Painters Who Made the Biggest Splash

28 Feb 2012

Sometimes the question shouldn't be what to paint as much as how to paint. There are centuries' worth of artists who fill art history textbooks, but those who stand heads and shoulders above the rest do so because they turned their painting art into something truly exceptional.

I'm talking about artists who started movements and fueled the creativity of entire collectives of artists, whether they intended to or not. Artists like Monet, Pollock, Caravaggio, and Andrew Wyeth—these are titans of art because they had extraordinary vision, but also because their painting techniques separated them from the rest.

Monet saw the world differently. He embraced the momentary and fleeting play of light in his work and put what he witnessed on canvas. His painting techniques inspired an entire era of art.

Rouen Cathedral, Morning by Claude Monet, 1894, oil on canvas.
Rouen Cathedral, Morning by Claude Monet,
oil on canvas
, 1894.

Pollock revolutionized what could be done with a brush, painting work that ushered in a modern era of art. If he was alive to give out painting tips, I have little doubt that he'd center his advice around the idea of the physicality of painting, and how painting texture is not just about what results on canvas but how the artist interacts and feels during the entire process of painting.

Pollock's painting technique was physical and extremely gestural.
Pollock's painting technique was physical and extremely gestural.

Caravaggio's stark light-dark paintings took Leonardo's sfumato into a whole other territory. His chiaroscuro effects, with deep, smoky darks and visually piercing lights, are searing in their contrast. Learn to paint with Caravaggio's sensitivity to light and you'd be opening yourself to an entire new way of viewing your color palette.

The Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, 1601.
The Conversion on the Way to Damascus
by Caravaggio, oil on canvas, 1601.

Wyeth's inclusion might surprise you, but I think there is strong argument for it. Perhaps it is not his subject matter that is most memorable but the fact that he maintained a representational painting practice that was the antithesis of what the art world was showcasing during his lifetime certainly deserves recognition.

Farmroad by Andrew Wyeth, tempera on masonite, 1979.
Farmroad by Andrew Wyeth, tempera on masonite, 1979.

And that is only the tip of the iceberg, and fortunately American Artist magazine is committed to continually being the source of artistic coverage that brings us the movers and shakers of art—from the past as well as the present. If you want to commit yourself to an earnest study of the artistic greats of the past and witness their arrival going forward, consider jumping in now with the limited edition American Artist 75th anniversary bundle, created to celebrate the magazine's decades of great art coverage and instruction. There's only 100 of them, so act soon and enjoy!  


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