Where Do Artists Get Their Ideas?

How does an artist really see the world? The real source of ideas for their masterpieces is a mystery. Many believe that the artists’ sources for their ideas are included in their surroundings and what they may have experienced. Well, those two things are the source of their ideas, but artists look at these things from a different perspective; much different from the normal point-of-view. To explain how artists decide on what to paint, there will be two paintings to be used as tools. Both of these paintings were made by artists from the Ancient world.

The first painting, “Alexander the Great confronts Darius III at the Battle of Issos,” was created by Philoxenus of Eretria, a Macedonian artist who lived during the 4th Century B. C. , much later than Alexander’s rule (Smith 911). He was most likely requested to paint the masterpiece which was to be commissioned to King Cassander later on. With that statement, a clear reason for his decision to paint the masterpiece sprang out. During this period, artists were skilled-workers who had powerful clients; in his case, King Cassander.

However, it still did not say why he chose that particular battle of Alexander the Great. By analyzing the painting itself, a person could easily conclude that it was recreated to assert Macedonia’s dominance over Persia. Besides that, Alexander the Great was the greatest Macedonian hero. This may very well be the reason why Philoxenus chose to paint the epic battle. It was simply fit for King Cassander, who was also known as the most powerful man in Macedonia during this period—Post-Alexander.

A painting that defines power and Macedonia fits a man who defined power and Macedonia during his reign. This may have been Philoxenus’ idea after all. The second painting, “Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts,” was created by Zeuxis from Ephesus, a Greek artist who lived around 5th Century B. C. It was later on revealed that a mosaic of this was found in Roman Emperor Hadrian’s villa. Zeuxis was very well known for a host of Centaur paintings, one of which was the painting mentioned and the painting “Helen of Troy. Zeuxis’ central theme for this painting was the Greek mythological creature, the Centaurs, and their struggle against the wild beasts. It may have been an imagery of the imminence of the Persian invasion on Greek soil, since Xerxes was already amassing an army for the attack; the Greeks as the outnumbered but powerful Centaurs against the wild beasts as the invaders. Zeuxis lived around this period being knowledge of the upcoming or ongoing Second Persian War. The painting, however, was most likely a symbolism of the First Persian War.

One possible reason why he decided to paint this event could be because it was the most significant event at that time for most Greeks. He had the talent to portray the event on a panel or a wall, just as the artists at that time did, in an artistic way—sometimes with the use of characters similar to that of the painting. Unlike the first one by Philoxenus, this painting was more metaphorical or symbolic than direct. If the central idea was really about the Persian war—the first or the second—then it would be almost quite similar to that of the Alexander painting.

These events were of great importance to the people and were great sources for flourishing art work, especially the heroes that played a major role in it. Heroism has greatly contributed to the formulation of ideas for the masterpieces. Philoxenus and Zeuxis, both artists from the Ancient world, depicted two great encounters by infusing them into art. Both were inspired by war against a common enemy but were separated by time. Both also told stories of heroism but were separated by earch artists’ painting styles.

Works Cited

“Kassander”. In2Greece. 11 March 2009.

< http://www.in2greece.com/english/historymyth/history/ancient/kassander.htm>

Mansfield, Elizabeth C. Too Beautiful to Picture: Zeuxis, Myth, and Mimesis.

Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Philoxenus. Alexander the Great Confronts Darius III at the Battle of Issos. 11 March 2009


Smith, William. A School Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities.

Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1870.

Zeuxis. Battle of Centaurs and Wild Beasts. 11 March 2009


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