Name the greatest works of art of all time… Where do you even start? You could try googling it, and you’ll get a variety of answers. Some even overlap on the works selected. How do you determine what goes on such a list? Is it simply works of art people are most likely to recognize? But wouldn’t that make the list one of popularity and not necessarily of greatness?
Or perhaps it’s impossible to even talk meaningfully about which works of art are great. After all, isn’t “beauty in the eye of the beholder,” so that what I think is great, you may not find great at all? So who’s to judge what is great and what is ordinary? Shouldn’t we just learn to appreciate “art for art’s sake”?
I mentioned previously that I recently read Francis Schaeffer’s Art and the Bible which has me thinking a lot about how we view and appreciate art. Schaeffer argues that art has value in itself, which sounds suspiciously like “art for art’s sake.” But he is careful to explain that he does NOT mean that art cannot and should not be evaluated apart from any message it might convey. Nor does he maintain that works of art can be reduced solely to the message the artist wishes to communicate. Artists such as DaVinci, Picasso, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, and countless others were all trying to communicate something through their art, but their art was also more than just the message.
Art has value because it is a reflection and product of human creativity. Humans are created in the image of a Creator God, and when we create art, we reflect His creativity. But that does not mean all art is equally valuable. Certainly skill sets of artists differ. My five-year old’s drawings do not have the same value as the Mona Lisa. Additionally, not everything we humans create is morally or ethically true, good, or beautiful. We live in a broken world, and too often, the expressions of our creativity are broken as well.
Several years ago, my then-four-year-old daughter wanted desperately to attend an art camp. Funds were tight for our family, so I decided to create our own art camp at home using some online materials. One thing I really appreciated about the curriculum is that we considered not just individual pieces of art, but also artists and their bodies of work. We learned why Picasso used different colors in different periods, or how Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings developed over time, or why Michelangelo gravitated towards sculpture. Knowing artists helped us understand why they created what they created, which in turn helped us appreciate and understand their artwork. The artwork was valuable as art, but we valued it more appropriately when we understood what the artist was doing.
So what are some of your favorite works of art? Who would you consider a “great” artist? As interested as I am in the who, I’m even more interested in the why. What criteria would you use to label something as great? How might your perspective change if you were looking at an isolated work rather than an entire body of work? Browse through Laura’s gallery. What do you learn about her and her perspective from looking at her collected works? We read every comment, so we would love to read your thoughts!