Happy New Year! How would you like to start 2023 in a new, creative way?
Every Wednesday and Saturday, we will be posting an installment of our book, Through an Artist’s Eyes: Learning to Live Creatively offering you a pathway to art and the vision of the artist. Enabling you to develop your own inner creativity and apply it to the personal cycle of everyday living!
INTRODUCTION TO THE WORLD OF ART
What is Art? Part 2
You have many artistic choices—visual art, music, dance, poetry, literature, drama, and new art forms that are being created every day. In this first installment of our series, we’ll be starting with visual art, the art of the eye and the visions of countless artists through the centuries, from prehistoric times to the present.
But what is art? How would we define it? In a general sense, fifteen definitions exist in the WEBSTER RANDOM HOUSE DICTIONARY, from the aesthetics of beauty to a branch of learning or university study, to an artifice or artful device. However, the initial question to ask is “what is the ROLE of art in society?”
Today, visual art is often perceived as a separate entity, its domain the art museum or gallery, displayed in permanent as well as special exhibitions, ultimately reviewed by a professionally educated critic. Even in virtual media such as the internet, it is classified and categorized on websites commonly based on history or theme or form.
In the ancient civilizations, though, art did not really exist as we know it. What we now call art was integral to every level and function of society—and even essential to its survival. The pyramids of the long ago Egyptians, for instance, were not constructed to be critiqued and admired, they represented the center of the Egyptians’ lives—the immortality of the pharaohs, supremely divine and ruler of all the gods. For these magnificent tombs filled with treasure were prepared for the pharaoh to aid him in his successful journey to the after-life, ensuring that his kingdom’s lands would continue to be fertile, thus guaranteeing the good health and welfare of its inhabitants.
Later in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, churches and cathedrals were built for the masses. Today, at least in tourist season, they might seem the domain of tour groups and individual visitors, but once these edifices of monumental beauty were the core of everyday religious life and the destiny of countless pilgrimages. The altarpieces and sculptures we see displayed in museums worldwide have been transported from their original spiritual environments.
However, in other cases, what art historians define as a style or period of art has been restricted to a particular group such as the monarchy or aristocracy. The Rococo of the 18thcentury entertained and enchanted the royal courts of rulers like Marie Antoinette. Paintings, decorated objects, and furnishings reflected the elegant lifestyle of this class. Watteau, Fragonard, and other leading artists of the Rococo captured with elegance and grace the finely dressed ladies and gentlemen who occupied this elite world–superficial subjects, yet embodying a way of life, even if it touched only a small segment of society.
So it has been only in the last century of what we call Western civilization that art has become Art. When did this phenomenon start? Exact dates are impossible to determine, but this development might be traced to the middle of the 19th century in France when artists like Courbet and Manet (followed soon by Impressionists) rebelled against the Salon or the art establishment. Thus began the “isms”: Realism, Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Conceptualism, Photo Realism, etc., in visual art. Artists were increasingly seen as visionaries or crazies, or both. Often their creations were appreciated by a small circle of fellow artists and sympathetic critics, yet misunderstood by the majority of the population. This gap still exists—amazingly, works of art conceived in the early 1900’s are still not grasped by those living at the turn of the 21stcentury.
Why did this happen? So many reasons can be considered likely, including political, economic, and technological changes. Institutions that were the foundation of civilizations and the major patrons of artists—monarchies, the aristocracy, the church—were gone or had lost control. Wars intervened and technology dominated, transforming almost as a force unto itself, all layers of life.
So that now we are left with Art, with a capital A, but with little guidance or direction. Inevitably, a number of us give up, while our society provides us with almost no help. Or to be honest, doesn’t care. For art is barely mentioned in the public discourse. When was the last time you heard one of our leaders talk about art?
You can find books written specifically to educate us, to aid us, from academic volumes to more popularly oriented publications such as WHEN IS A VAN GOGH A VAN GOGH. Yet, a guide like ART FOR DUMMIES, although perhaps well intentioned, insults us by its very title, assuming that we as human beings have no innate understanding of the arts.
Because art IS humanity, that common bond you share with the artist, no matter who he is, whenever he lived, or whatever he created, all you have to do is to answer him when he calls.
COMING NEXT: WHO IS AN ARTIST?
Copyright 2010: Joan Hart, Museum One, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced in any form or by any electronic, mechanical or other means, now known or hereafter invented including photocopying, recording and information storage and retrieval without permission from the publisher.