Our Gallery: Most influential artists of all time

There’s no denying that the arts are slowly becoming an oversaturated field, with lots of new and old artists fighting to gain exposure and recognition. Even if you’re a non-artist person, it’s hard not to wonder about the definitive success of an artist. What does success mean for them? Before an artwork can be called a masterpiece, who sets the standards? How does an artist become influential in the first place and how did they market their art that changed cultures across the world?

Here at Our Gallery, we will give you a list of the most influential artists of all time and how their important contributions changed the world’s perception of art. Throughout their careers, they poured their heart and soul into their craft, pushed boundaries and started innovations that influenced contemporary artists up to this very day. Continue reading below to learn more!

Leonardo da Vinci

Popularly known as the painter of the Mona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci was an Italian draftsman, painter, theorist, scientist and architect. Although his success and fame can be traced back to his works as a painter, he also became famous because of his notebooks where he studied human anatomy, botany, cartography, palaeontology and many more.

Da Vinci did not go to a formal school and received no educational training aside from reading, writing and mathematics. However, his father noticed and appreciated da Vinci’s love for art, apprenticing him at the age of 15 to Andrea del Verrocchio of Florence. In 1478, he decided to say goodbye to Verrocchio to become an independent artist. And after four years, he already started painting his first commissioned work called The Adoration of the Magi.

Thanks to his sharp mind and innovative thinking, he made a couple of scientific discoveries but refused to publish them. He was also a living contradiction in some ways. For instance, he considered himself a vegetarian who loved animals and hated wars, but he worked as a military engineer to create deadly firearms. He was also one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance, but he only had several paintings compared to his contemporaries.

Vincent van Gogh

Even if you’re not exactly interested in the arts, it’s hard not to hear about Vincent van Gogh. He was known for painting The Starry Night, as well as the artist who cut off his ear with a razor when he was staying in Arles, France.

Known as a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter, Vincent van Gogh became one of the most influential art figures in the Western art world shortly after his death. For 10 years, he created more than 2,000 artworks, including still lifes, portraits and landscapes, among others. Most of his works are characterised by amazing brush strokes and dramatic colours that became the foundation of contemporary art.

When he was just a child, van Gogh was quiet, pensive and thoughtful. He was born into an upper-middle-class family and would often spend his time working as an art dealer. However, things started to change and turned sour when he was transferred to London and became depressed.

Even though van Gogh worried so much about his mental stability, he paid little to no attention to his well-being, spending most of his time drinking heavily. He suffered several psychotic episodes and delusions that he spent time in psychiatric wards to keep things in control. Despite seeing doctors and psychiatrists, his depression got the best of him and in July 1890, he shot himself in the chest using a revolver. Two days later, he died from his injuries.

You might wonder why Vincent van Gogh took his own life despite being one of the most recognised artists in history. However, when he was alive, he was widely considered to be a failure and a madman. He only built a name and a good reputation at the start of the 20th century when his style was used by German expressionists.

Ai Weiwei

Ai Weiwei is a Chinese artist who grew up in the northwest of China where he had to endure unpleasant living conditions after his father was sent to exile. He is considered to be one of the greatest contemporary artists not only for his art, but also for his political opinions and criticisms against the Chinese government. In fact, he was placed under house arrest in 2010 after speaking against the corruption that killed thousands of students during an earthquake.

One of the most impressive works created by Ai is The Sunflower Seeds Installation. This is where he used millions of handcrafted porcelain sunflower seeds, spreading them across the room. Ai is also interested in the industry of architecture, collaborating with architectural firms where he worked on the Beijing National Museum and London’s Serpentine Gallery Pavilion.

Michelangelo

Michelangelo is widely considered to be one of the greatest contributors to the development of Western art. In the Renaissance era, he was one of the top three masters that combined realism, psychological insight and impressive dedication that gave birth to the most well-recognised sculptures across the world.

Because of his extraordinary talent and love for art, wealthy and powerful figures from the Catholic church commissioned him to make art for them. But when he was just a little kid, his father discouraged him from pursuing a career in the arts because they could not afford it. However, at age thirteen, his father still supported him by setting up an apprenticeship with Domenico Ghirlandaio—the most successful painter in Florence during his time.

After a year of being an apprentice, Ghirlandaio recommended him to Medici, encouraging Michelangelo to study classical sculpture. Surrounded by other painters, sculptors and other poets in Medici gardens, he started refining his sculpting techniques. This made him extraordinarily great at sculpting human anatomy, combining the elements of dark and light to give his works of art a natural look.

Michelangelo’s masterpiece is a sculpture called David, created between 1501 to 1504. However, he was not the first artist that tried to create this artwork. Two artists before him gave it a try, but willingly surrendered the thought of finishing the project. Now, it is still popularly considered by many experts to have extremely precise dimensions.

Despite being a sculptor, Michelangelo was also a painter. He painted the entire ceiling of the Sistine Chapel—the most sacred area of the Vatican—after being commissioned by Pope Julius II in 1508. He rejected the proposal since he had never done a project related to frescoes before. But when the pope offered another commission of 40 sculptures, he agreed to accept the project.

The project lasted until 1512, painting three hundred different figures portraying Man’s time on Earth before the arrival of Jesus Christ. However, doing the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling had caused permanent eyesight damage to the sculptor.

Rembrandt

Rembrandt, also known as Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn, was a Dutch baroque painter. He was recognised for possessing an extraordinary ability to tell stories through art, painting people’s portraits that capture their moods and emotions. However, due to his unusual realism in art, his critics pointed out that he was more focused on displaying ugliness rather than beauty.

Throughout his career, he painted portraits and self-portraits. His paintings also consisted of historical and mythological elements that made him popular among the Dutch audience. In fact, he became so popular that fans of contemporary art started collecting his works.

However, when he died, most people believed that Rembrandt was widely misunderstood. This did not stop him from gaining international fame, especially since his reputation continued to rise among connoisseurs. Some artists from Venice and Germany during the 18th century used Rembrandt’s works to define their styles. And after being considered as one of the frontrunners of the Romantic movement, he became one of the greatest painters to ever live.

Jackson Pollock

When the abstract expressionist movement was at its peak, Jackson Pollock was one of the key figures. He was an American painter that was recognised for his drip technique where he painted the whole canvas using his body while dancing frantically. This style divided the opinions of critics—some of them praised his unique way of creating art, while others mocked the randomness of his style.

Pollock was known for his antisocial and ambitious personality. He suffered from alcoholism that affected his marriage with the artist Lee Krasner. Then, in August 1956, he died in a car crash in his convertible while being intoxicated. Shortly after his death, he was given a massive memorial exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art located in New York City where his best works were displayed for the public to see.

Despite the crumbling relationship between Pollock and Krasner, the latter still managed to give Pollock a clean reputation after he died.

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