I’ve updated the Best Works of Art lists, both the ranked (with the artworks on the most lists at the top) and chronological versions. (The chronological version, in seven parts, is called Art History 101.) I’ve added a number of new lists to the meta-list and also changed the formatting somewhat. Hope you enjoy.
I’ve done a little analysis of the entire artworks meta-list. There are a total of 555 artworks (actually more because some entries encompass series or artworks with multiple versions). There are artworks from Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America, although the vast majority are from Europe.
Here are the artists with the most works of art on the meta-list:
9 works of art Rembrandt (The Netherlands, 1606-1669) paintings, prints
8 works of art Michelangelo (Italy, 1475-1564) sculptures, paintings, architecture Pieter Bruegel the Elder (The Netherlands, c. 1525/1530-1569) paintings
7 works of art Leonardo da Vinci (Italy, 1452-1519) paintings, drawings Raphael (Italy, 1483-1520) paintings Titian (Italy, 1488/1490-1576) paintings Vincent van Gogh (The Netherlands, 1853-1890) paintings, prints
6 works of art Albrecht Dürer (Germany, 1471-1528) paintings, prints Francisco Goya (Spain, 1746-1828) paintings, prints
5 works of art Jan van Eyck (Belgium, before 1390/1395-1441) paintings Piero della Francesca (Italy, c. 1415-1492) paintings Peter Paul Rubens (Germany, 1577-1640) paintings Diego Velázquez (Spain, 1599-1660) paintings Gian Lorenzo Bernini (Italy, 1598-1680) sculpture, architecture Claude Monet (France, 1840-1926) paintings Pablo Picasso (Spain, 1881-1973) paintings, sculpture, collage Jackson Pollock (US, 1912-1956) paintings
4 works of art Donatello (Italy, c. 1386-1466) sculpture Giovanni Bellini (Italy, c. 1430-1516) paintings El Greco (Greece, 1541-1614) paintings Caravaggio (Italy, 1571-1610) paintings Johannes Vermeer (The Netherlands, 1632-1675) paintings J.M.W. Turner (UK, 1775-1851) paintings Édouard Manet (France, 1832-1883) paintings Paul Cézanne (France, 1839-1906) paintings Auguste Rodin (France, 1840-1917) sculpture Georges Seurat (France, 1859-1891) paintings Henri Matisse (France, 1869-1954) paintings, sculptures, prints
3 works of art Phidias (Greece, c. 480-430 BCE) sculpture Paolo Uccello (Italy, 1397-1475) paintings Andrea Mantegna (Italy, c. 1431-1506) paintings Hans Holbein the Younger (Germany, c. 1497-1543) paintings Tintoretto (Italy, 1518-1594) paintings Frans Hals (Belgium, c. 1582-1666) paintings Jean-Antoine Watteau (France, 1684-1721) paintings Théodore Géricault (France, 1791-1824) paintings Paul Gauguin (France, 1848-1903) paintings, sculpture Salvador Dali (Spain, 1904-1989) paintings; sculpture
Yes, it’s mostly men. Dead white men. I’m sorry. The contemporary art lists are more diverse. But there are a few works by women on the meta-list.
Works by Women Artists Unknown Women Embroiderers: The Bayeux Tapestry (c. 1045) Artemisia Gentileschi: Judith Beheading Holofernes (1611-1613) Rosa Bonheur: Ploughing in the Nivernais (1849) Mary Cassatt: The Child’s Bath (c. 1891) Frida Kahlo: The Two Fridas (1939) Helen Frankenthaler: Mountains and Sea (1952)
The artworks span many centuries. Here are the results by time period:
One of the downsides of meta-lists is that they tend to be conservative. To a certain extent, they confirm the conventional wisdom and perpetuate the status quo. “Best of” meta-lists, which combine the results of multiple lists from different sources, focus on the consensus: what most people can agree on, not the controversial, the outliers, those that push the envelope. In the case of the lists of best artists and best artworks, the meta-lists tend to confirm the stereotype that nearly all the great artists were male and white.
But these lists don’t tell the whole story. Great artists come from all backgrounds, ethnicities and genders. And every artist tells a different story, presents an individual viewpoint, even as they (as all artists) absorb or react to their culture, environment and historical context. By ignoring these voices, the standard “best of” lists tend to marginalize the marginalized, and oppress the oppressed.
I recently created a new meta-list of the best African-American artists: Best African-American Artists of All Time. The 23 artists on at least three of the original source lists are featured, along with images of their work. These men and women range throughout the entire history of the United States – the earliest was born in the 1760s and the youngest was born in 1977. They provide an important counterbalance to the narratives and visual styles of white artists. You may recognize some of the names on the list, but some of them may be new to you. Most of them were new to me. In order to make a better world, we need to listen to each other’s voices, as expressed in words, music, and, here, in the visual arts.
If you want to go even deeper into the story of African-American art, check out these other names of artists who were listed on two of the original source lists:
– Meta Vaux Warrick Fuller (1877-1968)
– Sargent Claude Johnson (1888-1967)
– Beauford Delaney (1901- 1979)
– Lois Mailou Jones (1905-1998)
– Elizabeth Catlett (1915-2012)
– Roy DeCarava (1919-2009)
– Betye Saar (1926- )
– Bob Thompson (1937-1966)
– Martin Puryear (1941- )
– Howardena Pindell (1943- )
– Barkley Hendricks (1945-2017)
– Glenn Ligon (1960- )
When did we decide that some art was modern art? Did modern art began at the dawn of the 20th Century, or some time before? Was Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907 the defining moment or was it some earlier work by Matisse or Kandinsky? One would think that modern would stay current, but apparently it got old, and we needed a new term to describe what came after modern. (Does postmodern follow modern? Yes and no. They’re in a relationship and it’s complicated.) The near-universally accepted term for the most recent art and artists is contemporary. We even have museums devoted exclusively to contemporary art. When did we go from modern to contemporary? The term ‘contemporary art’ has been defined in a variety of ways, all of which seek to distinguish newer art and artists from the modernists who came before. Because those Picassos, Matisses and Kandinskys are over 100 years old – and that doesn’t sound very modern, does it? Contemporary is the new modern, but how do we establish boundaries for a present tense that keeps moving into the past?
For some critics and art historians, contemporary art encompasses all the postwar movements of the 1950s and 1960s – Abstract Expressionism (think Jackson Pollock), Neo-Dada/Pre-Pop (think Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg) and Pop Art (think Andy Warhol) – and continuing all the way to the present. Others say ‘contemporary’ means art since 1970. Still others define it as art by artists living today, which means that the scope of contemporary art changes every time we see an artist’s obituary. Once we’ve defined the time period covered by ‘contemporary art’, we must try to comprehend not only the artists and their particular works of art, but also struggle with what generalizations we can make about the various means, techniques, movements and ideas employed by these artists (and by the critics, curators and historians who think and write about them). As an example of the difficulties involved in making such generalizations, consider just a few of the contemporary art ‘movements and styles’ identified by the obsessive-compulsive folks at Wikipedia: environmental art, holography, postminimalism, wildstyle, froissage, culture jamming, transgressive art, transavantgarde, neo-expressionism, hyperrealism, pseudorealism, toyism, stuckism, superflat and metamodernism. Where to find an umbrella big enough to cover all these and many more disparate paradigms?
Considering the breadth of contemporary art, it is foolish (even dangerous) to attempt generalizations. We can only point to some common trends. It is almost a cliché to say that contemporary artists seek to challenge our understanding of what art is and can be and what the artist’s role is in ‘creating’ the art, but many contemporary artists are interested in exploring (and challenging assumptions about) the nature of art – what is art?, is this art? They also like to draw attention to (and challenge our assumptions about) the nature of the creative process and the relationship between the artist and the person who interacts with the artwork, or buys the artwork. While some contemporary artists create works of art that require sophisticated artistic skills, others deemphasize technical skill and instead focus on what is simple, easy or already visible (everyday objects, advertising, etc.) – they appropriate the work of others or use assistants or the public to execute their ideas. Others use high-tech techniques that permit the creation of stunning visual effects that could not have existed in the days before computers and digital manipulation. The age-old questions about the relationship between the artwork and external reality (if they even concede its existence) continue to be asked but in new ways.
Contemporary artists use contemporary media. Instead of painting a canvas, framing it and hanging it on a wall, or shaping a sculpture from stone, bronze or clay, many of them create performances and installations that live temporary lives; after the happening happens, it exists only in various forms of documentation: videos and photographs, preparatory sketches and props. They create artworks that reshape the environment or change with time. They make artworks about their own artworks or the artworks of others. They blur boundaries between trash and art, art and commerce, lowbrow and highbrow, painting and sculpture, word and picture, sight and sound, performance and exhibit. (Is this photograph art or is it a photograph of art?) They take a tradition and add something that doesn’t belong, or subtract something that does. They break the rules or they draw your attention to the rules they are following. While some contemporary artists may only want you to come away from their work thinking “What pretty art” or “Wow is he talented!”, it is more likely that they want to send you away from an encounter with their art filled with questions: ‘Why this?”, “What for?” and perhaps, ultimately, “Why not?”
All this is prelude for my latest meta-list: Best Contemporary Visual Artists – the Critics’ Picks. To make the list, I collected a number of lists of the best contemporary artists (mostly still living, but a few who have recently passed) and arranged them with the most-listed artists at the top. Then, for each artist, I compiled their most highly-regarded works of art. These range from relatively traditional paintings and sculptures to a man with gold paint on his face explaining artworks to a dead rabbit, a shark floating in formaldehyde, a room full of light, pictures cut out of biker magazines, a portrait created from thousands of magazine pictures, instructions for painting a wall and many more. I hope you enjoy the list and use it to explore the world of contemporary art.
While doing research for my visual arts lists, I occasionally came across works of art whose titles were misleading, inaccurate or just plain wrong, but for various reasons are still used to refer to the painting or sculpture they imperfectly describe. I thought it might be interesting to make a list of such works with an explanation of the mismatch between the title and the object to which it is attached. Here it is, in chronological order (with illustrations, of course). I’d be interested if folks have other examples to share.
1. Lion Man of Hohlenstein-Stadel (Unknown artist, c. 38,000 BCE)
In German, the name means Lion-Human, with no gender reference, but the English translation implies that the figure is a male, even though at least some scientists believe it represents a female.
2a. Venus of Willendorf (Unknown artist, c. 28,000-25,000 BCE)
2b. Venus of Laussel (Unknown artist, c. 23,000 BCE)
2c. Venus of Brassempouy (Unknown artist, c. 24,000-22,000 BCE)
2d. Venus of Kostenki (Unknown artist, c. 23,000-21,000 BCE) Despite their names, these prehistoric figurines do not depict the Roman goddess Venus, whose mythology was not created until many thousands of years later. The anachronistic term “Venus of _____” arose from a belief that these and similar figurines represent fertility goddesses and as such were prehistoric analogues to Venus, the goddess of love. Because the term is misleading and has caused confusion, its use by archaeologists is on the wane.
3. Ram in a Thicket (Unknown artist, c. 2600-2400 BCE)
Most experts believe the figures represented by this pair of figurines are goats, but the discovering archaeologist named them after a story in the Book of Genesis in which Abraham sees a ram caught in a thicket.
4. Standard of Ur (Unknown artist, c. 2600-2400 BCE)
This mosaic-inlaid box may have been part of a musical instrument, but there is no evidence to support the original discoverer’s theory that it is a standard, or flag-like sign that would have been carried into battle.
5. Mask of Agamemnon (Unknown artist, c. 1550-1500 BCE) Despite the hopes of its discoverer, Heinrich Schliemann, this gold mask is 300 years too old to be associated with the Trojan War and its participants, including Agamemnon. To make matters worse, some believe Schliemann may have faked the mask, which is much more sophisticated than other masks found at the same site.
6. Ludovisi Throne (Unknown artist, c. 470-460 BCE)
The Ludovisi Throne is not a throne. It was probably part of the foundation of an Ancient Greek temple.
7. Venus de Milo (Alexandros of Antioch, 130-100 BCE)
It may be splitting hairs, but the statue known as Venus de Milo was made by Hellenist Greeks and found on a Greek island, so the goddess would have been called Aphrodite, not Venus, who was Aphrodite’s counterpart in Roman mythology.
8. Battersea Shield (Unknown artist, c. 350-50 BCE) It may look like a shield, but experts say the Battersea Shield was not battle-worthy or battle-tested and was probably a replica used for ceremonial purposes and as a votive offering.
9. The Bayeux Tapestry (Unknown artist, c. 1075) The Bayeux Tapestry is not a tapestry. A tapestry is a woven textile, while the Bayeux Tapestry is an embroidered cloth, in which the artist used wool thread to embroider designs on a linen cloth.
10. The Well of Moses (Claus Sluter, 1395-1405) The Well of Moses is not a well. It is the base of a Crucifixion scene, the upper portion of which was dismantled during the French Revolution by anti-clerical mobs.
11. The Holy Trinity Icon (Andrei Rublev, 1408-1425)
Not so much a mistitling, as a title that requires a leap of logic. The figures represented in the famous icon are the three angels who appeared to Abraham at Mamre, according to the Book of Genesis. A theological metaphor connects the three angels to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit of the Christian trinity.
12. Portrait of a Man in a Red Turban (Jan van Eyck, 1433)
The subject of this possible self-portrait is not wearing a turban. He is wearing a fashionable 15th Century head-covering known as a chaperon. The turban-like appearance is the result of the subject’s decision to take the long tails of the chaperon and wrap them around his head, possibly to avoid having them interfere with his painting.
13. Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and His Wife (The Arnolfini Portrait) (Jan van Eyck, 1434)
For centuries, scholars believed they had correctly identified the subjects of this portrait as the Arnolfinis, but in 1997, it was discovered that Arnolfini was married six years after Jan van Eyck’s death. Was Arnolfini married twice? Does the painting show Giovanni Arnolfini blessing another family member (a niece?) on her marriage? Or are there no Arnolfinis involved in the portrait at all? Art historians have not reached consensus on answers to these questions.
14. St. Francis in the Desert (Giovanni Bellini, c. 1480)
While the area in St. Francis’s immediate vicinity is rocky and somewhat barren, the landscape beyond is anything but desert-like. In fact, it looks like an Italian countryside. ‘Going into the desert’ may have been shorthand for any religious figure going on a solitary retreat away from civilization, in remembrance of Jesus’s temptation in the desert.
15. John the Baptist in the Wilderness (Geertgen tot Sint Jans, c. 1485-1490) The ‘wilderness’ looks more like a well-groomed park, and it is within sight of a town.
16. An Old Man and His Grandson (Domenic Ghirlandaio, 1490) While the ages and the behaviors of the subjects make it perfectly reasonable to infer that their relationship is grandfather and grandson, there is no direct evidence of the names of the subjects or their relationship.
17. The Three Philosophers (Giorgione, 1506-1509)
The current name came from a 1525 catalogue of the owner’s artworks, but no one really knows who the three individuals are or who they are supposed to represent, although there are plenty of theories.
18. The Laughing Cavalier (Frans Hals, 1624) Wrong on both counts. First, there is no evidence the subject was a cavalier. Second, while the man is smiling, he is definitely not laughing.
19. The Night Watch (Rembrandt, 1642) First, the militia in the painting is not on a watch, which only occurs in times of danger, it is marching out of headquarters. Second, even though Rembrandt’s glazes have darkened over the centuries, the scene occurs during the day.
20. The Milkmaid (Johannes Vermeer, 1657-1658)
A milkmaid milks cows. This woman is a domestic kitchen maid, not a milkmaid, even though she happens to be pouring milk.
20. The Jewish Bride (Rembrandt, 1667) There is no evidence about the identity of the subjects of this double portrait or their religious affiliations. Some scholars do believe the subject of the painting is the Old Testament’s Isaac and Rebekah. Others believe that it shows a contemporary couple dressed as the Biblical pair, following a common tradition of having one’s portrait done as a character from history.
21. The Embarkation for Cythera (Antoine Watteau, 1717)
Although the various titles for this and a very similar piece indicate that the couples are on their way to the island of Cythera, some experts believe the painting actually shows couples returning from Cythera.
22. Chirk Aqueduct (Crambe Beck Bridge) (John Sell Cotman, 1804-1807)
For many years, scholars assigned the name Chirk Aqueduct to this landscape painting of Cotman’s. A recent reexamination of the painting and its subject have led to the conclusion that the structure depicted is Crambe Beck Bridge, in the north of England, not Chirk Aqueduct in Wales.
23. Woman with a Pearl (Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot, 1868-1870) Most of the mistaken titles on this list were assigned by someone other than the artist. In this case, the artist gave an incorrect title to his own painting. The woman in Corot’s Woman with a Pearl is not wearing a pearl. The decoration on her forehead is a leaf. Scholars suspect that Corot chose his title as an homage to Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Woman with a Pearl Necklace.
While collecting over 15 lists of “Best Artists of All Time” (this is a list of visual artists, focusing on painters and sculptors – architecture and photography have separate lists), I kept thinking about how many great works of art have no artist’s name attached to them: the cave paintings of Chauvet, Lascaux and Altamira; the Venus figurines; the seals of Mohenjo-Daro; the mosaic tiles of Ravenna, the Dome of the Rock, Damascus and Isfahan; the medieval icons of St. Catherine’s Monastery; the relief sculptures of Nineveh, Persepolis, Borobudur, Amaravati, Chartres and Amiens; the giant sculptures of the Olmecs and Rapa Nui; the Nkisi Nkondi nail figures; the Fang Ngil masks; the Codex Borgia; the Book of Kells; the Wilton Diptych, and so many more. When did artists emerge from the shadows of anonymity, and why? Or should we ask instead why so many artists failed to preserve their names for posterity? From what I can gather, the idea of the artist as a creative individual who deserved recognition for his or her creations arose in different cultures at different times. The Ancient Greeks celebrated the genius of Phidias, Praxiteles, Lysippos and Euphronios and the Chinese and Japanese cultures celebrated artists by name as early as the 7th Century CE, but in many other cultures and in many other times, the artist was considered a craftsman who made art the way a chairmaker made a chair or a blacksmith made a horseshoe. When 7th Century Chinese court official Yan Liben became known for his paintings instead of his bureaucratic achievements, he felt humiliated, since painters belonged to a lower rank with tradesman such as tailors and carpenters. Most art historians trace the modern-day acknowledgement of artists in Western Culture to the Renaissance and the rise of humanism, a philosophy that put the individual at the center of the universe, as the driving force of civilization. While some medieval artists had signed their work, it was probably Proto-Renaissance master Giotto di Bondone who was the first in a long line of Western artists, continuing to this day, who took steps to ensure that their names are associated with their art. Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors and Architects, first published in 1550, rejected once and for all the notion that artists were anonymous craftsmen and instead celebrated their individual geniuses, at the same time raising the artist above ordinary citizens and introducing the concept of artist as celebrity. Once an artwork was connected with the name of an artist, certain consequences ensued: first, works by the better (or better known) artists increased in value; second, lesser known artists seeking to cash in on the work of more famous artists began creating cheap imitations and outright forgeries; and third, the famous artists, in response, sought to protect their work by various means – first, merely by signing them – but this impulse eventually led to today’s copyright laws. The reason Michelangelo signed the Pietà was that someone was going around telling people that the sculpture had been carved by his rival, Cristoforo Solari. Anonymity was one thing, but the greatest artist of all time (see list below) could not bear the idea that another, lesser artist, was getting the credit for his masterpiece.
15 “Best Artists” Lists Michelangelo (1475-1564) Italian painter, sculptor, architect
14 Lists Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519) Italian painter, sculptor, architect
11 Rembrandt (1606-69) Dutch painter, printmaker Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) Spanish painter, sculptor
10 Raphael (1483-1520) Italian painter Titian (1488-1576) Italian painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) French painter
8 Jan Vermeer (1632-1675) Dutch painter Paul Cézanne (1839-1906) French painter
7 Jan van Eyck (1390-1441) Flemish painter Caravaggio (1573-1610) Italian painter Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) Flemish painter Diego Velázquez (1599-1660) Spanish painter J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851) British painter Edgar Degas (1834-1917) French painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) French painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) Dutch painter
6 Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1528-1569) Flemish painter Paul Gauguin (1848-1903) French painter Henri Matisse (1869-1954) French painter Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) Italian painter, sculptor Alberto Giacometti(1901-1966) Swiss sculptor, painter
Salvador Dalí (1904-1989) Spanish painter, sculptor
5 Giotto (c. 1267-1337) Italian painter Donatello (1386-1466) Italian sculptor El Greco (1541-1614) Greek-Spanish painter Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) French painter Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) Spanish painter, printmaker John Constable (1776-1837) British painter Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) French painter Édouard Manet (1832-1883) French painter Auguste Rodin (1840-1917) French sculptor James McNeill Whistler (1856-1921) American painter Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) Russian painter Edward Hopper (1882-1967) American painter René Magritte (1898–1967) Belgian painter Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) American painter
4 Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464) Flemish painter Tomasso Masaccio (1401-1428) Italian painter Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) Italian painter Hieronymus Bosch (1450-1516) Dutch painter Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) German painter, printmaker Hans Holbein the Younger (1497-1543) German painter, printmaker Frans Hals (c.1580-1666) Flemish-Dutch painter Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) French painter William Blake (1757-1827) British painter, printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) Japanese painter, printmaker Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) French painter Gustave Courbet (1819-1877) French painter Georges Seurat (1859-1891) French painter Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) Austrian painter Andy Warhol (1928-1987) American painter, printmaker
3 Yan Liben (c. 600-673) Chinese painter Cimabue (c.1240-1302) Italian painter Duccio (c.1255/60–1318/19) Italian painter Huang Gongwang (1269-1354) Chinese painter Simone Martini (1284-1344) Italian painter Fra Angelico (1387-1455) Italian painter Paolo Uccello (1397-1475) Italian painter Piero della Francesca (1416-1492) Italian painter Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) Italian painter Tintoretto (1518-1594) Italian painter Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) French painter William Hogarth (1697-1764) British painter, printmaker Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) French painter Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825) French painter Kitagawa Utamaro (c. 1753-1806) Japanese painter, printmaker Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot (1796-1875) French painter, printmaker Ando Hiroshige (1797-1858) Japanese painter, printmaker Winslow Homer (1836-1910) American painter Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) French painter Piet Mondrian (1872 -1944) Dutch painter Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935) Russian painter Paul Klee (1879-1940) Swiss painter Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) French painter, sculptor Georgia O’Keefe (1887-1986) American painter Egon Schiele (1890-1918) Austrian painter Joan Miró (1893-1983) Spanish painter Henry Moore (1898-1986) British sculptor Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) Mexican painter
2 Fan Kuan (fl. 990-1020) Chinese painter Guo Xi (c. 1020-1090) Chinese painter Ma Yuan (c. 1160-1225) Chinese painter Jokei (fl. 1190-1200) Japanese sculptor Ambrogio Lorenzetti (1290-1348) Italian painter Giovanni Bellini (c. 1430-1516) Italian painter Matthias Grünewald (1470-1528) German painter Giorgione (1478-1510) Italian painter Paolo Veronese (1528-1588) Italian painter Georges de la Tour (1593-1652) French painter Artemisia Gentileschi (1597-1654) Italian painter Francisco de Zurbarán (1598-1664) Spanish painter Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) Italian sculptor, painter, architect François Boucher (1703-1770) French painter Thomas Gainsborough (1727-1788) British painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) German painter Théodore Géricault (1791-1824) French painter John Everett Millais (1829-1896) British painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903) Danish-French painter Berthe Morisot (1841-1895) French painter Mary Cassatt (1844-1926) American painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) Norwegian painter, printmaker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901) French painter Constantin Brâncusi (1876-1957) Romanian-French sculptor Umberto Boccioni (1882-1916) Italian painter, sculptor Georges Braque (1882-1963) French painter, sculptor, printmaker Marc Chagall (1887-1985) Belarussian-French painter Giorgio de Chirico (1888-1978) Italian-Greek painter Alexander Calder (1898-1976) American sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899-1988) Russian-American sculptor Mark Rothko (1903-1970) Russian-American painter Willem de Kooning (1904-1997) Dutch-American painter, sculptor Arshille Gorky (1904-1948) Armenian-American painter Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1977) American painter David Hockney (1937- ) British painter Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960-1988) American painter
We often hear that one person can make a difference. I suppose that belief underlies the latest meta-list I’ve created: The Most Influential People of All Time. Individuals whose actions, ideas, and beliefs have made a significant contribution to the world we live in. In fact, while most of the 20 lists I found were called “Most Important People” or “Most Influential People”, some of them were called “People Who Changed The World.” (Note that there is no moral judgment here – for better or for worse, the changes led us to where we are now.) But as I collected the lists of kings, queens, sultans, politicians, generals, scientists, inventors, authors, activists, revolutionaries and philosophers, I began to question this emphasis on the individual. The general may be a strategic genius, but it is his troops who do most of the fighting and dying. The scientist may have made a crucial discovery, but only because of the many earlier discoverers that laid down the path where she took the next step. Then there is the bizarre phenomenon that throughout history, many important discoveries or inventions occurred simultaneously in multiple locations, completely independent of one another. There are also changes brought about by communities and cultures, the leaderless masses. Every individual is affected by these amorphous generalities – community, culture, nation – in countless specific ways that affect the products of his or her mind and hands. I hope you enjoy the list of influential individuals, but before you give them all the credit or blame for their accomplishments, think about the individuals, communities and cultures that influenced them.
Before you click over to the list, here’s a sneak peek. I’ve organized the big list chronologically by date of birth, with the rankings tucked away in parentheses at the end of each entry. For those of you more into rank than chronology, I’ve listed the top 28 most influential people below.
I’ve just finished another list based on the ‘best works of art’ theme. This time, the focus is on the artists: Who are they? Which of their works are considered their greatest masterpieces? And, of course, what do they look like? There are loads of pictures – many of them self-portraits. For once, the list is alphabetical instead of chronological so the post-Modernists are mixing with the post-Impressionists, and the Byzantine is rubbing shoulders with the Baroque. Take a look and see what you think: Great Artists and their Masterpieces.