A Little Art Goes a Long Way: Paintings That Push My Buttons (in a Good Way)

by Stefan Slater


Sometimes, I need a little extra “umph” to get my creative juices flowing. I could be working on a new nonfiction assignment, or could I be working on an ongoing fiction piece–either way, I need a little “fun” injected into my work, and music or candy-binging or Xbox-marathons just aren’t cutting the proverbial honey mustard. So what do I do?

Well, I look at art.

Confession time: I’m not some closet art historian. I like art. But I’m not a snob: If you and I were to take a little afternoon trip to the local art museum (and maybe share a cheese plate and a bottle of wine afterwards if you play your cards right), I wouldn’t lecture you on whatever we were seeing. I’d stop and read all of the info cards. I’d ask questions. I’d bother the security guards and ask them for their opinions (despite the annoyed glares they’d probably give me–security guards are paid to protect art, not learn about it). Then I’d buy one of those guide books in the museum store on our way out so I could learn all of the facts and on the drive home–and only on the drive home–would I chew your ear off as I talked about everything we saw. But just because I don’t know much about art, doesn’t mean I don’t respect everything that goes into it. And so, oftentimes, when I’ve hit a creative road block, I find myself cruising Google Images for classic pieces of art to admire and learn about.

Most of the time I come up empty-handed (or some how end up on Imgur). But other times I hit a total jackpot, and I discover some piece (well, they’re new to me at least) that really poke all of my creative buttons. For instance, the piece above is one that I stumbled upon a while back: It’s by Francisco Goya, and it’s titled, The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters. Wikipedia says that the piece represents Goya’s opinion on the corrupt nature of Spanish society during the 18th century. (And now you’ve learned something today, huh? Unless you’re an art history major… and if that’s the case, good for you, your major finally came in handy for once.)

And with that said, here are few art pieces that I really enjoy. They’re a total mix too: Some famous and dark, some obscure, and some are just totally fun:

3039935-batman_villains_022 I thought I’d start this off with a light-hearted tone: This panel is from The Long Halloween, which is a Batman comic written by Jim Loeb. The art’s courtesy of Tim Sale, and while most comic book art doesn’t really hit me too hard, the work on display in The Long Halloween is an exception: Seeing every Batman villain in a single room, each one more menacing than the last (with a partially obscured villain in the background–guess who?), brings on a rush of anxious adolescent fear that I rarely experience anymore.

Trench Warfare

This is called The Trench Warfare, by Otto Dix (1932). Dix was a veteran of the German Army, and he served during World War I. This piece, in my opinion, is only comparable to All Quiet on The Western Front in terms of properly capturing the horrors of static warfare.


Howard Pyle’s Marooned doesn’t need much explaining. This particular pirate is lost and completely alone, and there are few other paintings that have ever pushed me to feel so very lonely.


Dean Ellis did this painting for Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. I don’t know much about it, but I love its seriousness.


This painting, another one by Francisco Goya, is titled The Dog. From what I dug up on the Web, Goya never meant for it to be shown publicly (it was painted on one of the walls in his home). To say it’s depressing is an understatement–from the viewer’s perspective, the dog is  in the midst of being swallowed up by a dark mass of sorts, and there’s little hope that the animal will live. But I included this piece because it stirs something in me (I don’t really know what, honestly, but it’s dark in its origins) and I hope it does the same for you.


Goya’s a little bit of a downer, so I thought I’d send some Degas your way to end on a good note: The above piece is titled The Star (Dancer on Stage). I know very little about it, but I appreciate Degas’ sense of movement, and his ability capture the dancer’s grace, as well as the innate sense of light that she brings to the stage. And there you have it. Those are just a few paintings that I enjoy checking out when I feel like I need a little creative boost. Are there any pieces that you enjoy in particular? Post some suggestions in the comments section below! Also, and just for a little added fun, here’s a painting of a T-Rex with a lightsaber by Sam Nielson. Why? Because why not?