What is art? It’s a way to express ourselves using our senses like listening or watching. Writing is an art. We use our sense of sight to read the words we’ve written. Paintings are a more abstract form of visual art. Have you ever been to an art museum and thought to yourself, why is this famous? That’s what I thought when I saw Mona Lisa for the first time. Its only 2′ 6″ x 1′ 9″ inches. What’s so great about something so small? Little did I know, that it was a revolutionary piece.

To understand art, we must dive into that time period and learn the artist’s history. There’s a reason Da Vinci painted and that’s what I’m going to be explaining to you.


Here she is. One of the most famous paintings in the world. But why is that? There are several reasons actually. First lets take a look at Leonardo Da Vinci, the artist. Da Vinci was  a mathematician, as most of us know, as well as an artist. He designed the first helicopter and other inventions and he had a history related to science and human anatomy. What does that tell us about this painting? Well, Da Vinci created a mathematical system on ratios. So, if you look at her again you’ll see she sits in a pyramid shape. Maybe that’s why she sits in the Louvre. This was a mathematical revelation in art. No one had used perspective before and most portraits were painted in a simple black background with the person facing left or right.


Now, Take a look at the background. What do you see? Land? Water? I want you to observe the background near Mona’s left eye and follow it to the other end. Is something wrong here? Yes! That’s because this is the first painting with an imaginative background! Can you believe it? The first! This was another revolution in history and everyone wanted to paint with their imagination, like this!

Moving on, Take a look at her face. Are her eyes following you? Is her smile mystifying and enchanting? Or is it a frown? Exactly. Her face intrigues us so much that everyone fell in love with it (except me).


Observe her hands now. Is it she painted to perfection? You can just imagine her hands holding yours. Da Vinci painted her hands better than anyone had painted hands. Yes, it was because of his close relation to anatomy. That’s why its important to know his history too. Now, I wish I could go back and see this painting and admire it for it’s revolutionary history.

Enough of Mona Lisa. Let’s check out why people love the Girl with the Pearl Earring. I mean she is just a girl, with some earring right? Nope. She’s actually much more.


Take a look at her. The first thing everyone notices is her earring. It’s a pearl. Just a pearl right? Nope. The pearl is a symbol of the rich. In Vermeer’s time, very few people could afford something as valuable as a pearl. So for them (and us), it was pretty shocking that this simple dressed middle class girl could afford to wear such an expensive piece of jewelry. Not only is it known for the earring but for the girl itself. The fact that Vermeer, a famous artist in his time and now, chose to paint an unknown person shocks many. At his time, famous painters only made portraits of famous people so Vermeer’s choice was unexpected. The subject strikes curiosity in so many, that some have concluded that she is his daughter.

Now, pay attention to her posture. Is she turning towards you or away? That’s what really mystified people. Her posture.

Do you like the way Vermeer has depicted the light on her? Many people do. In fact, Vermeer is known for the way he portrays light and dimension; as he does with her black background. If you look closely, you can see that the reflection in her eyes is the same as the one in her earring. Her facial expression enchants others. With her open lip, she seems to speak to the world.


I bet you recognize this. (It’s okay if you don’t.) Yes! It is Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night! Its one of my favorites. in fact, if you’re in New York, I suggest you go see it at the MoMa, after reading this post. Van Gogh is known for his blue background and curvy strokes. Here, he utilizes them very well. His strokes make the painting move. You can imagine the rolling clouds and swaying trees as you look at the painting. That’s what fascinates people so much. In fact, scientists have found something very different about his work. In 2004, scientists saw a dust particle that moved the same way the stars moved in Van Gogh’s paintings. After globally studying his work, they concluded that he depicted a movement called turbulent flow in his paintings.

Turbulent flow is hard to explain but all you need to know, is it still hasn’t been understood by scientists fully. The fact that turbulent flow is only present in Van Goth’s paintings when he was suffering intense pain, depicts how he could create his best work and make a great mathematical discovery, subconsciously. This is quite shocking and depicts how history makes art famous. Not only is Starry Night known for its beauty, but the environment it was created in too. People are still in awe of his lovely brush strokes and imagination, with the fact that he created something so amazing in the worst possible state. His painting is not only wonderful to look at but to think about too. It teaches us that no matter where you are, you just need passion to do your best.

Each painting has a story behind it. That is what makes these particular ones so famous. Cause they have the most unique history. Remember, it’s also art. Art is known for beauty. The way these artists have portrayed what they wanted so beautifully, makes them the best paintings, along with their intriguing stories. That’s why I wanted to share this post. Often, I’ve wandered into museums to see these paintings and always thought, Whats so great about this? But now, I know and I wanted to share it with you.

Credits go to:

The Short Story of Art by Susie Hodge

What’s your favorite painting?