In the spirit of the season, British art critic Jonathan Jones rounded up art describing party scenes – from Breughel and Titian to Damien Hirst.

One of the works on the list of party scenes is far from celebratory. (More about that in a moment). First, Jones’ picks. The list is his. Interpretations are mine.

Jones introduces his picks like this: “If you can’t get to a Christmas bash this year, come to art’s best knees-ups.” (Translation: parties with lots of drinking and dancing).

Raise your glass

Jones begins with a knees-up in the Netherlands in the mid-16th century titled "The Fight Between Carnival and Lent" by Pieter Bruegel the Elder.

This work boasts a bouncy weave of colors and shapes that act to stage merrymaking.

What you see are the two sides of life in the Netherlands in Bruegel’s time – church-going (see on the right) and barhopping (see on the left), with some mingling in the middle.

Interpretations vary from historian to historian, but it seems fair to say the religious and the irreligious come together here. Despite the multitude, the tie that binds them is the repetition of color, both red and white.

What’s more, this repetition of colors creates a rhythm, not unlike the one in Mondrian abstraction known as Broadway Boogie Woogie. You imagine you can hear a drum beat with dancing feet in the street.

Hear the music

But if you’re in the mood for quieter fun, Jones invites you to "Le Concert Champêtre" by Titian, painted some 50 years earlier than the Netherlands gala, this time in Venice.

The “concert” is the playing of a flute and a flute. The musicians are two well-dressed men with their instruments. Two undressed women serve them, likely their imagined muses.

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A lush Italian countryside in the background adds to the idyllic air. And while only one of the figures wears rich, red silks, the color is reflected in the warm pink skin of the women surrounding them.

In both paintings, humanity is the main idea – fervent and full of life. In contrast, consider a 21st-century vision by Damien Hirst that Jones picked as an example of partying.

Compulsive fun-seeking

Titled "Horror at Home", what you see is a monster ashtray filled with cigarette butts. Not a human in sight. I rush to say that figures are never necessary to tell a story about people. Mondrian proved that. But Hirst’s example is as lifeless as the burnt-out cigarettes.

But wait, without intending to, Jones may have succeeded in recounting the journey that art history has taken from meaningful and masterful to a mess of stubbed-out cigarettes.

Given the Omicron variant threatening planet earth, however, maybe "Horror at Home" holds some meaning after all. I’m thinking of Atlantic magazine’s recent review of "SNL"’s final show before Christmas. Normally riotous, it was tagged “bleak.” Sign of the times.