From the earliest recorded cave paintings to the masterworks adorning the Sistine Chapel, painters have driven themselves to capture and preserve the sentiments, hopes, fears, triumphs and tragedies of their times as well as the yearnings of their souls and the secret lives of their societies. Painters have spanned the entire social spectrum, ranging from penniless vagabonds to royalty. Many working class painters have been fortunate enough to secure wealthy patrons to financially support their artistic efforts in exchange for recognition and custom comissioned work, often featuring the patron and their family.
Painters, perhaps moreso than artists of other mediums, have earned reputations for being eccentric, excessive or outright mad. The artistic temperament is often boldly filtered through the imaginative, free-wheeling and intensively focused psyches of the world's famous painters.
The expressive capacity of paint as a medium has lent itself to daring experiments in color, form, extension, perspective and texture, resulting in varied and rich artistic movements. Painters through the ages have pioneered, responded to and directly challenged such movements with their own expressive agendas and explorations.
Some painters have engaged in acts of creative violence, or direct challenges to the reigning tastes, mores and ethical assumptions of their era, intended to either make political statements or call certain practices and beliefs into question. In this way, many painters have taken upon themselves additional roles as progressive agitators who seek to move public discourse forward by taking the initial and often brazen steps toward psychological and cultural revolution.
Jean-Honore Fragonard's The Swing, pictured above, was considered downright scandalous upon its completion in 1766, as society at the time regarded pre-marital relations and youthful sexuality to be absolutely taboo. Taken in this context, Fragonard's work, which depicts a blossoming and ecstatically swinging unmarried girl playing, unsupervised, in the woods with an older man and a younger boy whose perspective grants him an intimate knowledge, was totally daring, precocious and controversial.
Today, painters around the world continue to express the longings and boundaries of their cultures even as they push to transcend them. Painters working in their diverse mediums and across the breadth of genres will continue to offer compelling portraits of the soul and nature while striving to master their craft.