Anyone who has ever attended a major university with an art program knows that those wacky art students can be a strange bunch. While the rest of us are partying it up, drinking too much, and puking on the sidewalk, the art student is taking photographs of our puke and turning it into an exhibit called “Shattered Visions: A Study of Moral Decay in Three Parts.”

Of course, most of them grow out of it, going on to accept jobs as graphic designers for a travel brochure company and designing elegant fonts for the menu at a classy Italian restaurant.

However, there are always a select few who don’t grow out of it, and go on to redefine the art world by crafting the kinds of paintings and sculptures that look like the result of dropping too much acid while suffering from night terrors. Artists like…


H.R. Giger

Giger is the kind of artist you dig if your interests include science-fiction, S&M, and making your parents worried. Born in Switzerland in 1940, he caught the eye of the general public when he won an Academy Award for his role in designing the titular monster from Ridley Scott’s horror classic Alien.


Although the image of that beast has been dulled by a string of sequels (not to mention those cringe-worthy Alien vs. Predator movies), you gotta remember that, when audiences were first introduced to it, that thing was scary. That’s because Giger’s design was created for the specific purpose of making us want to cross our legs and hide our genitalia.

Prior to being discovered by filmmakers, Giger painted and drew bizarre portraits of worlds and beings where sex and machinery were often indistinguishable. Not content to paint a pretty picture of a sunset, Giger preferred to draw skeletal, vaguely human fetuses being ejected from a metallic chamber in a piece he called “Birth Machine.”


Not exactly the stuff you hang in your living room, unless you’re a psychopathic gynecologist.

Fortunately, the exposure that came with Giger’s involvement in Alien didn’t tame his natural impulses. His work has never been toned down for mainstream appeal, although his name is certainly more recognizable thanks to the success of that film.

Helpful hint: when you’re bringing a girl over to your place, don’t leave a book of his paintings on your desk. Might need to ease her into that.


Salvador Dali


Although he is regarded as perhaps the greatest Surrealist of all time, you probably know Dali’s work because you saw a poster of it in the dorm room of that guy who was all about LSD and ‘shrooms. You’ll notice that about a lot of these artists; unless you seek their work in a gallery, you’re best chance at getting to know their art is to visit a college campus.

Well, it kind of makes sense, though. Dali’s work as a painter (although he never restricted himself to that realm, also working in sculpture, photography, and a variety of other visual arts) has come to define the “WTF??” school of art, and young people are all about anything at all related to the “WTF” mindset. Still, Dali seems to have a sort of mass appeal that is surprising for a painter of his type; whether you’re a dedicated critic who needs to examine each and every painting you see in detail so that you can decipher its “intended meaning,” or you’re just the kind of person who likes to look at melting clocks and say “Hmm, that’s pretty cool,” there’s something for everyone to appreciate in the work of Dali.

Which is strange, considering at least 95% of his stuff definitely doesn’t make even the slightest bit of sense.


Dali himself was an odd character, often rocking one of the coolest moustaches in the storied history of facial hair. In photographs, he looks very much like an obnoxious freshman photobombing the pic for attention, and he was even accused by some of being in favor of Fascism during the rise of Hitler, although he rejected these claims.

Dali’s work permeated pop culture, perhaps in a way that no other Surrealist could manage. He famously designed a sequence for Alfred Hitchcock’s film Spellbound, and he has been referenced in everything from The Simpsons to, if you’re paying close attention, Watchmen.


Hieronymus Bosch

Bosch is to the visual arts what Dante Alighieri was to literature; he created revolutionary depictions of Hell and damnation that would later be misunderstood by high-schoolers who listened to a lot of heavy metal. On the plus side, at least these kids are getting exposed to legitimate culture, even if it is only because they heard that “Bosch was that guy who did crazy-ass pictures of the Devil.”


That’s not to say, though, that his work is any less interesting because of that annoying little fact. His art, characterized by dark browns and reds, and often focusing on the more disturbing imagery attributed to Christianity, is endlessly fascinating. While most religious artists insist on producing bland and predictable portraits of their gods, works which reassure the viewer that paradise waits after death, Bosch’s work seems to serve as a dreadful reminder that, if one truly believes in the doctrine which they practice, then they must accept that sinful deeds will be punished in unimaginably horrific ways once this life comes to an end. Sure, he incorporated all aspects of Christian theology into his paintings, making sure to depict angels as well as demons, but while his heavenly beings are not very remarkable, more or less conforming to the traditional imagery associated with them, his hellish creatures are imaginative and frightening.


Give his art a look. It’s not a bad alternative when you’ve grown bored of watching Hellraiser for the hundredth time.


M.C. Escher

Ah yes, like Dali, Escher’s work is a staple in dorm rooms across America. Although his work may not be as overtly bizarre as the others on this list, it’s notable for its exploration of complicated mathematical, architectural, and theoretical concepts. One could argue that his unique constructions played a hand in inspiring the dream worlds of the recent film Inception.

Working mainly in lithographs, Escher was primarily interested in “impossible realities;” for example, he drew a set of stairs that could not possibly exist, but appear reasonable as an image due to the specific perspective established by the artist. Similarly, he also created a work in which two hands were depicted drawing each other, creating a kind of looped existence that is heavily inspired by the ideas of the infinite.


While most other artists may create strange images but still are forced to imagine a world in which our basic concepts of time and even physics still apply, Escher was unique primarily because his works of art came from a mind that was willing to consider alternate realities. It may not be as visually striking as Giger’s psycho-sexual portraits or Bosch’s Satanic monstrosities, but it challenges the mind and imagination in a way that no normal landscape could.

It’s just a shame that his most enduring legacy now is to be hung up on a dorm room so freshmen can gaze at those stairs and think about them while smoking pot and listening to Depeche Mode.

Written by Joseph Oliveto – Copyrighted ©

Image Sources

Image sources:

  • – H.R. Giger:
  • – Salvador Dali:
  • – Hieronymus Bosch:,_Hell_(Garden_of_Earthly_Delights_tryptich,_right_panel)_-_detail_1_(devil).JPG
  • – M.C. Escher: