If you had to name the five most important paintings in Western art—the ones that most influenced the course of art, or history, or both—what would they be? (Mona Lisa, anybody?) While a fun exercise, when it comes to understanding art, ranking paintings in this way doesn't help us answer the more profound question of why art, and especially painting, has been so important to Western culture for hundreds of years. In other words, instead of trying to identify the five "most important" paintings—an impossible task, to be sure—what if we picked five paintings that helped us understand the different ways that painting can be used as a meaningful form of communication? These paintings would come from different time periods, genres, and nations, and would outline the different ways that painting has played an important role in Western culture.
These, therefore, are five paintings every art lover should see if they want to understand more about the history and significance of painting—and its continued relevance to our lives.
Our five paintings will be:
Tina Rivers Ryan / Albright-Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo), Formerly Columbia University
An art historian by training, Dr. Tina Rivers Ryan is currently Assistant Curator of contemporary art at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York. She holds a BA from Harvard, three Master's Degrees, and a PhD from Columbia, and has taught classes on art at institutions including the Museum of Modern Art, the Pratt Institute, and Columbia, where she was one of the top-ranked instructors of the introduction to art history, "Art Humanities: Masterpieces of Western Art." A regular critic for Artforum, her writing has also appeared in periodicals such as Art in America and Art Journal, and in catalogs published by museums including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Walker Art Center, and the Tate. As a public speaker and scholar, Dr. Ryan has delivered lectures on topics ranging from Michelangelo to Warhol in more than 50 cities internationally.