Who Made the Minecraft Paintings and What Do They Say About the Game?

Who Made the Minecraft Paintings and What Do They Say About the Game?


Like many people my age I grew up playing Minecraft for a decent chunk of my childhood, and still do today. Recently, it’s had a bit of a resurgence with PewDiePie’s now-famous let’s play series, Jacksepticeye’s series, and the many livestream highlights from people such as Call Me Carson, Jschlatt, and Wilbur with his surprisingly emotional “Skyblox Randomizer” series. Godspeed, Milo. Godspeed. Along with the many updates and memes. There are many things to talk about concerning Minecraft, and with all of the challenges and wacky ideas that people come up with, there is constantly something new to explore. But I’m going to be taking a deep dive into a part of the game that most people probably don’t think much about. The in-game Minecraft paintings and the man behind them. With one wool block and eight sticks, you can have yourself one of these 26 stunning pixelated masterpieces, ranging from comedic to downright incomprehensible. Each painting (except for one) are actually real oil paintings, that have been edited and pixelated for the game. The originals were painted by, (please forgive me for this pronunciation), Kristoffer Zetterstrand, who studied at the Royal University College of Fine Arts in Stockholm, was the brother-in-law of Markus Persson (aka Notch), And is someone whose paintings combine classical traditional art and computer graphics. Whenever he makes a painting such as this, he usually starts in a 3D program where he can mess around with light sources, and move objects around in a composition until he gets a completed digital still-life. He then takes that digital work, and paints it in a physical medium such as oil. Kristoffer Zetterstrand is a self-proclaimed gamer, and the influence of video games in his art is obvious. But they only started to really take a big part in his work after he was introduced to a little game called “Counter-Strike”. Much of this information can be found on his website, and at his Artist’s Talk, where he became probably the first person ever to show a montage of epic three-sixty noscope headshots at the Smithsonian. “Okay, check out the headshots.” “Deagle?” “Oh, no wonder.” “They are, oh, slow motion.” He found that after being killed in counter-strike He would enter a game mode, which allowed him to move through the game map freely and follow players as the game continued, which would garner images such as this, with landscapes and architecture being abruptly separated by void. This also meant he would tried to get himself killed on purpose so he could look in this mode more often. This is where he would discover what he thought of as, “A reinterpretation of a spirit world (…) an entity looking through the logical construction of the world.” After this, he would continue to make digital landscapes and landscape generators in 3D software, which he would then purposefully crash, and paint the resulting image. From this, the digital collages would eventually rise. He would often use elements from older paintings he enjoyed, and pixel art from games such as King’s Quest, whose main character many of you should be familiar with. This sprite became a motif in his work, along with a few other bits of pixel art such as this rock, and this bit o f fire. But do not be fooled in thinking it ended with these rela tively simple compositions, Sometimes these 3D collections of pixel art and any other manner of visual could get enormous. Zetterstrand claims this image took three months to virtually sculpt, and then the entire thing was physically painted. Now, I can understand why he went to such lengths to make these renders into physical paintings, as meticulous as these virtual images are, I don’t think you can really get that sense of cohesion and artistry until they’re all brought into a physical medium. It also adds an extra layer of intrigue when you see that these elements, which are usually so distinctive to computer graphics, have actually been rendered in oil paint. Astonishingly, Zetterstrand’s artistic abilities have incidentally involved himself in several internet sensations. He was a friend of Notch long before he created Minecraft, and his paintings were added in as “Fun Decorations” before it was ever really popular, and just recently, Zetterstrand kicked off an inception-style “Painting within a painting” social media event, by painting someone’s mom “Just for fun”, posting it on Reddit, gaining 121,000 upvotes, and then starting a thread that grew so large, and had so many participants, that several charts, including an interactive one, had to be constructed just to keep track of it all. Zetterstrand has also been responsible for numerous public works, including these large pixelated shapes which are made from lead glass. I think Zetterstrand’s obsession with pixels in his work is very poetic, considering how his paintings are displayed in Minecraft. What we are seeing, whenever we place a Minecraft painting, is in fact an image that has been cobbled together from other images in a digital format, painted in a physical format, and then shrunk down and put into the game in a digital format once again. That gives these paintings a meta quality that I find pretty amusing. There is even another layer to add on top of this when you realize that several people have attempted to paint the pixelated forms of these paintings in physical paint once again. Jesus Christ, that was a mouthful. The pixelation that occurred when these paintings were scaled down gives a deceptive quality to them. When I first saw these paintings, I was under the impression that they were simply pixel art and nothing more. That these figures and fire effects and whatever else, were all part of that same type of medium. But when the paintings were first unpixelated, I found to my surprise that in fact many elements of these paintings were still originally pixelated There’s a kind of play going on here. The originals are full of contrast. Pixelated and cartoony elements clash with realistic landscapes and figures, but when they are pixelated, the essence of some of the paintings are still maintained, but the line between reality and pixel is blurred. I believe that at least some of this is intentional. The much smaller one-by-one block paintings are scaled down to the point they become practically abstract. These are all paintings that originally contain no pixelation whatsoever. But the much larger canvasses contain at least a few pixelated areas.This suggests that there was an effort to have a sense of cohesion, to lead the player to believe these were all originally pixelated. This could have been done to give an extra layer of meaning and intrigue to Zetterstrand’s paintings, or to simply match the aesthetic of the game, or both. The Minecraft paintings have been with us for a long time. Most of them were added in Indev, which is a very early version of the game. And it really does feel like they’ve been here forever. Well, all except one. The way I see it, the Minecraft paintings can be divided into five categories: The one-by-one abstract paintings, the one-by-twos or the two-by-ones, the comedic edits, the larger, more coherent artworks, and the art not originally based off Zetterstrand’s paintings. I think all those categories are self-explanatory. This gives a diverse arrangement of paintings to choose from. The first category is full of, like I said before, practically abstract paintings. Paintings that you can only squint at and speculate their true subject matter, if there was any at all. I won’t be going through every single painting, but I will highlight a few of each type, to give you a good idea of what these paintings are all about. Some of the first titled Aztec and Aztec2 were originally painted versions of Counter-Strike maps in a free-look perspective. The originals are already quite abstract, but when shrunk down they become these incoherent blobs of color. There’s this prominent theme of emptiness and solitude among these paintings, from the ghostly Counter-Strike maps to this pitiful rabbit on some sort of windowsill, Presumably a reference to the Spanish still-life painter, Juan Sánchez Cotán. This work is simply titled “Wasteland”. This intense pixelation also gives off a unique effect, that may be unintentional. For the longest time I would try and guess what these paintings meant to represent, with little success. But there was one strong interpretation I had for the painting “Bomb”. Where I imagined that this green and black blob was a distorted creeper silently sneaking up from the corner of the frame. The original is much different. This heavy pixelation creates this “pile of clothes in a dark room” effect, where your brain might see stuff that isn’t really there. The one-by-twos are comparatively clearer, but one thing to note is that these are both heavily cropped versions of much larger images. The two-by-ones are a similar case to the one-by-ones, except this time, paintings such as “Sunset” and “Seaside” are easier to identify. The paintings I consider comedic are the ones where mob heads have been edited in randomly. These faces are very out of place, and I think the artist was well aware of that. If it was Zetterstrand or someone else who did these edits, I don’t know for sure. The rest of the paintings are all relatively clear. Many of them are cropped from larger images, but I think the core idea of each one remains. The last painting is a simple pixel art portrait of the Wither. I think it would be a good time to talk about a little something called… “Atmosphere.” If I wanted to quickly explain what I think an “immersive atmosphere” is to someone in under a minute, I would probably show them this picture: ( *Humming* ) Atmosphere is a very large part of my personal enjoyment in something, whether that be a movie, video game, or even a short YouTube video. I enjoy when a piece of media can strongly express a tone or mood, and keep it consistent. When every element of a world adds to the sense, this time of place, this… feeling, whether that feeling is specific or broad. Minecraft, I think, excels at that. And one of the feelings it expresses is emptiness. A sense of scale and vastness that is hard to wrap your head around. “But what do you mean, emptiness?” you may be asking. “Isn’t there plenty of stuff to do in Minecraft?” Well, yes, And that’s one of the reasons it can feel so vast. Plenty of people have observed that Minecraft seems to be set in some sort of “abandoned world”. There’s plenty of shipwrecks, mineshafts, temples, spawners, zombies, and more. There are creatures in this world, but many of them are hostile. They don’t speak a language, and even if they do, it’s a language you can’t understand. Creatures like villagers are clearly not human and not as intelligent as the player is. They live in settlements with primitive technology, and I doubt they have anything to do with the abandoned structures strewn across the world. Even if you can get past the “not being able to understand you” part, the villagers don’t want to interact with you unless you’re engaging in a monetary exchange. And if you stay in a shelter, then mobs won’t interact with you in any way. Which is one of the reasons the game can feel peaceful, even on normal mode. That’s one of the reasons I didn’t enjoy the pillagers update. You’d be building or farming in a game well-known for its peaceful daytime, and then these crossbow assholes will just appear randomly and start shooting you. Until you either hide away and ignore them for a long time, or kill them and the next time you find a village, you get your ass raided, all because they decided to bother you. It just breaks this atmosphere so easily. Thankfully raids are more or less rare. The paintings also add to this feeling of emptiness, at least to me. Several people have pointed out that these paintings creep them out and I can partially agree with that. Besides all of the “Spooky Scary Skeletons”, There are no friendly faces in these paintings, and the close-up portraits that do exist are pixelated to an unsettling degree. There’s also a lot of darkness in the compositions of the larger paintings. One of them is simply titled “Void”. I think Kristoffer Zetterstrand is aware of his slightly creepy works, and seems to embrace it in other paintings that are not in the game. Take this 2008 self-portrait for example. The computer is casting this unnatural light on the top half of his body in a dark room while he stares directly at you like you’ve interrupted his work and he’s become annoyed with you. Or this work where an exhausted man sits in front of a gloomy wildfire. There was another tone of somberness and elegance to his other images, the way realistic figures gaze warily at these foreign objects interrupting their plane of existence is haunting, yet to them these interruptions seem like an ordinary occurrence. Most importantly, Zetterstrand’s paintings add a sense of character and mystery that pictures of creatures or landscapes in the game itself would not express. If you simply had twenty portraits of mobs or something, It wouldn’t really be the same. They would be expected. Things you have already seen plenty of times. That’s one of the reasons the most recent addition, the wither portrait, feels so out of place and tacky. It’s a portrait of a mob in the dead center of the canvas. It’s not something you really have to think about or guess what it is, it’s so obvious. That’s one reason why my favorite paintings in the game are the bust and the burning skull. The bust is a combination of classical sculpture, traditionally painted, and pixel art. The bust is off-center and is cut into by a large green block. But it’s also located on the midplane between two pixel-art fires, which gives it a very strong sense of three dimensions. The burning skull has elements of Minecraft in it. The landscape behind and in front, as well as the moon and some of the fire elements. There’s even skeletons in the game, but we’ve never seen them rendered this realistically. The lighting is delightfully odd. It’s clearly night in the background but the foreground where the skull is being lit looks like day. The pixel art fire cuts into the skull as if the skull is an entity in the game, Which makes this clash between realism and flat computer graphics even more apparent and more powerful. These surreal mind-boggling paintings give so much character and expression, that a lesser artist or blander subject matter wouldn’t be able to replicate. I’m going to be honest with you. Before I started making this video, I expected I would just be doing a short analysis on Minecraft paintings because “Hey that’s gimmicky and fun!” and Minecraft has been trending, So why not? But when I started to really look into the artist who made them and his story, I found a lot more than I expected. I found things that fascinated me. The way this artist made art from video game maps, to getting his art into one of the biggest games of all time, just because he thought it would be fun, to starting an internet sensation because he was browsing Reddit one day and wanted to paint someone’s mom, to his exquisite sense of composition and juxtaposition in his virtual still-lives. I think Kristoffer Zetterstrand become one of my favorite artists. He’s a man who can see art in everything, and can constantly reinvent his own ideas again and again into something unique and fascinating. I would encourage everyone to check out the gallery on his website. He is still making paintings, and throughout the years, they have gotten even more intricate and focused. Hell, the realistic parts have just gotten more refined and overall, there’s been substantial improvement from work that was already pretty great. Before we finish up here, I just want to leave you with one last thing. I think it’s safe to say that Minecraft is pretty much the number-one game right now, and is the single best-selling video game of all time, with over 176 million copies sold. Now, I’m not exactly a hardcore Minecraft player, but I’ve known about these paintings long before I even started this channel, and so I think it’s safe to say that the average Minecraft player is aware of them, too. Now, the game has about, oh, I don’t know, a few active players– A hundred and twelve million active players monthly. To put that into perspective, PewDiePie has not reached that number of subscribers yet. The Lourve has, at most, 10.2 million visitors each year. The Mona Lisa gets six million visitors each year and, well, I guess comparing a physical museum to a digital “museum” isn’t that fair…? But even with that in mind, as someone else had already pointed out in 2011, with potentially a hundred and twelve million people viewing his paintings each month, this probably makes Kristoffer Zetterstrand the most exposed artist on the planet. ( *Outro music* )

100 thoughts on “Who Made the Minecraft Paintings and What Do They Say About the Game?

  1. "Greedy JEW–"

    Like, really? This is a clearly well thought out analysis, it's just a shame for it to be soured by casual antisemitism.

  2. Dude, this is legit a great video. I bet this video will explode. Man, at the end of the video i really felt Vsauce vibes… You were like Vsauce for art. Good job man!

  3. I think the wither painting is to add to the lore of Minecraft because you can find these paintings in villages or strongholds and it implies they know about the wither

  4. As a History of Art student, I find Solar's analysis on art compositions very useful, though I never expected the art we'd be analyzing in this video is about Minecraft paintings. This is a very inspiring video, with in depth researching and amazing script writing. Thank you for making such high quality videos.

  5. Remember when this guy's whole channel was just "reviewing" diper and inflation fetish art on Deviantart? Holy crap has this channel matured way more since then-

  6. I think you misunderstood the Wither Painting. It only exists to show people who have no idea of that the Wither is how to build it.

  7. I used to have this one skull painting I would put everywhere. I painted it in real life and hung it above my bed

  8. It's so weird now because every time I look at the 1×1 paintings I now know what their real-life counterpart looks like, and my brain just fills in the blanks making it somewhat viewable/interpretable.

  9. Honestly, they should've just hired the original artist to make The Wither painting, i mean, it's not like they don't have the money, lmao

  10. I really like the windowsill painting with the creeper. I've heard that one of the creators of Minecraft imagines creepers to feel like leaves (dried leaves, I think), so I feel like that painting is cool commentary on that.

  11. Not gonna lie that end part was totally ripped straight out of an EmperorLemon video. It isn’t bad, just now making me feel like a washed up whale

  12. i gotta say raids(for me) are not as rare as you make it out to be ive had my ass handed to me so many times on just normal difficulty that im ready to drop

  13. Torch spam the ground wherever you live and pillager patrols won't spawn ever (plus it almost seems like some areas have more/less patrols than others).

  14. Waaaaay back when the wither painting was added it was actually how the summoning process of the wither was revealed, it's fairly straightforward, but still, you had to put a painting on a wall until you got that one, then figure out what exactly those blocks are and how to get them, then you could summon a wither (or just look up a tutorial lol), there was no change log describing how you summon the wither.

    Although then again I think I just remembered a 1.4 trailer so take the above with a grain of salt.

  15. C418 is probably a more exposed artist tbh, since you'll likely hear the music before you see the paintings, and music is after all also art, thus the composer an artist.

  16. I have invented a term, the zetterstrand effect. a feeling of void in something full of things to do or see. I'm not sure if the meaning to be that or: "recursion you can participate in"

  17. Steve made them dumbass
    Lol thanks for the like.
    What a lot of people don’t understand, is that the fact that the player makes the painting item and the painting could change, doesn’t that mean Steve painted them?

  18. Wow. Thank you for the hard work you put into making this video. What a thorough research you did on my work. I am humbled.

  19. This man is the definition of an artist. The fact that he obtained a spiritual perspective from Counter Strike and combined this with his creativity to establish an entire new meta-style ranks him as one of the finest artists of the modern day. He doesn't need to be "provocative" or try to sell ugliness as beauty, he puts worlds together and it's beautiful. Most of the stuff in galleries is trash next to such pieces which actually stimulate the intellect.
    I'd like to know his IQ because it must be ridiculously high.

  20. Very old versions of Minecraft had a more empty atmosphere, the world generator was more abstract and there wasn't much of generated structures other than dungeons, block selection weren't diverse like it is now (after Indev Minecraft didn't have colored wool available for almost an year on survival), the higher contrast, daylight was brighter (especially before the 2010 Halloween update that added biomes, the landscape Minecraft Alpha players was filled with valleys of neon green grass) and nights were darker (no brightness slider to help you).

  21. That last bit was amazing. The artist with the most exposure ever….yet only a few thousand, maybe million at maximum, know his name.

  22. I think there's a lot of significance also with the figure used in one of the 1×2 paintings- it's appropriated from Casper David Friedrich's 'Wander Above a Sea of Fog' from 1818. A lot of Friedrich's paintings also capture that sublime "emptiness" you talk about within the game, definitely worth checking out if you're into that

  23. That dude got hella deep inspiration just by flying outside the map in counter strike spectator mode. Just think about that for a second

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