All works of art create change and push already existing ideas in new directions and into new dimensions. However, there’s some art works that burst into existence at just the right moment, fueled by a changing world, a visionary mind, or a powerful new collective movement. These pieces of art have the potential to radically change both the art world, and the wider world.
Although there are many works like this to choose from, below is my curated list of 8 of the pieces of art that changed the world. They’re great pieces to design a lesson plan around, as they bring in art history, exciting formal elements, culture, science, and history in general.
Each of these pieces are symbolic of what’s so special about art education and art history: that it’s such an interdisciplinary subject, and bleeds into tons of other topics. Art education is a great way to get students interested in other subjects, and to connect with different kinds of learners where they are! Check out our recent article 11 Rock Solid Statistics That Prove How Vital Art Education Is For Kids’ Academic and Social Achievement.
What better way to start off this list, then with Duchamp’s Fountain? Widely considered a turning point in modern and conceptual art, Duchamp created Fountain in 1917. He simply took a urinal off of a bathroom wall, turned it on its side, and signed it “R. Mutt”. He submitted the piece to an exhibition of the Society of Independent Artists in New York City, although it was never shown.
By choosing a common object that was pre-made, Duchamp tested the prevailing assumptions about what made something art. The Fountain was conceptual, in that its artistic quality and value came largely from its capacity to make viewers think, have open conversations, and disagree about what it meant. It caused a huge uproar at the time, with its fair share of critics.
Today, the piece is seen as an important landmark in the development of Conceptual art, and as a huge jumping off point for future artists. Through Fountain, Duchamp also introduced the Readymade, an art form typified by the use of premade, found objects.
The Code of Hammurabi is famous for its sculptural prowess and refinement, as well as for its role as the first and most complete set of written legal codes discovered by archaeologists and historians. The legal codes enshrined in the massive stele were set out by King Hammurabi, the ruler of ancient Babylonia from the years 1792 BC to 1750 BC. The 282 laws carved into the statue governed the kingdom of Babylonia, which covers most of modern-day Iraq.
The top of the stele features a large carving of King Hammurabi receiving the right to rule and govern from Shamash, the Babylonian god of justice. In the carving, the sovereignty of King Hammurabi is symbolized by a measuring rod and tape that Shamash is handing King Hammurabi. The rest of the monolith is covered with 282 laws written in cuneiform. Although many of the laws would seem cruel by today’s legal standards, the Code of Hammurabi was actually the first time that a person was seen as innocent until proven guilty.
The carving of the laws and the sculptural images on top all show enormous skill and refinement in Babylonian imagery and art. The code is carved out of dionite, a very hard and difficult to carve material. The forms of Hammurabi and Shamash are carved with great mastery, and display the full knowledge of a society that was highly advanced in the realms of art, trade, and law.
Galloping Horse is a unique entry on this list in that it represents a revolution in the arts and the sciences! Muybridge was an early experimenter in the field of photography and is known for his work in capturing motion. He pioneered the use of several different cameras at the same time to capture motion in stop-motion frames, as well as the zoopraxiscope, which allowed him to project the images quickly one after another to give a spectator the illusion of a moving picture.
Galloping Horse was a break-through in motion photography, as it captured each fraction of a movement in a horse’s gallop, allowing for people to see something that happened much too fast for the human eye in full, glorious detail. For the first time, people could see how a horse moved, and show for certain that a horse’s hooves never left the ground all at the same time.
Pablo Picasso is a revolutionary artist in many ways. His paintings established the Cubist movement and were some of the first and most well-known experimentations with abstraction. However, Guernica makes this list for a very different reason. It’s a testament to the power and influence that a painting can have on public sentiment and political will.
Guernica is a massive and chilling depiction of the bombing of the Basque town of Guernica, ordered by the Spanish Nationalists and executed by the Nazis and Italian Fascists. The painting is awash with the brutality of war, violence, death, fire, and dismemberment. It’s striking monochrome grays and blacks add to the grim atmosphere of the piece.
Picasso painted it to display at an exhibition intended to raise money for the antifascist cause in Spain, and would not allow it to be displayed there until Franco’s regime was toppled. It’s seen as one of the most powerful anti-war paintings or pieces of art ever created, and is a beloved symbol of justice and accountability for Spain and the Basque religion in particular.
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