The Best Historical Time Period To Live In If You're An Artist

List Rules
Vote up the historical periods you'd be willing to starve in to make your art.

History has seen starving artists scattered across generations and continents. Some periods in the history of art were more difficult for artists than others, yet the masterpieces of our time often come from those who sacrificed their daily meals to sculpt, paint, or draw. Whether you create for a loaf of bread, a pint of the strongest liquor, social influence, or simple name recognition, the best periods of art might be worth starving for. 

The question is: In which of these illustrious periods would you want to live and practice your art? Which was the best? In the Athens of ancient Greece? In Rome during the Renaissance? Perhaps in Paris at the turn of the last century? The choice is yours to make.

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  • The Bentvueghels' Rome
    Photo: Bentvueghels Initiation by Anonymous / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    1
    18 VOTES

    The Bentvueghels' Rome

    Although they aren't well known today, a group of Dutch painters settled in Rome between 1620 and 1720. To say that the "Bentvueghels" flocked to Italy would be appropriate, as the name translates as "birds of a feather." It was customary for artists to travel to Italy to study the great masters, and living in Italy became a rite of passage for young Dutch artists. Ostensibly, the members of this particular group, which included painters, etchers, sculptors, and poets, came for artistic and intellectual stimulation. They were equally known for their partying.

    The group threw drunken, "Bacchic" initiation rituals, including a baptism of the initiate by a mock priest. Upon initiation, the members were given aliases. While they were chiefly named after classical figures, such as Bacchus or Cupid, other titles included "Butter Ball," "Beer Fly," and the provocative "Golden Scepter." Then the partying began - all paid for by the inductee. These orgiastic blowouts of overindulgence in food and drink sometimes lasted up to 24 hours. 

    18 votes
  • Hellenistic Greece
    Photo: Laocoön and His Sons by Agesander, Athenodoros and Polydorus / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
    2
    16 VOTES

    Hellenistic Greece

    The two centuries following the passing of Alexander the Great (d. 323 BC) saw dramatic changes in religion and politics. What was once a cooperative effort to ennoble the Greek city-state became a focus on individual pursuits and pleasures. In the process of this shift, artists began to indulge in their personal virtuosity. They imbued their work with the experiences of humanity, even when sculpting gods and heroes.

    The conquests of Alexander served to internationalize the arts. Artists traveled more and, for the first time, art collectors sought the talent of Greek artists. As a result, the number of sculptors, architects, and painters grew significantly, and Greek culture and art thrived throughout the eastern Mediterranean. As the fame of the Hellenistic artists increased, so did their influence and wealth. Togas to go, anyone?

    16 votes
  • The Italian High Renaissance
    Photo: David by Michelangelo / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0
    3
    18 VOTES

    The Italian High Renaissance

    In 1500, Rome was a city. More than a millennium earlier, it had been a civilization. The buildings of antiquity surrounded the artists of that metropolis. Rather than ignore them as the generations before them did, the artists of the Renaissance absorbed classical art, reinvented it, and mastered it. Artists in Florence and Venice followed suit. Very few names of artists living during the Middle Ages have come down to us, but Renaissance artists like Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, and Raphael have come to be celebrated as heroes - if not gods - of art.

    During the 16th century, powerful families in Florence and Rome wanted their cities to shine above the rest. To do so, they commissioned scores of painters, sculptors, and architects to secure their legacy. The artist had become so prominent a figure in society that they merited a record of their deeds, putting them in the ranks of other famous individuals of their time.

    By the middle of the century, Giorgio Vasari, a painter and architect in his own right, would do exactly that. He penned Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects to recognize their accomplishments. Had you lived at this time, you would have been rubbing shoulders with some of those excellent and illustrious artists.

    18 votes
  • 17th-Century Kyoto
    Photo: Portion of Sōtatsu's Fūjin Raijin-zu / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    4
    11 VOTES

    17th-Century Kyoto

    It’s one thing to have great ideas, but it’s even better if you have someone paying you to express them. Such was the case in 17th-century Kyoto for artists Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu. Thanks to the patronage of wealthy merchants, they founded the Rinpa School of artists and craftsmen.

    The artists under them were responsible for the production of everything from ceramics and calligraphy to decorative fans and large folding screens. If you were fortunate enough to work with these masters, you were treated royally - as the group catered to rich and noble families.

    They also created exquisite objects for the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. As an added benefit, the artists took part in these elaborate ceremonies, enjoying the finest of delicacies. The Rinpa style of painting was so popular that it was revived after the passing of the founders, and the artists continued to flourish.

    11 votes
  • Mid-Century New York
    Photo: Autumn Rhythm by Jackson Pollock / Wikimedia Commons / Fair Use
    5
    7 VOTES

    Mid-Century New York

    As the art scene shifted to New York by 1950, artists were likely to be found in such pedestrian New York City bars as the San Remo or the Cedar Tavern. The American artist Larry Rivers called the latter "the G-spot of the whole art scene." In such unobtrusive locales, the poets and painters of the New York School were on "a decade-long bender," as Elaine de Kooning, wife of the abstract artist Willem de Kooning, put it.

    Whether partying until dawn at a wealthy patron’s loft or hiding away in the fortress of a workingman’s bar like the Five Spot, the New York School was a whirlwind of continuous collaboration. The artists and poets got into fistfights, but they always returned to their typewriters and canvases inspired by a frenzy of ideas. When Jackson Pollock wasn't drinking, he was dripping paint onto his canvases.

    The spirit of the New York School, like that of practically all the preceding 20th-century movements, was intellectual by nature. An artistic license to do away with anything that wasn’t a product of the creative process vindicated the roughhousing and clowning. 

    7 votes
  • 1600s Netherlands
    Photo: The Nightwatch by Rembrandt / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    6
    12 VOTES

    1600s Netherlands

    With the signing of the Twelve Years’ Truce in 1609, the northern states of the Netherlands became independent of Catholic Spanish rule. As a consequence of the break from the Catholic hierarchy, the Church no longer dictated the subjects of art. More importantly, Holland entered a period of rich economic power through banking and maritime trade.

    The tulip bulb boom - or "tulip mania" as it was called - added to the wealth of citizens and merchants. The result was a burst of artistic activity to supply paintings to the growing affluent population in this "golden age" of Dutch art.

    Although the artist Johannes Vermeer primarily worked alone, Rembrandt and other successful painters had many students apprenticed to them. Rich citizens were keen on showing off their wealth through their art collections, and Rembrandt and his students were at no loss for work. Well-to-do families decorated their homes with elaborate still-life paintings, landscapes, and portraits. The Dutch had plenty to spend. If you were a capable artist, the money was yours for the taking.

    12 votes