any of the great Japanese or Indian or Islamic creations, or anything from a South American culture (I’m not sure how you could even approach a list from that breadth). But certainly it’s a list that’s true to an informed Western perspective.
I’ve looked at this list several times and asked what connects these works. Each is extremely refined and skilled, clearly. But I think Jones is focused on works that are illuminating something about being deeply human, whether it’s cruelty, discovery, or the awakening of conscience or consciousness, as in Picasso’s Guernica or the historic cave paintings. His choices are not about self-expression or reveling in the pure joy of paint; these are constructed works by masters and each one has a soul that is unmistakably moving and timeless.
It’s not my list and probably not yours, but it’s fascinating to see how one critic chooses from thousands of years of art to find these ten.
Guernica by Pablo Picasso. 1937. Oil on canvas. 349 cm × 776 cm. Guernica is in the collection of Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid.
Someone called me persistent today and the truth is that I’m really not. My marshmallow insides curdle and flee at rejection. But artist Gideon Amichay is truly persistent. Read this sweet and wonderful story on DesignObserver.com, excerpted from his book No, No, No, No, No, Yes: Insights from a Creative Journey. Amichay also has a TED talk that I’m just listening to now.
I’ve taken two wonderful botanical illustration classes through the remarkable program at the Denver Botanic Gardens. One of those was Color Mixing with Colored Pencil, taught by Susan Rubin, a wonderful teacher and contemporary botanical artist (photos from class below). She posted this Colorado Public Radio essay by Susanna Speier on Facebook recently on why botanical art still matters in the digital age.
One of the things that Susan told us in class was that the beginning of every century seems to see a resurgence in naturalist art and naturalist leanings. The sense of time moving forward and technological progress seems to invigorate — or necessitate – a return to nature. We’ve seen it in the 21st century in everything from an expanding interest in botanical illustration to textile prints and earth art and herbal medicine and small-scale agriculture and gardening.
For artists, whether the precision of formal scientific and botanical illustration appeals to you or not, nature is the first and ultimate source. I love abstraction and I love cities and the built environment, but the fundamental connection to nature grounds everything.