The purpose of this post is to introduce my newest list – Best Architects of All Time – The Critics’ Picks – but instead of writing a thought-provoking essay, I thought I would provide a sample of some of the most interesting, beautiful, outrageous and, yes, thought-provoking architectural designs ever built. To provide a variety of architectural styles and periods, I created a few fairly obvious categories (churches, museums, bridges, airports, etc.) and posted photos of five different examples of each category. Why five? Not sure, but two wasn’t enough and ten was too many.
Krak des Chevaliers (1170). Architect: Unknown. Location: Near Homs, Syria.
Château de Chambord (1547). Architect: Unknown. Location: Chambord, France.
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.
The following is a list of movies I saw for the first time in 2014 that I rated 4.5 or 5.0 stars out of 5. The list includes movies that were made in 2014 and before, and also includes a couple of 2014 movies that I saw in January 2015 (hence the asterisk above). The idea of reducing one’s opinion about a movie to a single 1-5 rating has always seemed a bit ridiculous to me – there are so many facets to filmmaking that I sometimes wish we could rate each facet separately: the writing, cinematography, editing, sound, soundtrack, acting, etc. (Or just discuss them without ratings – there’s an idea.) But I do find it useful to rate the movies, if only for occasions like this list.
5 Stars Boyhood (Richard Linklater, 2014)
Transcendent – Linklater and his actors have the power to create moments of true life that are evocative without being melodramatic; it is as much a story about parenting as growing up. Sherlock, Jr. (Buster Keaton, 1924)
An unevenness almost brought it down to a 4.5, but the chase sequence is the best I’ve ever seen, and the surreal section in which Buster steps into the movie screen is a timeless work of genius.
4.5 Stars Inherent Vice (Paul Thomas Anderson, 2014)
Joanna Newsom reading Thomas Pynchon as a manic pixie voice over; Omar in a cameo; Josh Brolin gruff but lovable; Owen Wilson, wacky but lovable; Katherine Waterston deceptive but lovable; and over them all is Joaquin’s Doc in a haze of pot smoke continuing to prove that he is the best of his generation (not just Her and The Master, go back to Gladiator, and Inventing the Abbotts and especially To Die For) Mr. Turner (Mike Leigh, 2014)
Remember Topsy-Turvy? This is that history-buff Mike Leigh, not the contemporary working class dramedy director of Secrets & Lies (OK, they’re the same person). Timothy Spall gives the performance of a lifetime, but just as important are the women in his life – each of whom is etched in acid. Thankfully, Leigh never tells you who to vote for. The Great Beauty (Paolo Sorrentino, 2013)
Like Fellini before him, Sorrentino is not afraid to let you know there is a real person behind the camera as well as in front of it; he has a photographer’s eye for great shots; the aging central character has many loves, not the least Rome and himself. Ida (Pawel Pawlikowksi, 2013)
In early 1960s Poland, a young novitiate has a chance to explore the secular world before taking her vows – she goes on the road with an aunt and a journey of self-discovery, through the gray snowy towns and forests. The tone is never sentimental or cliche – but there are secrets and surprises. Dallas Buyers Club (Jean-Marc Vallée, 2013)
Alright alright alright! This has been an amazing run for Matthew McConaughey – I’ve seen this, Mud, The Paperboy, and Bernie in the past couple of years and he is stellar in every one. Once again, the writing, direction and acting manage to take a potentially maudlin, sticky-sentimental tale and keep it real. Inside Llewyn Davis (Joel & Ethan Coen, 2013)
Almost every Coen brothers movie is a bit of a disappointment to me, because they are usually very close to perfect, but just miss the mark somewhere. Still, they are so good that a near miss still rates a 4.5 from me. Is Goodman right on the money or way over the top? What does the cat symbolize? (It symbolizes his pet.) Are the songs his voiceover? Her (Spike Jonze, 2013)
Spike Jonze likes to start with an out-there concept (his own or Charlie Kaufman’s), but it doesn’t work without real human emotion. The conceit here is that the ‘real’ relationship is with a machine, a kinder, gentler HAL 9000 who sounds just like Scarlet Johansson. Before Midnight (Richard Linklater, 2013)
The third part of the trilogy that might be called Boyhood: The Prologue. Every 10 years or so, we check in with a couple we met on a train so long ago. This one is about marriage and so there is of course, a big fight. And a reconciliation? The Kid with a Bike (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, 2011)
A heartbreaking unpredictable tale of an abandoned boy and the woman who tries to make a home for him. Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)
Werner Herzog doesn’t get the death penalty. And he is not afraid to voice his criticisms in his Werner Herzogian way while interviewing two boys who committed a random murder, one of whom is on death row. Crazy Love (Dan Klores & Fisher Stevens, 2007)
A typical American love story, except for the part about hiring someone to throw acid in your girlfriend’s face. Caché (Hidden) (Michael Haneke, 2005)
Hitchcockian suspense tale about a family that is being watched, but they don’t know why. Keeps you thinking right until the very last frame. Naked (Mike Leigh, 1993)
Just young people doing what they do, except for the raping maybe. The Thing that Wouldn’t Leave. The Long Goodbye (Robert Altman, 1973)
Casting Elliott Gould as Philip Marlowe was like casting Woody Allen as Superman – and Robert Altman knew exactly what he was doing. Altman’s 70’s rethinking of the detective flick involves self-indulgence, ennui and worshipping lots of false idols. Oh – and Marlowe’s cat is missing (what does that symbolize?). A Woman Is a Woman (Jean-Luc Godard, 1961)
Take Belmondo and Seberg’s conversations from Breathless and convert them into a parody of sit-com dialogue and you’ll get an idea of this light-hearted experiment from Godard. Earth (Aleksandr Dovzhenko, 1930)
Wheat, wheat, fields of wheat. And a tractor. Change comes to the Ukraine. Pandora’s Box (G.W. Pabst, 1929)
American actress Louise Brooks made her best movie in Germany. It’s a morality tale about a good-time girl who gets her comeuppance, but it’s the fun times we remember. Safety Last (Fred C. Newmeyer & Sam Taylor, 1923)
The famous climb up the side of the building is the highlight, but there are lots of gags before and after, and even a fair amount of character development.
When historians look back on 2014, they will probably remember it for one event: Vladimir Putin’s invasion of the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea. Putin’s action hearkened back to a long line of precedent of unilateral annexation by such power-mongers and empire builders as Cyrus the Great of Persia, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Tughril Beg, Ivan the Terrible, Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein and so many more. But for those who follow pop culture, the highlights of the year involved names like: FKA Twigs, Taylor Swift, Perfume Genius, Flying Lotus, Wes Anderson, Richard Linklater, Anthony Doerr, Leslie Jamison and Marilynne Robinson.
Here are the meta-lists of the best movies, music and books of 2014, as determined by a critical consensus.
“So little time – so much to know!” – Jeremy Hillary Boob, Ph.D.
I’ve been taking a break from blogging about the arts to spend some time with the sciences. I’ve immersed myself in discoveries, inventions, explorations, and observations. I’ve been learning (or relearning) about black holes, internal combustion engines, photosynthesis, neurotransmitters, planes, trains and automobiles, the Krebs cycle, the ozone layer, dinosaurs, gravitation, the periodic table, inertia, entropy, psychoanalysis, safety pins, parachutes, plate tectonics, washing machines, sewing machines, evolution, radio waves, the speed of light, hydrothermal vents, animal domestication, genetic modification and The Pill. I watched the rise and fall of catastrophism, vitalism, phlogiston, luminiferous aether, spontaneous generation, the oar-powered submarine and the steam-powered automobile. For those easily intimidated by science, I promise you that lying just beneath all the names and dates, technical terms and and chemical and mathematical formulas, are lots of fascinating stories and unforgettable characters. I even sneaked in a couple of jokes here and there – extra points for those who find them.
Here are my four new science lists:
Most Important Scientific Discoveries of All Time This meta-list contains all the discoveries and inventions on three or more of the 17+ lists I found. They are organized by rank, with the most-listed discoveries on top. Accompanying each discovery is an illustration of some kind and a short essay about the topic.
Most Important Scientific Discoveries – Chronological Similar to the first list, but this one is organized chronologically, so you can get a better sense of the history of science, and it includes all the discoveries/inventions that were on two or more of the 17+ original source lists. Because this list was so long, I decided not to add illustrations, although I may change my mind on this.
The Greatest Scientists of All Time If you’ve been following along, you know how this works. I found lots of ‘greatest scientists of all time’ lists and combined them into a meta-list. This list is organized by rank, meaning that the scientists on the most lists are at the top. For each scientist, I’ve included a short description of his or her achievements, as well as birth and death dates, country of origin and a picture.
Timeline of Science and Technology If you’re short on time and want an overview of scientific knowledge, this is the list for you. I combined the Scientific Discoveries, Greatest Scientists and Best Inventions lists, mixed in some of the Art and Architecture lists, and then threw in some random information (worst floods, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions; milestones of human evolution; the formation of the universe, our solar system, etc.). The result is a somewhat eclectic selection of events that have occurred over the last 13.8 billion years, with emphasis on the last 400 years or so. Each entry is only a sentence long, so this one is perfect for those with short attention spans. And there are pictures.
I hope you’ll take a look. And feel free to leave a comment.
Television in the English-speaking world has always been a medium with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. It’s been called the ‘boob tube’ and the ‘idiot box’, and social scientists remind us regularly how much time we spend watching it, while social critics condemn us for watching too much. As early as 1961, FCC Chairman Newton Minow called television a “vast wasteland”, although, in a less often quoted line from the same speech, he added, “When television is good, nothing … is better.”
Despite occasional sporadically-enforced bans on television on ‘school nights’, I managed to watch an enormous amount of television while growing up in the ’60s and ’70s. While I have curbed my TV appetite significantly in recent years, during my adulthood I have sat on a couch staring at a screen for more hours than I can count. My tastes as a small child ran to cartoons (Tom & Jerry, Caspar, Roadrunner & Coyote, Bugs Bunny), the Little Rascals and Saturday morning live action shows (Banana Splits, H.R. Pufnstuf, anyone?) By the time Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and Sesame Street came along in 1968, I was moving on to live TV series – Batman, Get Smart, Time Tunnel, Gomer Pyle – and movies. My father and I had a ritual of going through the TV Guide every week so he could pick out great movies for me to watch. Back then, the local stations and PBS played lots of old feature films – horror and science fiction particularly, but it could be anything from The Gold Rush to The Searchers to Gidget Goes Hawaiian. (And of course the annual broadcast of The Wizard of Oz. I’ll never forget the shock I got when my parents bought a color TV and I found out that Kansas was in black and white, but Oz was in dazzling Technicolor.) The local stations also played reruns of cancelled series from the ‘50s and ‘60s, giving me the chance to see I Love Lucy, The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Twilight Zone and The Burns and Allen Show. (Only later as an adult did I discover the joys of Your Show of Shows and the warped genius of Ernie Kovacs.) Of course, television brought a lot more into the house than dramas and sit-coms, kids’ shows, and old movies. Between 1968 and 1974, I watched battlefield coverage of the Vietnam War on the evening news, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the Miracle Mets winning the World Series, Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon, the Bobby Fischer-Boris Spassky chess match, the terrifying Munich Olympics, the Watergate hearings, and Nixon’s resignation – all live on TV.
While I always had my favorite shows, the omnipresence of programming, even before the explosion of channels with cable, meant that sometimes I settled for less – and there was plenty of it. For every M*A*S*H, there was more than one One Day at a Time (ahh, Valerie Bertinelli…). For every Columbo, there was a Charlie’s Angels. By the mid-1970s, we had imported some British television (Monty Python, Masterpiece Theater) and raised sketch comedy to another level with Saturday Night Live. But by the late ‘70s, American TV seemed to be in a slump that was only relieved somewhat by innovative series like Hill Street Blues and St. Elsewhere in the early 1980s. But a renaissance was coming, and it was heralded by two events: the rise of paid cable, particularly HBO, and Rupert Murdoch’s 1986 launching of Fox Television to challenge the big three TV networks.
In 1987, Fox premiered two landmark comedies: Married … with Children and The Tracey Ullmann Show (the latter included a Matt Groening cartoon feature that in 1989 would become The Simpsons.) While they may seem tame now, these irreverent, push-the-envelope series and those that followed on Fox in the early 1990s (Beverly Hills 90210, Get a Life, Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, Melrose Place, The Ben Stiller Show, The X-Files, Party of Five, MadTV) shook up the rest of television and injected new life and creativity into the medium, leading to a sustained upsurge that may not have peaked yet. When HBO abandoned its original purpose of showing theatrically-released movies and began producing consistently excellent original series in the late 1980s, the bar was raised even higher, as the major networks and even smaller cable channels like AMC, A&E, FX, TNT and TBS rose to the challenge set by The Larry Sanders Show, Oz, The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Band of Brothers, The Wire, Deadwood, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. We’re at a point now when serious critics will occasionally announce that the writing for the best television shows is better than that found in Hollywood’s latest releases. I don’t feel qualified to agree or disagree, but I do think that Mr. Minow may have been right: if you were forced to watch a few hours from every one of the hundreds of available channels on your television (not to mention streaming content on Hulu, Netflix, etc.), you might decide that television is still a vast wasteland. But if you choose carefully, and select the best that TV can offer, it would not surprise me if you concluded that the quality and entertainment value available is as good as anything else out there, if not better.
The above is just a prelude to my meta-list of the Best TV Shows of All Time, based on a compilation of numerous lists by critics, writers and experts (click on link below). Disagree with the top vote-getter? Don’t have a cow, man.
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
The folks at WordPress (hosts of this blog) tell me that of all the posts on Make Lists, Not War, those with the most views (by far!) are the lists of the Best Works of Art of All Time. These pages receive more clicks than the rest of my blog entries combined. For that reason, I decided to revise and expand my Best Works of Art pages. Although I have no background in art or art history, thanks to Wikipedia, the websites of the world’s museums, the folks at Khan Academy, and various other sources, I have been able to teach myself a little something about the works of art and synthesize what I’ve learned into mini-essays to accompany many of the items on the Best Art lists. It is now time to unveil Version 2.0 of the Best Works of Art and Art History 101 lists.
Just to give you a taste of what we’re talking about, I’ve provided the very top paintings and sculptures of all time below. This ranking is based on a meta-list that combines 18 separate lists of the top, best, greatest, most important or most highly regarded works of art, as determined by art critics, art historians and art experts of all stripes. At the bottom of the page, you’ll find links to my new, improved Best Works of Art lists.
11. Alexandros of Antioch: Venus de Milo (130-100 BCE)
12. Agesander, Athenodoros & Polydorus: Laocoön and His Sons (c. 150-50 BCE)
13. Donatello: David (c. 1435-1440)
14. Auguste Rodin: The Kiss (1889)
Here are the Best Works of Art on three or more of the 18 lists, organized by the number of lists that the artwork was on. For example, Giotto’s Arena Chapel frescoes were the only works of art to be included on 13 of the 18 lists.
What makes a great acting performance? Some would say, “You can’t tell he’s acting” or “She vanishes into the character.” For some of us, it is easier to pick out the bad performances: wooden, uninspired line delivery, a lack of realistic interactions with other characters and reactions to events that don’t seem credible. The ‘ham’ makes it obvious to all that he is ACTING, thus making it impossible for us to suspend our disbelief and accept the film or play as real (at least on an emotional level). Of course the actor may not be wholly responsible for a ‘bad’ performance. Except in a wholly-improvised situation, there is a writer who created the character and wrote all or most of his lines. It takes an especially gifted actor to give a three-dimensional performance of a two-dimensional character. To confuse matters further, writers may deliberately draw attention to the artificial nature of the play or film – think of Shakespeare and Eugene O’Neill on the stage and Jean-Luc Godard in film (or Groucho’s frequent asides to the audience). Or a writer may deliberately create a character who is acting in their own life (Tennessee Williams was famous for this). I have occasionally reevaluated an acting performance halfway through a movie when I realized that it wasn’t the actor who was disconnected, awkward and seemingly out of place, it was the character.
The Hollywood star system added another layer of complication. During the Golden Age of the studio system (roughly 1920-1960), actors who had become stars had their movie roles carefully selected. The studios felt that in order to preserve the box office appeal of their stars, they had to play roles that fell within a fairly narrow range. Furthermore, for the leading men and ladies, they were not supposed to “disappear” into their roles a la Meryl Streep or Daniel Day-Lewis, but to inhabit them while also continuing to project their star persona. In a classic example, the script for Alfred Hitchcock’s Suspicion (1941) was altered to avoid giving the impression that Cary Grant’s character had murdered his wife. In today’s post-studio system, the audience plays a similar role by refusing to accept its stars in roles that clash with their personae. When comic actor Bill Murray attempted to move into serious roles with 1984’s The Razor’s Edge, the audiences stayed away in droves. It took another 20 years for Murray to achieve success in the tragicomic roles which he now excels at.
Even in contemporary performances, there may be a wide variety of acting styles, from The Method to a more instinctive approach. There may be a variety of opinions from observers as well – an unscientific review of Internet postings reveals Daniel Day-Lewis as everything from an overacting ham to the greatest actor alive today. And then in the case of film, there are the “performances” of the director, editor, cinematographer and others who take the actor’s performance, chop it into bits and rearrange them, decide on long shots or close ups, add music to manipulate our emotions, etc. So, while we can do better than “I know it when I see it” in evaluating good and bad acting, finding a list of objective criteria that applies generally appears unrealistic.
Before introducing my new lists of the best film actors of all time, I need to talk about procedure. First, as always, I was limited by the lists I could find in books and on the Internet. These were almost exclusively limited to film actors, so I left out actors who exclusively performed on the stage (no room, then, for Sarah Bernhardt, Lunt and Fontanne, and my favorite stage actor, Mark Waldstein). As for the lists of film actors, there were more lists of men than of women, more contemporary actors than actors from the past, and, as usual, a pro-US and English-language bias. I did my best to find lists that included actors from all over the world, but there were few such sites (at least in English). Knowing that India’s film industry is one of the largest in the world, I went out of my way to find lists of Bollywood actors and include the best-regarded names, even though my knowledge of Bollywood films is essentially zero. As a result, the lists include only the very best known actors from India and non-English speaking countries, while they include some English-language actors whom I do not personally feel merit a place on a “Best Actors” list (I’ll let you decide which ones I’m talking about). While my original intent was to use only lists of “best” actors, I did include some lists of “most popular” and “most famous.” I also included several lists of “best performances” in an attempt to get away from the famous/popular bias. I did draw the line at lists titled “Hottest” or “Sexiest” or “Most Beautiful/Handsome” actors, which I refused to include on principle. Despite all the procedural drawbacks, the resulting list has a lot going for it – I’ve arranged the actors in rank order, and divided it up into two pieces: the first starts with the actors on 22 lists and ends with those on 4 lists. Part 2 includes all the actors on 3 lists. For each actor, I’ve included some biographical information, a selected filmography and a still from one if the films (click on it to enlarge the picture).