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Who are the Top 30 American Visual Artisans of the 20th Century?

by Special to WorthPoint (07/27/09).
Who are the 30 most influential American visual artists of the 20th Century? Who made it to No. 1? List a few of your favorites then compare notes with our picks. This list has not been compiled scientifically, though. There are bound to be disagreements and we would like to foster debate. Who was ranked too high or too low? Who did we leave out? Please give us your opinions in the comment box below.

30. Peter Max

Pete Max on the cover of "Life" magazine

Pete Max on the cover of “Life”

Peter Max's Liberty Overpaint

Peter Max’s Liberty Overpaint

Arguably the leading the New Age art guru of the Cosmic 60′s.

29. Mary Louise McLaughlin and Maria Longworth Nichols

An example of Rookwood pottery

An example of Rookwood pottery

Maria Longworth Nichols

Maria Longworth Nichols

Pioneered Art Pottery at the turn of the century at “Rookwood Pottery” works in Cincinnati, Ohio.

28. Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein

Roy Lichtenstein

"Blam"

“Blam”

“Ben Day Dot” artist whose cartoonish mass media works often incorporated words like “Zoom” and “Pow!” Probably overanalyzed by the experts, produced color and bold graphic art for fun’s sake.

27. Charles & Henry Green

Mahogany Libary Table by Charles & Henry Green

Mahogany Libary Table by Charles & Henry Green

Charles & Henry Green

Charles & Henry Green

Green & Green of Pasadena, Calif. produced one of the most beautifully crafted and designed lines of furniture in any century. Mission oak type construction blended with Art Nouveau and Art Deco lines. Distinguished by rounded treatment of edges and corners with noticeable square pegging in darker woods like ebony.

26. Donald Deskey

Donald Deskey

Donald Deskey

A desk by Donald Deskey

A desk by Donald Deskey

Leading American Art Deco/Art Moderne Designer who streamlined designs and pioneered the utilization of cork-lined walls, copper ceilings, movable walls, pigskin-covered furniture, linoleum floors, Bakelite, Formica, Fabrikoid, brushed aluminum and chromium-plated brass.

25. Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World"

Andrew Wyeth’s “Christina’s World”

Andrew Wyeth

Andrew Wyeth

Realism painter whose intense and moving photograph-like images draw record crowds when he exhibits. A true American “Grass Roots” artist.

24. Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

Eero Saarinen

The Ingalls Hockey Rink by Eero Saarinen

The Ingalls Hockey Rink by Eero Saarinen

Architect and city planner famous for the TWA Terminal at Kennedy International, the Chicago Tribune Tower and the St. Louis Gateway Arch. Many of Saarinen’s designs have almost no straight lines, just flowing streamlined curves. 1960′s type Futurism on a grand scale.

23. Robert Rauschenberg

"Retroactive 1, 1961" by Robert Rauschenberg

“Retroactive 1, 1961″ by Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg

Robert Rauschenberg

An artist and idea man who advanced numerous working methods including combining various types of art. A witty non-conformist who inspired many, including Warhol.

22. Jim Henson

Jim Henson and the Muppets

Jim Henson and the Muppets

Kermit the Frog artisan who adapted the ancient art of puppetry (Muppetry) to modern mediums like television.

21. Harley Earl

Harley Earl's 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

Harley Earl’s 1956 Oldsmobile Golden Rocket

Harley J. Earl

Harley J. Earl

From GM’s “Art & Color Design Studio,” revolutionized car design by introducing flowing shapes and later aircraft tail fins.

20. Hans G. & Florence Knoll

Hans and Florence Knoll

Hans and Florence Knoll

A Florence Knoll lounge chair

A Florence Knoll lounge chair

Husband and wife team followed in the footsteps of Knoll’s father’s pioneering modern furniture design and interior architectural planning.

19. Charles Eames

The Eames lounge chari and ottoman

The Eames lounge chair and ottoman

Charles Eames

Charles Eames

Remember those futuristic fiberglass and cast aluminum stacking chairs from the 50s and 60s? He invented them. Eames was a tireless experimenter in plastic, metal, plywood and other materials; and in bold new forms he introduced to his innovative body contoured furniture.

18. Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper

Edward Hopper

"Night Hawks" by Edward Hopper

“Night Hawks” by Edward Hopper

Stark realistic painter of American vistas, often depicted in a somber mood and devoid of life even when characters are introduced to his work; as in his famous diner painting “Nighthawks.”

17. Willem de Kooning

"Unititled XXV" by Willem de Kooning

“Unititled XXV” by Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning

Willem de Kooning

Abstract expressionist leader rivaled perhaps only by Jackson Pollack, de Kooning is famous for the action and figurative imagery he introduced into his modern art paintings.

16. Theodore Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss)

Theodore Seuss Geisel

Theodore Seuss Geisel

The Cat in the Hat by Theodore Seuss Geisel

The Cat in the Hat

May of 1954, Life published a report concerning illiteracy among school children citing that “children were having trouble to read because their books were boring.” Less than a year later, Theodore Seuss Geisel’s “Cat in the Hat” would change all that. Artist and poet of the classic, “The Grinch That Stole Christmas.”

15. Maxfield Parrish

"Cinderella" by Maxfield Parrish

“Cinderella” by Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish

Maxfield Parrish

Painter and illustrator whose framed prints of young maidens set off by soft blue & white scenery and Neoclassic elements were among the most popular images in American homes during the first half of the century.

14. Gustav Stickley

Gustav Stickley

Gustav Stickley

The Stickley Chair

The Stickley Chair

Arguably, the most innovative American furniture artisan of the 20th century. Practically invented mission oak and many other complimenting lines of Arts & Crafts aesthetics.

13. Thomas Hart Benton

"The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley" by Thomas Hart Benton

“The Ballad of the Jealous Lover of Lone Green Valley” by Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

Thomas Hart Benton

American regionalist painter focusing on rural and small town American “characters,” often in a comical light.

12. Georgia O’Keefe

Georgia O'Keefe

Georgia O’Keefe

"Red Poppy" by Georgia O'Keefe

“Red Poppy” by Georgia O’Keefe

Imitative Realist whose sensuous and spiritual depictions of naturalistic southwestern desert terrain became one of the most popular lines of poster and print images hanging in American homes from the mid 1960s on.

11. Jasper Johns

"Three Flags" by Jasper Johns

“Three Flags” by Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns

Jasper Johns

Moved from abstract expressionist work to, like Warhol, a painter of everyday things as an expression: flags, beer cans, coat hangers etc. Pop Art pioneer.

10. Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank Lloyd Wright

"Fallingwater" by Frank Lloyd Wright

“Fallingwater” by Frank Lloyd Wright

Invented a new type of suburbia with his broad eve. Deep porch, clean wood Prairie homes. Master designer and pioneer of Mission oak type furnishings. A true genius with wide ranging talents that made him a celebrity architect.

9. Jackson Pollock

Untitled (Green Silver)" by Jackson Pollock

Untitled (Green Silver)” by Jackson Pollock

Jackson Pollack

Jackson Pollack

The guy who, amongst other techniques, splattered and poured paint onto a canvas from overhead and called it art. Thing was, it is. Surprisingly, Pollock’s work is almost impossible to duplicate. An artist who assaulted the bounds of art and got away with it, brilliantly.

8. Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster

Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster

Jerry Siegel and Joseph Shuster

Action Comic and Superman

Action Comic and Superman

In 1933 the two self-described “bespectacled, introverted, inhibited boys pooled their talents and dreams to create a revolutionary new type of duel-personality comic book hero they called “The Superman.”

7. Alfred Stieglitz

"The Steerage" -- by Alfred Stieglitz

“The Steerage” by Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz

Alfred Stieglitz

His commonplace street scenes of New York, portraits of subjects like Georgia O’Keefe and other images are regarded as one of the highest expressions of photographic art. Steichen and Weston also deserve mention here, however in addition to making art with his camera, Stieglitz was one of the great sponsors of 20th-century movements like cubism and other forms of modernism.

6. Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany

Louis Comfort Tiffany

"Tulip Table Lamp" by Louis Comfort Tiffany

“Tulip Table Lamp” by Louis Comfort Tiffany

The son of a jeweler turned artist had as much to do with beauty and innovation in stained glass, art glass and electric lamps as Monet had influence over canvas and oils.

5. Alexander Calder

"The Star" by Alexander Calder

“The Star” by Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder

Alexander Calder

Abstract artist famous for the development of “mobile” and “stabile” sculpture and producing art on a monumental scale.

4. William Van Alen

William Van Alen with his wife

William Van Alen with his wife

William Van Alen's Chrysler Building in New York City

William Van Alen’s Chrysler Building

Art Moderne/Deco architect and designer of New York’s zigzag moderne Chrysler Building. Along with Shreve, Lamb and Harmon’s Empire State Building, both built around 1930, it remains one the most magnificent and influential works of art extant.

3. Andy Warhol

"Campbell's Soup Can" by Andy Warhol

“Campbell’s Soup Can” by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol

The guy who did the Campbell’s Soup Can in 1962. Warhol moved on to idolize screen personalities like Marilyn Monroe in later work. One of the most trend-setting personalities of the “we” and “me” decades. Truly a Pop Artist for the time capsule.

2. Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell

Norman Rockwell

"Rosie the Riviter" by Norman Rockwell

“Rosie the Riviter” by Norman Rockwell

American illustrator most famous for his Saturday Evening Post magazine covers and the “Four Freedoms” poster series that inspired Americans to support the WWII effort by purchasing bonds.

1. Walt Disney

Walt Disney's Pluto and Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney’s Pluto and Mickey Mouse

Walt Disney

Walt Disney

Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Snow White, Bambi, Pinocchio, Fantasia, Cinderella, the first theme park, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. What do you get when you combine artistic flair, unparalleled imagination, technical genius, inventiveness, brilliant business savvy and add in a good work ethic, too. You get the “Wonderful World of Disney!” He practically invented the art of making art fun, especially for kids.

— by Wayne Mattox Antique Talk

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22 Responses to “Who are the Top 30 American Visual Artisans of the 20th Century?”

  1. jack says:

    I look forward to every newsletter. The articles are captivating, and I learn from them. I often validate and confirm my own professional judgement calls have matched your peer groups expert opinions. Being self-taught it is important to have access to a group mentality in a subject matter that has a wide range. This article is a gem. Thanks!

    • Debs says:

      This is all fairly new to me although I have always had an interest. It’s great to see the names or pieces I have heard of and actually see them and learn a little about the artist..interesting and enjoyable..thankyou

  2. Chris Clark says:

    There is an obvious lack of aboriginal art here. In Canada, we would have Norval Morisseau and the Indian Group of Seven at the top of the list. In the U.S., there are equivalents.

  3. Donna J says:

    I was thrilled as my expectations were met that Maxfield Parrish made the top 30 list! I’ve been a collector of his prints since the 80′s. Over time, I’ve come to realize that the composition and colors used in his artwork capture my soul’s pursuit – that is, finding small instants of tranquility, happiness, and simple beauty. Any Parrish work carries me away from these evermore complicated and harried times. Thank you!

  4. As A Professional artist….definitely disagree with the top 30…Having known several of the 60′s artists you feature…They were so highly commercial and NONE embraced true skills in the fine arts. Time will discredit MAX,WARHOL, LIChtenstien, and most assuredly Pollock!

  5. Hi Wayne Mattox,

    I Saw your most of blog post are very interesting.I ‘m Angelina Mathew a community member at Hookerfurniture.com (Hooker Furniture is one of the world`s largest furniture companies, and we pride ourselves on the integrity of our employees and sales representatives and the quality home furniture we offer.)The blogpost concerning “Who are the Top 30 American Visual Artisans of the 20th Century?” especially interested me.Will like to talk(through email) to you,is this the right time to talk about or should we talk during weekends ?

    Best-Regards,
    Angelina Mathew

    E-angelinamathew95@gmail.com

  6. Andrea Skalleberg says:

    Thank you for highlighting the genius of Dr. Seuss. I have shared his wonderfully creative stories and quirky illustrations with my children and students in the U.S. and in Sweden. His message of self-awareness knows no borders. Reading a Dr. Seuss book aloud is a treat in itself and I never cease to marvel over the joyous expressions on the faces of my listeners.
    Dr. Seuss spreads hope and magic in a world that tends to forget that it’s still possible to dream.

  7. neill mckenzie says:

    It is very sad to see that your native indigenous people are not represented in that which you call the top 30 visual artists of America

  8. britt says:

    Only 4 women on the list as well. Also most if not all of the artists are white.

    And names that deservedly need to be up there:

    No Louise Bourgeois, no Keith Haring, no Carrie Mae Weems, no James Luna, no Matthew Barney, no guerrila Girls, no Chuck Close, …I am surprised that there is no mention of Jeff Koons either…or Thomas Kinkade…*shudder*

  9. George Kennedy says:

    R. Crumb,
    he must be up there.
    Keep on trucking!

  10. Hels says:

    I did a 4 year degree course in art history and I know British, French, German, Austrian, Dutch, Italian, Spanish and Australian artists backwards and forwards. But I know sod all about American artists so it was intriguing to find a list of your Top 30 American Visual Artisans of the 20th Century. Louis Comfort Tiffany, Frank Lloyd Wright, Gustav Stickley and Charles Eames are truly fantastic *nod*. Goodness knows what to make of Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock.

    The real delight was finding that you placed Alfred Stieglitz in 7th place. I may have thanked you already for the link, but it doesn’t matter.
    Hels
    http://melbourneblogger.blogspot.com/2010/05/alfred-stieglitz-and-art-of-photography.html

  11. I agree with the positions, except for PETER MAX. With over 40 years of art in his pocket, he should be at least N. 10

  12. Mike says:

    I would have liked to seen Jean Michel Basquiat make the list.

  13. As an unknown Artist it does not mean I am not any good. But I enjoy such an array of great ARTISTS from my life time. All the familiar faces and trend setters … Pollock was so COOL and EVERYONE I KNEW tried to copy him … even myself , HAH!… I COULD GO ON ABOUT EVERY ARTIST LISTED ,,, but I will be back to visit this web-site. Thank You

  14. Shawn Surmick says:

    I agree with this, except for the fact that Dale Chihuly was not listed. He made contemporary studio glass a popular art form; long after ‘Tiffany’ helped redefine the genre. I am glad Tiffany made the list. I would have been upset if he was not included! Great list overall!

  15. nina menon says:

    I think it would be appropriate to describe these 30 as “commercially successful” as well. It seems to be a measure of great art in this day and age. And NO native American artists?

  16. Janet Borden says:

    What about the movies? Add Cecil B. De Mille, Stephen Spielberg. Photographer Ansell Adams. Dale Chuhuly. George Eastman and Edward Land.

  17. nina menon says:

    Janet has a point! several of them in fact….the list needs to be longer, broader.

  18. Jane Flury says:

    I would add Edward Weston, since he really did change how people viewed photography and Marcel Duchamp who changed how people viewed ready made objects. He was doing it before Warhol!

  19. Janet Borden says:

    I would change this list to define the medium in which this visual art is represented. The list could include in no particular order; architects, furniture makers, painters and illustrators, movies, videos and theater, music, fashion, sculpture, glass, etc….

  20. Liberty says:

    I disagree with the order, pretty much, and all who were left out. Was the list based on sales?

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