Where has great art gone?

To those of us who do not thrive in or commonly affiliate with the arts, Renaissance art is probably a lot easier to understand than what is considered “modern art”. Modern art can be really confusing and sometimes appear easy to replicate, while Renaissance paintings display mastery of brush strokes and replicate human action and expression. John McKay informs us in A History of Western Society that “men achieve perfection in the arts” during the Renaissance, as the time period “bore witness to dazzling paintings, architecture, and sculptures” (McKay 421).

Summer by Pieter Bruegel, 1570

Summer, painted by Pieter Brugel in 1570, is a really good example of what McKay explains. Even though I’m not an art critic and I don’t know exactly what constitutes “good” art, I can tell that this painting is an exceptionally skillful specimen. I can immediately depict what the scene is showing because the farmers and the background really look like what they are. The intensive detail of the laborers, houses, and trees is also incredible. Jacob Wisse from the Metropolitan Museum of Art resolves that “Bruegel brought a humanizing spirit to traditional subjects and boldly created new ones” over the course of his career (Wisse). With Summer, Bruegel not only does a great job of illustrating human characteristics, but he also integrates some symbolism for Renaissance agriculture. On the online exhibit page, Wisse explains that the painting includes activities that are “traditionally associated with the summer months: fruit picking for June, hay harvesting for July, and corn harvesting for August” (Wisse). To sum up Summer, Bruegel uses lots of elements in his painting such as humor (the parched man vigorously drinking), social commentary (the distracted laborers), and detail all while demonstrating his expert technique to create a masterful piece. It doesn’t take an art critic to make this simple analysis.

Lonesome? by Martin Kippenberger, 1983

With many pieces of modern art, an art critic would definitely come in handy. There are so many pieces of “world class” modern art that simply do not make sense to me, and may not make sense to you either. One example is prominent modern artist Martin Kippenberger’s 1983 Lonesome? that he made using oils and spray-paints. Now is it just me, or did I make the same thing in second grade? Lucy McKenzie, an art critic from the Saatchi Gallery in London, writes that the portrait is “sparky and boyant” and that Kippenberger was able to create it in “a few seemingly casual brush strokes” (McKenzie). Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did make it in just a few casual brush strokes! Where is the intensive detail and the symbolism that makes Summer such a work of art?

Works Cited:

Mckay, John. A History of Western Society. 4. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2008. 422-424. Print.

“Pieter van der Heyden after Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Summer (26.72.23)”. In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/26.72.23 (October 2006)

Wisse, Jacob. “Pieter Bruegel the Elder (ca. 1525/30–1569)”. InHeilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/brue/hd_brue.htm (October 2002)
McKenzie, Lucy. “Martin Kippenberger.” Saatchi Gallery. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Mar 2012. <http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/current/essays3.htm&gt;.
Image Citations:
Martin Kippenberger. Lonesome?. 1983. Painting. The Saatchi Gallery, London. Web. 2 Mar 2012. <http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/artpages/kippenberger_Lonesome.htm&gt;.
Pieter Bruegel. Summer. 2006. Photograph. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Web. 3 Mar 2012. <http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/26.72.23&gt;.



  1. vinay1496

    Hi Josh,
    Great blog post! I completely agree that renaissance art was so detailed and skilled compared to the more abstract art of today. Have you looked into any art similar to that of the renaissance today? Though lots of art today has an abstract element, I’m sure there is art that is more detailed and beautiful even today. Thanks,

    • josh1818

      Hey Vinay,
      You’re absolutely right: there is recent art that has lots of detail and is pretty straightforward. One of the websites I looked at for examples of modern art (The Museum of Modern Art), displayed a huge variety of different types of art. There were paintings, sculptures, photography, and more. The styles of the art greatly varied. In this post, I am specifically referring to “modern” art with that abstract element you mentioned. Thanks for reading, and really good question.


  2. zach2342

    Hi Josh, I really enjoyed your post on art now and how it has changed since the renaissance. I agree with the fact that a lot of the art today is very confusing and doesn’t make sense and the art from the past was more detailed and “though out” perhaps. Great job Josh, I look forward to reading more interesting posts like this one in the future

    • josh1818

      Hi Zach,
      Thanks for reading! I am glad you liked my post and understand my opinion. I agree with you on that most Renaissance art pieces look like they were made with a plan in mind, and were very “thought out”. Thanks for your reply!


  3. katiereindeer

    Hi Josh,
    I really liked reading this. I have to admit that when I go look at modern art, I often wonder why people love it so much. I while some of it I find rather interesting and amazing, a lot of it does seem rather random. The portland art museum actually has a piece called “black box” and it is simply a black cube that is about 1.5′ wide. Although it’s rather cool looking, I don’t see why people admire it as a masterful piece of art. Is there any modern art that you do like, and if so what makes it different?
    Thanks for the great read,

    • josh1818

      Hi Katie,
      Thanks for reading my post. I might have to check out the “black box” next time I’m at the portland art museum, and I find it interesting that I’ve never noticed it before (I’ve been on plenty of field trips to the museum). I do understand the “cool looking” modern art you’re describing, and I do enjoy that. When it’s clear that the artist planned ahead and really tried hard to make the best art possible, I have to admire that. To me, there’s a big difference between abstract art and sloppy-looking art.

      Thanks for replying,

  4. kristin888

    Hi Josh! Extremely insightful post!
    It’s interesting that you say modern art can be really confusing, when it seems like many artists look for simplicity in abstract art. Why do you think that certain artistic values (such as the impact of realistic drawing, details, proportion etc.) have changed since the Renaissance?

    • josh1818

      Hi Kristin!
      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you found my post insightful. I believe that artistic values changed because we, as humans, are constantly changing. The Renaissance left us with so many near-perfect paintings of humans that there really wasn’t much left to do (as far as replicating the human figure with paint). The only way you can get more exact than the Mona Lisa is with photography. And so, paintings and sculptures had to move in a different direction, towards a more abstract style.

      Thanks for your interesting question!

  5. Awesome post, Josh! I agree with you that art has changed a lot since the Renaissance. Why do you think artwork has become what it is right now?

    Again, this was a great post!

    • josh1818

      Hey Ajay,
      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! My answer to your question really can’t be anymore specific than my answer to Kristin’s question. Change is a human tendency, for whatever direction it leads us. Renaissance portraits of humans have become so close to perfect that there’s virtually no room for improvement. So, instead of becoming more exact and perfect with paintings of humans, artists have branched out to more abstract ideas.

      Thanks again for reading and replying!

  6. rogina9993

    Hi Josh,
    This is a really attractive post and I enjoy reading it! Your idea to compare the Renaissance art and modern art is interesting, and the examples you choose to illustrate are great. But I am more curios about what makes people change the definition of “art”? And what does art present, the idea of the artists or just the details in the painting, or other things?
    Thanks for the interesting post again!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: