Art is a brilliant way to express yourself, and humans have been creating art since the Neanderthal, over 65,000 years ago. It plays a huge part in modern society, from advertising campaigns to the clothes we wear, and it would be hard to imagine a world without art.
Besides this, art also greatly affects how we are, from our creativity to our mental well-being. So, it’s more beneficial than you might think. It’s also captivating to be in an art gallery and see the sheer talent of artists.
You’re guaranteed to get surprised by some of these 29 facts about art and will be sure to advance your general knowledge, so just keep reading!
29 Facts About Art
There are so many fascinating facts about art, but here are 29 of the best thought-provoking facts that you might not know.
1. Leonardo Da Vinci Was a Huge Procrastinator
Leonardo Da Vinci is one of the world’s most famous and beloved artists. He was also an inventor, scientist, and architect and was hugely influential to the Renaissance. All that said, he definitely took his time to complete his work.
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For example, the Mona Lisa is believed to have taken Da Vinci over 16 years to complete. This fact may inspire you to greatness, especially if you procrastinate too.
2. Vincent van Gogh Only Sold One of His Paintings in His Life
Van Gogh, famous for his impressionist paintings of sunflowers and still lifes, was very unappreciated in his lifetime. In fact, while he was alive, he only sold one of his paintings. This was The Red Vineyard at Arles, a vivid depiction of a Provencal landscape.
It was the only artwork he sold out of over 2000, which is crazy considering how talented he was. He sold it for 400 Belgian Francs at the start of 1890 to Anna Boch, one of his friends. This was only a few months before he committed suicide due to his depression and anxiety.
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Ironically, Van Gogh became one of the world’s most famous painters posthumously for his unique brushstrokes, color combinations, and expressive technique. Furthermore, his painting, Portrait of Dr. Paul Gauchet, sold for $83 million in 1990.
3. Largest Art Canvas in the World
The largest art canvas in the world was made by Iranian artist Emad Salehi, in 2022, as part of the Qatar FIFA World Cup. It covered 103,893 square feet and was made on Qatar University’s soccer pitch.
It is called The Story of the Ball and celebrates important moments in soccer’s history, such as previous World Cups, famous goals, and iconic players. The title was previously held by Sacha Jafri, a British artist whose Journey of Humanity was over 17,000 square feet of artwork.
4. The Word “Art” Comes from Latin
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The word “art” originally comes from the Latin word “ars”, which translates to “art, talent, or craft”. The word has been in use since the 13th century, at the time of Rome’s founding. So, just like the expression “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, the word “art” is likely to have come from that era of humanity.
This is super interesting, as it makes you wonder what art was called before then. Or what purpose art serves in society. It definitely makes you wonder, “what is art?” and what is its importance?
5. Art’s Purpose
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Many people have belittled art in the past, and it is often considered a risky industry to work in. However, art has various important purposes in life, as it helps us to understand life more abstractly.
It helps us to see how people have lived throughout history, and it has been used by many cultures to leave a legacy. In fact, without art, there would be hardly any visual depictions of the past. Besides this, art serves functionally (such as vases and furniture) and as a form of social commentary.
6. One of the World’s Most Famous Artists is Completely Unknown
This heading might sound like an oxymoron, how can someone famous be unknown? Well, the answer to that is there is, and his name is Banksy.
Banksy, renowned for his political, social commentary graffiti pieces, has never revealed his true identity. One wonders if this is a simple marketing ploy or does he just want privacy.
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Who is to say if Banksy is even a he? There are multiple theories online; one states his name is Robin Gunningham (which Banksy has joked about), one states Banksy is a group of artists, and one suggests Banksy is a woman (due to the predominance of females in Banksy’s art).
7. The Color Wheel Existed Before the USA Did
The color wheel is a well-known tool used in art classrooms around the world. It is used to teach students the basics of color, such as which colors complement each other. But did you know that the color wheel was invented in the early 1700s, roughly 70 years before the Declaration of Independence was written?
Even more interesting is that Isaac Newton, famous for discovering the laws of gravity and calculus, invented the color wheel. This was part of his experimentation with light and prisms, as he saw how light split into various colors.
8. Salvador Dali Thought He Was His Brother
One of the world’s most eccentric and strange artists, Salvador Dali, was rumored to have thought he was a reincarnation of his brother Dal. His brother died of gastroenteritis almost a year before Salvador’s birth.
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Because of the coincidental closeness of the death and his birth, his parents were convinced that he was a reincarnated image of his brother. He was convinced, too, that he was his brother, as seen in the painting Portrait of My Dead Brother.
9. The Most Expensive Art Piece
In 2017, Saudi Prince Badr bin Abdullah Al Saud paid over $450 million for the painting Salvator Mundi by Leonardo da Vinci. That’s a huge amount of money; by comparison, $450 million is how much NASA spends approximately on a single Space Shuttle mission.
10. Art was Once in the Olympics
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Between 1912 and 1948, medals were given out for art pieces of music, architecture, literature, sculpture, and paintings inspired by sports. This was because the founder of the modern Olympic games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was fascinated with the ideal of a true Olympian being a mixture of an artist and sportsperson.
11. Pablo Picasso Learned to Draw before He Could Walk
Some artists seem to pick up a brush as soon as they come out of the womb. With Picasso, this is almost true. In fact, he learned how to draw before he could walk. As his father was an artist and instructor, this may have contributed to his talents.
Even more telling is that his first word was piz which is Spanish for pencil. He took up formal artistic training from the age of seven, and shortly after, he surpassed his father in terms of talent. His father felt this after seeing how precise Pablo’s technique was.
12. There Are Two Starry Nights
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Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous painting, The Starry Night, is found on all sorts of merchandise, whether it’s a t-shirt, a mug, or even a LEGO set. There’s even a movie and a song based on the name. With its beautiful brushstrokes of bright yellows and cool blues, we can understand why so many love it.
But it’s not Van Gogh’s only Starry Night painting. He painted Starry Night Over the Rhône a year before his most famous painting in 1888. It’s less vivid than the other Starry Night and focuses on the river, the night sky, and two lovers in the foreground.
13. Roman Statues were Made with Detachable Heads
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Yeah, you read that right! Some sculptors were commissioned to make statues with detachable heads. It was for a very practical reason – namely, if the ruler depicted by the statue lost honor or died, that their head could be effortlessly removed and replaced by a new leader or renowned person.
14. Anish Kapoor’s Work Got Thrown Away by Cleaners
Anish Kapoor, a British-Indian artist famous for “The Bean” (actually called Cloud Gate) in Chicago and other installation pieces, received compensation in 2012 after his artwork Hole and Vessel II was thrown away by cleaners.
Someone mistook it for rubbish, as it was made of polystyrene, wood, and cement pieces. He sued Fine Art Logistics for this blunder, especially as they offered him only $700 compensation. In the end, he managed to get around $420,000 in compensation after a London High Court ruling, so it doesn’t seem too rough. Then again, how would you feel if someone threw away something valuable to you?
15. Bob Ross Once Helped a Color Blind Viewer
In one episode of “The Joy of Painting”, Bob Ross painted a landscape only in grey for one of his viewers. This was after he did a mall demonstration, and a man came up and told him that he could never paint because he was color blind.
Now, Bob Ross, one of the most gentle faces to ever grace the television screen, decided to make paint using just grays and whites on the canvas to help spread the message that anyone can paint.
16. Many Thought The Thinker was Molded on Real Bodies
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One of the most well-known pieces of sculpture is The Thinker by Auguste Rodin, a French artist. One of the most interesting things is that when the sculpture was revealed to the public, it caused a bit of a scandal.
This is because the proportions were so realistically sculpted that many thought he had molded directly on a man’s body. This sounds preposterous now, but back in Rodin’s day, it caused quite a bit of trouble for his reputation.
17. There Are Five Versions of The Scream
Edvard Munch made five versions of The Scream between 1893 and 1910. You can see three publicly, all in Oslo, Norway, and one in a private collection. Two versions are paintings made in tempera on cardboard, two are pastels, and one is a lithograph.
18. 30,000 Pieces of Art Plundered by Nazis Are Still Missing
In the years of World War 2, from 1933 to 1945, Nazis stole a major amount of art from their occupied countries in Europe. It’s estimated that the Nazis plundered almost 20% of the art in Europe. Also, many works were destroyed by bombs or burned by Nazis for being “degenerate art.
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It’s estimated that 30,000 artworks are still missing today. That’s either because they were destroyed or hidden in mines. Some of the most famous works that haven’t been recovered include Van Gogh’s Painter on His Way to Work, Courbet’s The Stone Breakers, and pieces by Klimt, Rembrandt, and Matisse.
19. Jackson Pollock Sometimes Used Cigarettes for His Paintings
Pollock, an artist famous for his drip technique and being pivotal to the abstract expressionist movement, often used unusual items in his art. In fact, some of his artworks have cigarettes and nails in them.
He was often not taken seriously in his time, which seems to be a problem for many artists. But that doesn’t take away from how important he was to the industry at the time.
20. Claude Monet Was Almost Discouraged From Being a Painter
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Claude Monet’s father did not like that his son wanted to pursue art as a career. In fact, he told Claude to become a grocer and earn a stable salary.
Monet ended up being quite well off in the end, and he could buy a house, invest heavily in gardening, and import water lilies from all over the world. Good thing he didn’t listen, as now we have some of the most beautiful impressionist paintings to savor, such as Water Lillies.
21. A Painting Was Once Hung Upside Down in MoMA for 47 Days
Henri Matisse’s Le Bateau, a paper-cut artwork, was part of an exhibition named “The Last Works of Matisse: Large Cut Gouaches” in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. One surprising fact about this artwork is that it was hung upside down for 47 days.
Over 116,000 visitors, curators, and even Matisse’s son did not notice this. It took a Wall Street stockbroker, who had visited the show three times, to reveal that the artwork had been flipped. Genevieve Harbert realized that Matisse always put the central and complex motif at the top, and in this piece, it was at the bottom. This was certainly quite embarrassing for MoMA, especially the curators!
22. Smallest Art in The World is Microscopic
Willard Wigan, a British artist, makes truly minuscule work. That’s not an insult, as some of his work has to be seen under a microscope. Take Wigan’s smallest hand-made sculpture, a human embryo made from his carpet fiber, which he placed into a hollowed-out strand of his hair.
The sculpture is tiny and measured to be 0,078 mm long and 0,053 mm wide. For his work, he cannot drink stimulants, such as caffeine or alcohol, and he doesn’t argue with anyone. He’s also inhaled his work before due to how miniature it is.
23. All Four of The “Women in the Garden” are Monet’s Mistress
Claude Monet’s Women in the Garden is a stunning display of life in the 1800s and focuses on how light and shade work. One of his works also used the Plein air technique, where the composition is set outdoors.
What’s even more intriguing is the fact that all four of the figures in the painting are Camille Doncieux. She has appeared in several of his paintings, such as Woman in a Green Dress. Monet used the detailing of clothes from fashion magazines to differentiate the figures.
24. The Youngest Artist to Have a Solo Exhibition was 11 Months Old.
The youngest artist ever to have her first solo exhibition was Arushi Bhatnagar, who held it at the Kalidasa Akademi in Ujjain, India. She was only 344 days old and was rumored to have started creating since she was four months old.
This is absolutely fascinating, but even more encouraging is that this child prodigy is still pursuing art. She has made over 3,000 paintings in her career and has held 15 solo exhibitions.
She calls herself an abstract expressionist, which the previously mentioned Jackson Pollock was. She loves to play around with color and is also a nature photographer, which has inspired some of her work.
25. Renoir Suffered from Rheumatoid Arthritis
Pierre-Auguste Renoir, an important painter in the Impressionist movement, is renowned for his paintings celebrating the female form’s beauty. His two most well-known paintings Dance At Le Moulin De La Galette and Luncheon of the Boating Party, celebrate French life in the 19th century and are a fantastic glimpse back in time.
But one thing that not many people know about Renoir is that in the last 20 years of his life, he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Despite this, he continued painting and got his friends and family to wrap the brush in his clenched hand. In fact, Renoir painted until he died in 1919.
26. Andy Warhol Was A Victim of Attempted Murder
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Andy Warhol, the leading figure and artist of the Pop Art movement, was almost shot dead by Valerie Solanas, a fellow New York artist. She is said to have shot him, as she believed he stole the manuscript for her book SCUM Manifesto.
He was even momentarily pronounced dead before medics revived him. After this event, he had to wear a surgical corset for the rest of his life. This had quite an impact on his life, and shortly after, he exhibited a series of works that included skulls and motifs of death.
27. The Oldest Art Ever Found Dates Back to Over 290,000 BCE
In the Raisen District in Madhya Pradesh, India, is the Bhimbetka Petroglyphs, dating back to approximately 290,000 to 700,000 BCE. In the 1990s, archaeologists discovered the Bhimbetka caves and several prehistoric rock art displays.
The petroglyphs were made by various rock tools that were hammered into the rock’s surface, leaving depressions. This art is considered to be the earliest artistic tradition, far outdating the art found in caves in Southern Africa and Europe.
28. Peter Paul Rubens Was Knighted Twice
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Peter Paul Rubens, a Flemish artist, is famous for his expressive painting style and for being an influential part of the Baroque era. He is most well known for his painting that covers Biblical events, such as The Elevation of The Cross or The Descent from The Cross.
However, one less known thing about Rubens is that he was knighted twice. This guy must have been popular, as he was knighted by both Philip IV of Spain and Charles I of England. He was knighted, as he was also a diplomat, and managed to help keep the peace between the two nations. This is a truly fascinating fact, especially for any history buffs out there.
29. Can Art Improve Your Life?
Besides the obvious aesthetic benefit of art in our life, many don’t see the point in making art or having an arts education. However, there is some evidence to prove its benefits are multifaceted.
For example, a 2019 study conducted by the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) concluded that the proportion of students pursuing arts education is 3.6% less likely to receive disciplinary infractions, have an increased writing ability, and are more likely to show compassion.
Besides this, students are more likely to graduate college, score higher on SATs, and are less likely to drop out if they take arts and music classes.