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Six Works of Art Fine Arts Students Should Know

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Edvard Munch’s The Scream. These 10 pieces are among the most famous masterpieces celebrated by people all over the world for their beauty, creativity, evocativeness, technical prowess and cultural significance. But while they may more well-known than others, they’re far from the only ones worthy of acclaim. If you’re thinking of studying fine arts, here are six more works worthy of getting to know.

Sep 6, 2023
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Six Works of Art Fine Arts Students Should Know

Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Johannes Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring. Gustav Klimt’s The Kiss. Salvador Dali’s The Persistence of Memory. Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Edvard Munch’s The Scream. These 10 pieces are among the most famous masterpieces celebrated by people all over the world for their beauty, creativity, evocativeness, technical prowess and cultural significance. But while they may more well-known than others, they’re far from the only ones worthy of acclaim. If you’re thinking of studying fine arts, here are six more works worthy of getting to know.

Credit: bradshawfoundation.com

1. The Chauvet Cave, ca. 30,000 B.C.

Dating all the way back to the Stone Age, the Chauvet Cave paintings portray at least 13 different species of animals, including everything from lions and mammoths to rhinoceroses owls, but no complete human figures. No one knows who created these extraordinarily well-preserved cave paintings, just discovered in 1994 in southern France’s Ardèche valley. Some think these ancient artists were women; others suggest that they may have been children.

“What is known,” says The Guardian of these exquisite and remarkably lifelike depictions, “Is that Homo sapiens, our species of human, makes its mark with these paintings that are as beautiful and intelligent as anything created since.” Visit a reproduction of the caves in Ardeche, France.

Credit: theguardian.com

2. The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan Van Eyck, 1434

The Dutch play a significant role in art history, with this complex painting regarded as one of the most influential works to emerge from the Netherlands. A full-length portrait thought to be of Italian merchant Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini and his wife The Arnolfini Portrait (which is sometimes called the Arnolfini Wedding) does not actually depict a wedding, but instead captures the sanctity of marriage through Van Eyck’s attention to detail and masterful use of texture, light and shade. Said E.H. Gombrich of the work in his book, The Story of Art, “In its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello's or Masaccio's work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed onto a panel as if by magic ... For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term." See the portrait at the The National Gallary in London.

Said E.H. Gombrich of the work in his book, The Story of Art, “In its own way it was as new and revolutionary as Donatello's or Masaccio's work in Italy. A simple corner of the real world had suddenly been fixed onto a panel as if by magic ... For the first time in history the artist became the perfect eye-witness in the truest sense of the term." See the portrait at the The National Gallary in London.

http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/39799

3. The Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai, 1830-1833

Also known simply as “The Wave,” The Great Wave Off Kanagawa -- part of a woodblock print series, not a painting -- is perhaps the most recognizable of Japan’s extensive contributions to the fine art world. Depicting a massive rogue wave menacing boats off the coast of Kanagawa, the work is full of symbolism which critics suggest serves as “visual shorthand for Japan itself.”

One interesting fact about Hokusai’s woodblock printing? It wasn’t originally considered to be “real art.” Wrote art historian Christine Guth, “Within Japan, woodblock prints weren’t seen as art, they were seen as a popular form of expression and commercial printing." Today, however, The Great Wave Off Kanagawa can be seen in museums all over the globe, including New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the British Museum of London, the Art Institute of Chicago, LACMA of Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, and even in Claude Monet's Giverny home.

Credit: jackson-pollock.org

4. No. 5, 1948 by Jackson Pollock, 1948

This iconic (and behemoth -- it measures in at 8 feet by 4 feet) painting is considered a key work in the abstract expressionist movement. Says Mental Floss, “In the wake of World War II, New York City artists like Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning began pushing the boundaries of their paintings in a direction that would be dubbed "Abstract Expressionism" by art critic Robert Coates in 1946. This wave of modern art made New York the center of the art world, thanks in part to the movement's embrace by esteemed collector and patron Peggy Guggenheim. Pollock's contribution was his drip paintings, of which No. 5, 1948 is his most famous.”

If you’re confused about why Pollock’s work is so celebrated (not to mention valuable), you’re not alone. Explains Mental Floss, “The short answer is, though his drip paintings may not be accessible, they were seminal, changing the way we think of art itself. They may not be traditionally pretty. But they are both art, and art history.”

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte - 1884

5. A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat, 1884

For an entire generation of people, Georges Seurat’s portrait of pointillism is best known for its appearance in the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. However, A Sunday Afternoon On The Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat is lauded in the art world for much more than its featured role in a beloved teen flick.

“Heralded as a grand work of meticulous proportions,” the entire process of creating it was rigorous, says Artble: “The planning and cast of Grande Jatte was notoriously as complex as the work itself and Seurat went through many sketched drafts before he arrived on the final plan for the painted piece. The cast comprised three dogs, eight boats and 48 people as they congregated for a Sunday afternoon in the sunny park.” See the mural-sized painting at the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of the world's largest budga statue in Leshan,sichuan,china

6. Asia’s Buddha Sculptures

Why pick just one when there are so many extraordinary statues of Buddha -- known as “Buddharupa,” AKA “the form of the Awakened One,” scattered throughout South and East Asia’s Buddhist temples of worship?

From the Hussain Sagar Buddha Statue --which rises from an artificial lake in the Indian city of Hyderabad and was sculpted by a cooperative of artisans into the country’s largest monolithic statue -- to Thailand’s Ayutthaya Buddha Head -- the remains of a sandstone statue whose head is now nestled into a network of tree roots and vines -- these Buddhas are wildly different and yet equally inspiring in delivering Buddha’s message of peace.

One of the most amazing things about the arts? In addition to the breadth and depth of works from all around the globe, new ones are being discovered -- and created -- every day. Whether you’re an aspiring artist yourself or looking to work in an art-related area, a breadth and depth of programs exist aimed at helping you explore this exciting world. Go here to learn more about bachelor’s degree programs which offer the opportunity to immerse yourself in fine arts studies.

Joanna Hughes

Author

Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.