60-Second Introductions to 12 Groundbreaking Artists: Matisse, Dalí, Duchamp, Hopper, Pollock, Rothko & More

Some art his­to­ri­ans ded­i­cate their entire careers, and indeed lives, to the work of a sin­gle artist. But what about those of us who only have a minute to spare? Address­ing the demand for the briefest pos­si­ble primers on the cre­ators of impor­tant art, paint­ings and oth­er­wise, of the past cen­tu­ry or so, the Roy­al Acad­e­my of Arts’ Painters in 60 Sec­onds series has pub­lished twelve episodes so far. Of those infor­ma­tion­al­ly dense videos, you see here the intro­duc­tions to Sal­vador Dalí, Mar­cel Duchamp, Edward Hop­per, Jack­son Pol­lock, and Mark Rothko.

Though short, these crash cours­es do find their way beyond the very basics. “There’s more to Dalí,” says the Roy­al Acad­e­my of the Arts’ Artis­tic Direc­tor Tim Mar­low, than “skill­ful­ly ren­dered fever dreams of sex and decay.

He paint­ed one of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry’s great cru­ci­fix­ions, but it’s more about physics than reli­gion, and he was as influ­enced by phi­los­o­phy as he was by Sig­mund Freud.” Ducham­p’s unortho­dox and influ­en­tial ideas “came togeth­er in one of the most ambi­tious works of the 20th cen­tu­ry, The Large Glass, an end­less­ly ana­lyzed work of machine-age erot­ic sym­bol­ism, sci­ence, alche­my, and then some.”

In the seem­ing­ly more staid Depres­sion-era work of Edward Hop­per, Mar­low points to “a pro­found con­tem­pla­tion of the world around us. Hop­per slows down time and cap­tures a moment of still­ness in a fran­tic world,” paint­ed in a time of “deep nation­al self-exam­i­na­tion about the very idea of Amer­i­can­ness.” Hop­per paint­ed the famous Nighthawks in 1942; the next year, and sure­ly on the very oth­er end of some kind of artis­tic spec­trum, Hop­per’s coun­try­man and near-con­tem­po­rary Jack­son Pol­lock paint­ed Mur­al, which shows “the young Pol­lock work­ing through Picas­so, con­tin­u­ing to frac­ture the archi­tec­ture of cubism” while “at the same time tak­ing on the lessons of the Mex­i­can mural­ists like Siqueiros and Oroz­co.”

Yet Mur­al also “starts to pro­claim an orig­i­nal­i­ty that is all Pol­lock­’s,” open­ing the gate­way into his hero­ic (and well-known) “drip peri­od.” Rothko, prac­tic­ing an equal­ly dis­tinc­tive but entire­ly dif­fer­ent kind of abstrac­tion, end­ed up pro­duc­ing “some of the most mov­ing paint­ings in all of the 20th cen­tu­ry: sat­u­rat­ed stains of col­or.” Mak­ing ref­er­ence to clas­si­cal archi­tec­ture — going back, even, to Stone­henge — his work becomes “a kind of thresh­old into which you, the view­er, project your­self,” but its soft edges also give it a sense of “breath­ing, pul­sat­ing, and some­times, of dying.”

If you hap­pen to have more than a minute avail­able, how could you resist dig­ging a bit deep­er into the life and work of an artist like that? Or per­haps you’d pre­fer to get intro­duced to anoth­er: Hen­ri Matisse or Grant Wood, say, or Kaz­imir Male­vich or Joan Mitchell. You may just find one about whom you want to spend the rest of your years learn­ing.

See all videos, includ­ing new ones down the road, at the Painters in 60 Sec­onds series playlist.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Edward Hopper’s Icon­ic Paint­ing Nighthawks Explained in a 7‑Minute Video Intro­duc­tion

Jack­son Pol­lock 51: Short Film Cap­tures the Painter Cre­at­ing Abstract Expres­sion­ist Art

Hear Mar­cel Duchamp Read “The Cre­ative Act,” A Short Lec­ture on What Makes Great Art, Great

Walk Inside a Sur­re­al­ist Sal­vador Dalí Paint­ing with This 360º Vir­tu­al Real­i­ty Video

An Intro­duc­tion to 100 Impor­tant Paint­ings with Videos Cre­at­ed by Smarthis­to­ry

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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