It’s a well known fact that paintings and art, in general, are inherently subjective things. Sure, we can talk about “famous” art, but fame does not equal quality; at the end of the day, all talks about the best or worst art of any kind come down to one basic question: what IS art anyway? No one has the definite answer and, if they claim to, then they are filthy, filthy liars and what do we do with liars?
The point is that it’s impossible to talk about the Top 10 Paintings of All Time without judging each one in its own respective category.
10. No. 5, 1948 (Jackson Pollock)
The most: Expensive
Pollock’s abstract, almost violently expressionist, style tends to divide people into two large groups: those who think that he ran the greatest long con in history by disguising paint drippings as art, and those who think that he was just really untalented and most of his paintings were meant to be bowls of fruit. There however is a third, tiny group of people who genuinely admire Pollock’s work and are ready to pay big money for it. 156.8 million (adjusted for inflation), real American dollars, to be exact, which is what Pollock’s No. 5, 1948 fetched in 2006 after being sold to an anonymous buyer.
9. The Arnolfini Wedding (Jan van Eyck)
The most: Easter Egg-y
This 1434 oil painting is believed to show an Italian merchant with his wife and one of the pimpest hats in the history of pimping which, as I’m sure you know, ain’t easy. Looking at it, it’s easy to dismiss this portrait as just another piece of old art featuring dead rich folks but, if you go all CSI on it and zoom in on the small, round mirror in the back you will see that the mirror shows two additional characters standing in the room in front of the Arnolfinis, one of them allegedly van Eyck himself. Scholars assume that the artist used a magnifying glass to paint the fine details on this completely unnecessary part of the scenery thus creating one of the first Easter Eggs in art history.
8. Black Square (Kazimir Malevich)
The most: Simple
The Ukraine-born Malevich is credited as the creator of Suprematism which an actual name of a real art form. The basics of Suprematism boil down to “simple geometric shapes” and Black Square might be the style’s greatest example. It’s bold, yet timid. Passionate, yet lifeless. Square, and yet round…
Fine, so it’s just a black square, but even though looks more like a parody of a real painting, don’t let it fool you; almost every work by Malevich is worth upwards to a million dollars!
7. Composition 8 (Vasily Kandinsky)
The most: Artsy
Kandinsky spent his life trying to find the perfect combination of shapes and colors to show people just how he saw and experienced the world. Now, looking at Composition 8, you’re in your rights to think that he was obviously a dangerous loon with at least three schizophrenias, but modern researchers believe Kandinsky was in fact suffering from synesthesia, a condition which sort of mixes one’s senses. A person with synesthesia might thus actually hear color and see music and, if that was the case with Kandinsky, then that man lived in a colorful, melodious universe that us mere mortals can only dream of ever understanding.
Composition 8 does at least try to explain it though, making it a true example of “art” if there ever was any.
6. The Third of May 1808 (Francisco Goya)
The most: Gritty
Goya’s The Third of May 1808 is…disturbing, to say the least. It shows a Napoleonic firing squad killing a bunch of Spanish guys who participated in the resistance against Bonaparte’s army. It’s not heroic, it’s not inspiring, and you can clearly see dread and fear in the eyes of the guy with the outstretched arms as he’s on his knees, waiting for the painful, hot lead death that is coming in the next 2-3 seconds. You can almost picture Goya with heavy eyeliner, listening to industrial metal while painting this. But that’s the thing: no one has done this before. Up until then all paintings of war were about glory and honor, which you’d expect from people who obviously have never seen a real war.Goya put an end to it. He gave the entire war painting genre a gritty reboot, which technically makes The Third of May 1808 the Batman Begins of the art world.
5. Guernica (Pablo Picasso)
The most: Trippy
You can’t really see it here, but Picasso’s Guernica is HUGE, measuring 11×25.6ft . It features humans, animals and buildings, all depicted in that famous Picasso style which I still claim was an inside joke of his that got out of hand, but let’s move past that. Guernica is definitely one of the most all-encapsulating Picasso works, but what really sets it apart from the others is its message. Examining it, you can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable. The twisted faces, the solemn colors…it’s all a little…unnerving. And that’s the point, because the painting was meant to represent the horrors of war.
Not only does Guernica perfectly capture the weird style of Picasso it also conveys his anti-war message like no other painting could.
4. American Gothic (Grant Wood)
The most: Parodied
American Gothic is the perfect example of being in the right place at the right time. When it first came out it certainly did OK. Magazines and newspapers reprinted the painting while it hanged comfortably in the Art Institute of Chicago but, with the onset of the Great Depression, it became something more to the people. It became a symbol of an unwavering spirit in the face of adversity, celebrating the struggling Midwestern Americans who held their own during desperate times. So naturally, with time, it became the most satirized piece of popular culture in the U.S.
3. Saturn Devouring His Son (Francisco Goya)
The most: Terrifying
Hey look, it’s our friend Francisco “Raven” Goya, with a solid helping of sanity-shattering nightmare fuel. Look at that thing. Look at its bizarre hobo beard. Look at the huge anime-esque eyes and the bodybuilder physique.
But it has a reasonable explanation. That monster thing is Saturn, a Roman god said to devour his children because it was foretold that one of them will overthrow him. It is pretty gruesome, but at least there’s some reason behind it. However, why Goya decided to paint THAT in his dining room will remain a mystery to all of us who don’t constantly hear the crying of a thousand infants in our heads like Goya obviously did.
2. The Birth of Venus (Sandro Botticelli)
The most: Easily used as a substitute for porn
I admit, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus is beautiful with the colors and the composition and all that but here’s the thing: that Venus is totally hot. Not too skinny, not too chubby, her hair might very well be blonde, red or light brown and, though she’s naked, she only lets you see enough to kick-start your imagination into a wild frenzy.
In short, it’s everything that good pornography should be AND it’s socially acceptable to hang on your living room wall. It’s almost as if the concept of pornography and erotica was retardedly arbitrary and subjected to constantly changing social norms. But that would be stupid.
1. Campbell’s Soup Cans (Andy Warhol)
The most: Genre-defying
When you think of a non-surreal or non-abstract example of something that defied the concept of art being just pretty pictures and portraits, you think of Warhol’s paintings. When you want a great example of truly modern art, you think of Campbell’s Soup, which also skillfully hail back to Warhol’s early days as a commercial artist. And when you get down to it, it’s basically a parody of the boringly cliché bowl of fruit. Not many other paintings manage to do all that while showing a tin can.
BONUS: Mona Lisa (Leonardo da Vinci)
The most: Likely to offend people if you don’t include it on a list of greatest paintings ever
There is almost nothing new anyone can say about Mona Lisa. You know the painting, you know the author, you’ve seen and puzzled over Liz’s half smile, which is like a ray of sunshine shining through a sea of gray clouds on a timid spring’s day, filling your soul with hope and happiness but also making you miserable at the same time.
It seems that everything that could have been said about Mona Lisa was said already, so you would need to start making some pretty bizarre claims about it to get the media to pay attention to you. Bizarre stuff like how “she” might actually be a man. At least, that’s what a bunch of Italian researchers are claiming – that Mona Lisa is actually based on Leo’s effeminate young artist friend, thus opening a possibility for a future Da Vinci Code/Crying Game crossover.