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.