Five Paintings That Changed The Way I Look At Art

Artworks that opened up new ways of experiencing the world

Christopher P Jones
8 min readJun 10, 2021

IKB 191 (1962), monochromatic painting by Yves Klein. Dry pigment and synthetic resin on canvas laid on panel. 65.5 × 49 cm. Image source Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes a painting or a sculpture breaks through your conscious mind and leaves an impression that lasts for years, perhaps even a lifetime. I’ve chosen five paintings that had that effect on me and ultimately changed the way I look at art. Each painting has its own special qualities, but what they all have in common is that they opened my eyes to what art can be: not simply pictures but new possible ways of experiencing the world.

Twittering Machine by Paul Klee (1922)

Twittering Machine (Die Zwitscher-Maschine) by Paul Klee, 1922. Oil transfer drawing, watercolor, and ink on paper with gouache and ink borders on board. 64.1 × 48.3 cm. Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York City, U.S. Image source WikiArt

Against a bluish-purple background that bleeds and lifts like a mist over a lake, four birds cling to a wire. The birds’ heads are cranked at different angles and sing out in all directions. The crooked wire they are perched on is attached to a handle, and with a little imagination you can see the handle might turn, oscillating the birds up and down as it winds.

Interpretations of Twittering Machine are myriad. The artist, Paul Klee, was interested in images that sprouted from his own spontaneous imagination. His doodled drawings carried the weight of precise discoveries.

For me, the pleasure of the painting lies in the fine line it walks between humour and monstrosity, comedy and tragedy. If it is an allegory — one perhaps that questions the “progress” of mankind’s technologies — then it is up to the viewer’s sensibility to determine how the allegory will end.

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden by Otto Dix (1927)

Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden (1927), by Otto Dix. Oil and tempera on wood. 121 × 89 cm. Museum of Modern Art at The Centre Pompidou, Paris, France. Image source Wikiart

For me, there are few works of art that so bravely depict life in all its gauche and unnerving contradictions as Otto Dix’s Portrait of the Journalist Sylvia Von Harden.

When Dix painted this image in 1927, he wanted to depict a side of German society that many preferred to…