What makes a painting famous? What makes that a painting can stand the test of time? Why are some paintings so entrenched in the collective consciousness? Why are some paintings more important than others. These are important questions especially as an artist as we want to create something that will impact the world and will last through the ages. This is also important if you’re a lover of history, anthropology and politics as these seek to understand the human condition better.
In my years of studying art history I think it boils down to 3 specific things. Hold on to your seat – more on that later.
In first year art philosophy at Stellenbosch University we were given the question : there’s a vaulted room with the Mona Lisa, Starry Starry Night, Monet’s Waterlilies – all locked up, no body has ever entered this room or seen these paintings, now argue the value of the room. This question is meant to lead you down the path of questioning what makes art valuable.
Here’s my argument in layman’s terms so that you can sound really good at your next dinner party. On the streets of New York they always joke you need to have read Malcolm Gladwell before you go to that oh-so-important cocktail party, I would say this blog post makes for great cocktail party conversation.
I’d like to introduce you to the word zeitgeist. It’s probably my favourite word even though its German – it translates into the spirit of the times. A lot of times in history it has been argued that a lot of the ideas are due to the spirit of the times as opposed to individual ideas; for example during Alexander Graham Bell’s time a lot of people were trying to create a light bulb but he beat them to the post and therefore his name went down in history, the same goes for flight and radio which ultimately the Wright brothers won.
That being said it’s really important to look at the zeitgeist of when a painting was created. What was happening in history or in the psychological collective minds of people during that time, what they were feeling, what were they going through, what was the progression of knowledge at the time.
So, let’s start with the most famous list of 10. This list of famous paintings was determined by CNN, if you would like to read the article it is available at: https://edition.cnn.com/style/article/most-famous-paintings/index.html. Let’s go and investigate what really went down.