Art is imperfection. So here goes my imperfect ranking of the only painters you will ever need know. Much like Jazz, art can only truly be appreciated when you see it in person. Get out to your local museum and be inspired. There is not a lot that you can experience in the same way you can experience a great painting. Each time you look at a painting you are looking through the eyes of another person. Your first thought should be to feel.
Vincent Van Gogh
He’s a post impressionist which means he came after the impressionists. I will say at this point Van Gogh’s The Starry Night is a cliche. But cliches become cliches for a reason. The first time I saw it, it took my breathe away. Seeing through to the white of the canvas was a shock and the emotion that it evokes even though I had seen it in books still sticks with me.
An influencer of expression and surrealism, the Belgium artist James Ensor was into masks. Scary masks. His greatest painting Christ’s Entry Into Brussels in 1889 rewrites history and shows Christ visiting Belgium and Christ is clearly lost in all the fanfare and pomp and circumstance. The Painting is huge. You could spend a weekend with it and still be horrified and delighted.
Another Belgium, Rene Magritte was a surrealist. His unique visual style coupled with his wit makes for some incredible art. One of my many favorites is The Treachery of Images which depicts a drawing of a pipe with the words “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” French for “This is not a pipe.” This just makes me happy, because yes it is not a pipe.
When many think of abstract art, they think, my 6 year old could have created that. But could your 6 year old reinvent an art form that for thousands of years consistently of drawing realistic images? I think not. Abstract Art got the world to see things differently. There’s no way to prove this, but I often wonder if there would be space travel, the computer, or many of the wonders of the modern age if a few artists didn’t get us to see things a little differently. I can almost see the Internet in Composition VII. Kandinsky is still ahead of our time.
Forget about Manet and Monet, the best of the best of the impressionists is Camille Pisarro. I can’t quite pinpoint exactly why he’s the best, but he just is. He painted a little more city life and movement than Monet so I think that’s why I gravitate to him. My favorite is Boulevard Montmartre: Mardi Gras. He painted the action of Mardi Gras. Such audacity!
What’s not to love from the very prolific Pablo Picasso? Not doubt we would never have gotten to abstract art without cubism. Three Musicians is one of my favorites. If this were a realist depiction of the musicians, there is no way you would feel the music that this painting conveys.