Arts & Entertainment

Art History: A Dialogue Across Time

Jeff Koons

Lesson time 12:33 min

Jeff breaks down how he views a painting and explores his Gazing Ball series to illustrate the concept of the “beholder’s share”—that the narrative of a work of art is completed by the viewer.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Learning From Artists of the Past · Case Study: Gazing Ball · Your Viewers Finish the Narrative


- When I went to art school I had no idea about art history, but the first day college they put all the students on a bus and we went to the Baltimore Museum of Art. So when I was walking around the museum, I was feeling these pressures. I was feeling the tension, the pressure of not knowing art history, not knowing certain kind of rules or something I felt that I should maybe know about. And I felt like somehow I have to survive this moment if I'm going to continue forward. I went back to the college. We got back on the bus, went back to the art school, and I had my first art history lesson. I remember a slide of Manet's "Olympia" came up on the screen. In the "Olympia", you have a woman lying in a bed and you have another woman presenting her with flowers. And there's a little black cat over on the far right hand side of the painting. And when my art history teacher spoke about the painting started to talk about all the different meanings and all the different symbols that are taking place, and I realized at that moment how effortlessly art is this hub. And it does-- it connects you to sociology and philosophy and psychology. All the human disciplines come together. And I felt so free. I felt unlimited. I realized that, wow, art is something that instead of creating pressure and anxiety is something that can just expand my life. And I've never lost that interest and art has continued to expand my life and inform me every day. [MUSIC PLAYING] It's so important that when anybody ever comes in contact with art that we realize that we don't have to bring anything to that moment other than ourselves, our own experiences. We don't have to know anything about what life was like in Paris at the time. We don't have to know about synthetic cubism. We don't have to understand color theory. We only have to come to the painting, come to the sculpture with our own experiences. Because where the art is, the art is never in that object. It's never in the painting that you're looking at or the surface of the sculpture. The art is inside you. There's nothing in a form that has any relevance whatsoever to other than the connection that you make with it. If you don't make a connection with it, it's inanimate. It is dead. It has no importance at all to your resistance. It's not a live thing. It doesn't do anything. When the lights at the museum go off, nothing's happening there. It's a void. But within you, everything exists. One of the most exciting moments of my life was when I realized that art was so much more than just manipulating the materials, kind of, the traditional tools of art, a paintbrush or Conte crayon, but that art was about ideas and that it connected all the human disciplines. And if I go into a museum and I'm looking at paintings, I'm really opening myself up to the painter or the sculptor, whatever image that I could be looking at. And I'm trying to come in contact how they would define what it meant to be a ...

About the Instructor

One of the most important and influential artists working today, Jeff Koons is perhaps best known for his iconic Balloon Dog. Now he’s inviting you to an intimate, thought-provoking conversation about the history, purpose, and pleasures of art. Learn how color, scale, form, and texture can help you express ideas and communicate with others. Leave your self-judgment and fear behind—the world is waiting for your art.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

Jeff Koons

Jeff Koons teaches you how color, scale, form, and more can help you channel your creativity and create the art that’s in you.

Explore the Class
Sign Up