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WebQuest: A Brief History of Painting

A quick look into our relationship with mark-making (grades 9-12), for Painting 1

Emily Howard

on 26 February 2014

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Transcript of WebQuest: A Brief History of Painting

A Brief History of Painting
Painting in Prehistory
The earliest known paintings were found in the caves of Lascaux, France
Painting, Evolved
As the centuries passed and people evolved, so did painting.
Art History's Heavy Hitters
a shortlist of the artists who innovated, overcame, and defied convention to expand our ideas about what art can be:
Why Paint?
Your Mission:

This is what a prehistoric painting kit may have looked like:

1. This brush is made from horse hair, wood, and plant fibers
2. This brush is made from a goose feather, wood and plant fibers
3. This brush is made from the leaf of a yucca plant, wood, and plant fibers.
4. This tool is like a sponge, made from leather and filled with damp moss.
The Functions of Painting
...to express emotion
...to make a political statement
...to challenge conventions and re-define norms
...to record history & preserve culture
...to tell a story
...to understand the world
When Matisse was asked in a 1942 radio interview why he painted, he said:

"Why, to translate my emotions, my feelings, and the reactions of my sensibility into color and design, which neither the most perfect camera, even in color, nor the cinema can do. ... [Artists are] useful because they can augment color and design through the richness of their imagination intensified by their emotion and their reflection on the beauties of nature, just as poets or musicians do."
Humans are creatures of habit - change is
hard for us sometimes. We like to compartmentalize, keep ideas neat and tidy in a little box so that they're easy to understand. When someone tries to break out of that box, it can cause an uproar. Think about our history as Americans - what big changes has our country gone through that caused a lot of trouble? Now let's bring it closer to home - what big changes have YOU gone through personally that challenged the way you thought about something? Maybe your thoughts on God have changed as you got older, or how you view your parents. Write about it in your field journal.
Some of the paintings you'll see here have made lots of people uncomfortable. When they were made, it made critics and viewers think, "What is wrong with that guy? He must be psychologically ill." or "That's not art! My kid could do that!" Sometimes it is the function of the artist to get under your skin.
Any text written in
light blue
should be copied down into your field journal. This means that it is important information and will show up later on a test :)
Any definition labeled
"Essential Painter's Vocab"
should be copied down into the glossary pasted in the back of your field journal.
To travel through art history at warp speed for a taste of how painting has changed and impacted human culture throughout the ages.
Any question in a box like this should be answered in your field journal.
Click through the presentation and follow the directions. Remember the following rules as you go:
What to do:
For this section of the journey, you'll need
image packet
glue stick
In your image packet, you have a collection of pairs: an artist and his/her landmark painting.

Every time you "land" on a new artist along the timeline,
, cut out the images from your packet, paste them into your field journal, and then jot down the appropriate information (
written in blue

*Try not to spread out the images too much. You don't want to use too many pages of your journal.
Heavy Hitters Timeline
Along the timeline, you will find important artists and an example of his/her work in chronological order throughout art history. You will also find important information about each artist, as well as a few short videos.
Botticelli (1445-1510)
Birth of Venus
, 1486
Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Da Vinci is not only the man responsible for the world's most famous painting - he was also an architect, military engineer, mathematician, scientist, sculptor, botanist, geologist and musician.
Da Vinci is known as a
Renaissance Man - a person who is an expert in a wide range of subjects
Mona Lisa, 1503-1506
The Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous painting in all of history. It was stolen from the Louvre Museum in Paris in 1911 by a museum employee. It was not discovered until two years later, when the culprit tried to sell it to an Italian gallery.
Artemesia Gentileschi (1593-1656)
One of the first famous female painters. Until her time, painting had been a man's occupation.
Judith Slaying Holofernes (1611–1612)
Though this painting shows a scene from the Bible, it was also a sort of "revenge" painting for Gentileschi. She painted herself as Judith, and her mentor (the man who trained her to be a painter) as Holofernes - because he had raped her. So this was a way for Gentileschi to express her private rage.
Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-1669)
The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, 1632
Anatomy lessons on real cadavers were considered a social event in the 17th century - they were even performed in theaters.
Rembrandt was famous for his use of
- the use of strong contrasts between light and dark, which helps to create both mood and the illusion of 3 dimensions within an artwork.
Essential Painter's Glossary
Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825)
The Death of Marat, 1793
This painting was re-created by Lady Gaga.
This painting shows the murder of a French Revolutionary journalist.
David is an example of an artist who makes
history paintings
- paintings that depict a moment in a narrative story
Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Claude Monet (1840-1926)
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)
Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890)
Gustave Klimt (1862-1918)
Pablo Picasso (1881-1973)
Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968)
Georgia O'Keeffe (1887-1986)
Salvador Dali (1904-1989)
Frida Kahlo (1907-1954)
Jackson Pollock (1912-1956)
Andy Warhol (1928-1987)
Roy Lichtenstein (1923-1997)
Jean Michel Basquiat (1960-1988)
Untitled (Skull), 1984
Michelangelo (1475-1564)
Bal du moulin de la Galette, 1876
Bridge over a Pond of Water Lilies, 1899
Renoir and Monet were
contemporaries - meaning they were working with similar ideas the same time.
Both are considered master Impressionists.
is a modern art movement that features small, thin, visible brushstrokes that capture the impression of light on our eyes.
Van Gogh emulates the stereotype of the tortured artist. He's remembered as much for his psychological issues (cutting off his own ear) as his glorious paintings.
We know a lot about him because of the hundreds of letters he wrote to his brother, Theo.
People are still completely enraptured by Van Gogh today. A film is currently in production that tells Van Gogh's story through the portraits he painted. Each individual frame in this breakthrough animation is hand painted by a team of 30 artists creating 56,800 individual frames.
Watch this quick video of travel journalist Rick Steves (who has arguably the coolest job on the planet) as he visits the Lascaux site.
Here is an old photo of a rudimentary
rig -
a temporary structure for holding workers and materials during the erection, repair, or decoration of a building.
This is how the prehistoric artists of Lascaux were able to get their paintings on the high, curved ceilings. Michelangelo used one to paint the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. Artists still use scaffolding to this day.
Painters in prehistory had a limited color palette (meaning they had very few colors).
They used only what could easily be found in the environment. Red iron oxide, charcoal and ochre made the colors you see above.

(like the red iron oxide)
were ground into a powder and then mixed with plant oil or animal fat to become paint-like.
These images in caves were painted well before the invention of written language
, so we cannot know for sure what these images really mean. But we can guess that art was a communication tool and a way for these ancient people to record history.
Common imagery included: Animals like horses & bison; geometric designs like dots and grids; and handprints. People are rarely depicted except for in the ancient geoglyphs of Australia & Africa.
History shows us how painting took on an almost magical quality. Ancient Egyptians believed that the body must be preserved if the soul was to live eternally. To make absolutely sure that the soul would continue to exist, artists made images of the dead person, including painting scenes from that person's life on the walls of the tomb.
The History of Painting
, 2009, by French artist Mathieu Leferve
For centuries before the invention of the paint tube, artists used to store their paints in pig bladders
. When the artist was ready to use the paint, they would puncture a hole in the bladder and squeeze out the desired amount of paint. They would have to mend the hole when finished and the whole process was quite messy.
The oil paint tube was invented in 1841, as the primary packaging of paints for transport and storage.
For the majority of art history, painters have been focused on documentation
- the recording of events, ideas, people & places.
Johannes Vermeer is a great example of a painter who wanted to portray the everyday life of the common man, which gives us insight into what life was like during the mid-1600s.
Johannes Vermeer -
The Milkmaid
, 1658
With the invention of photography in 1826, painters were no longer needed as the primary source of visual documentation. This forced artists to re-think the purpose of painting.
The earliest surviving photograph:
The View from the Window at Le Gras
by Nicéphore Niépce
It was kind of a crisis of faith.
Artists began to depart from realism and focus more on abstraction.
Abstract art can be a painting or sculpture (including assemblage) that does not depict a person, place or thing in the natural world -- even in an extremely distorted or exaggerated way.
Even the painting kits changed.
Paints became available commercially, in kits like this one:
Painters have been pushing the envelope ever since, developing new ideas, processes, and shocking the general public.
By looking at some of art history's most influential painters and their most famous works, we can really see how ideas and processes have changed over time, as well as how much artists are influenced and inspired by those who came before.
The Kiss,
Klimt had a very ornamental (exaggerated, embellished) style of painting. He was very controversial for his time, as he painted highly sensual portraits of women that the public considered scandalous.
You might consider him to be the Miley Cyrus of the early 1900s, as far as shock-factor goes.
Though we'll have to wait and see in 100 years if her artistic contribution is as meaningful as his was.
Picasso is most famous as the
founder of the art movement known as cubism
("little cubes" or breaking down forms into basic shapes).
But it's important to remember that Picasso was a highly trained realist painter first. He's the perfect illustration for the famous quote by the Dalai Lama, “Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively.”
, 1937
This piece illustrates the injustices of the Spanish Civil War, especially the havoc it wreaked on innocent civilians. If you look at the figures carefully (both human and animal), you can see the agony and fear clearly on their faces.
Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2
, 1912

In this piece, Duchamp depicts motion by successive superimposed images
This painting was made around the time that motion pictures were beginning to be made - so everyone was interested in how to make static (still) objects appear to move.
is considered to be one of the first conceptual artists. This means that the concept or idea behind the artwork is more important than the way it looks
O'Keeffe became famous for her paintings of enlarged blossoms, presenting them close up as if seen through a magnifying lens. This extreme close-up gave her paintings an abstract quality.
Ram's Head White Hollyhock and Little Hills
, 1935
Dali is considered to be one of the fathers of surrealism.
Dali liked to collaborate with other artists, including the photographer Philippe Halsman. Here is one result of their work together:
The Persistence of Memory
, 1931
Kahlo had a fabulously interesting life, that has been made into many books and films. Watch the trailer for the 2002 film,
Kahlo's life was marked by tragedy and pain (both physical and psychological). She dealt with it all through painting highly autobiographical self-portraits.
Self Portrait Dedicated to Dr Eloesser
, 1940
Most consider her to be the ultimate & original
Queen of the Selfie
Of the 140 paintings she made in her lifetime, 55 are self-portraits, each rife with symbolism & meaning.
Pollock is probably the first significant painter from America. He is famous for his
action painting - a style of painting in which paint is spontaneously dribbled, splashed or smeared onto the canvas, rather than being carefully applied
Number 1A
, 1948
A short clip of the master at work:
Warhol was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as
pop art, which explores the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisements.
Campbell's Soup I
, 1968
In 1968, radical feminist Valerie Solanas attempted to murder Warhol at his NY studio by shooting him in the chest. Warhol was seriously wounded by the attack and barely survived: surgeons opened his chest and massaged his heart to help stimulate its movement again. Solanas had been angry at Warhol for misplacing a script she had written. The shooting had a profound effect on Warhol's life and art.
Random Fact:
Random Fact:
Picasso was one of the original suspects when the Mona Lisa was stolen in 1911, but he was quickly released after questioning lead nowhere.
Lichtenstein was a contemporary of Warhol, heavily involved in the pop art movement. His work was heavily influenced by both popular advertising an comic book styles.
Oh, Jeff... I Love You, Too... But...
, 1964
Basquiat was a Hatian-American artist who first shot to fame as a graffiti artist in New York City. His
paintings (
art that borrows visual forms from non-Western or prehistoric people, generally appears to be "untrained"
) highlighted social issues such as racism and classism.
He died of a heroin overdose at 27 years old.
Take a minute and reflect on all the artwork you just experienced. Write down few observations about trends you noticed while flying through art history. What do the artists have in common? Does anything (or anyone) seem to be missing from the timeline? If so, what does that say to you about the history of art in general?
in your field journal...
Painting could be considered a type of research, like studying science or a culture different from one's own.
Painting can also be used as a teaching tool, or a way to try to understand things that are beyond our full understanding (like death and what happens after)
Now that you know A LOT about the history of painting, reflect on the following question, and write a response in your journal:

Is painting still valued in our culture / communities today? Why or why not?
in your field journal...
Essential Painter's Glossary:
Essential Painter's Glossary:
Pigment - a dry insoluble substance, usually pulverized, which when suspended in a liquid vehicle becomes a paint.
Essential Painter's Glossary:
Surrealism is the art movement that blurred the lines between dreams and reality, resulting in highly imaginative images.
Let's Begin!
The Sistine Chapel
, 1512
(add this to the bottom of the page)
The Star
, 1876-77
The Starry Night
, 1889
Full transcript