Art Throughout History Across the World

Art Throughout History Across the World

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Art Throughout History Across the World

From stick figures in the sand and the earliest animals painted and
carved in stone, people worldwide have reacted to the world by making images.
The fundamental goal of art, especially in the past, was to convey meaning and
express important ideas, revealing what was significant to every society, by
arresting images. In recognizing the subject matter of any painting, you have
to look at the artist's intentions, which are regularly connected to social
conditions, national or global issues and the demands of the public. To avoid
the pitfalls of judging all art by our own personal experiences and subjective
views, we have to learn the background surrounding the artist when the work was
created- the social and historical conditions of the time and the philosophical
views which affected the way in which the artist viewed the world. (Russell,
Art is as varied as the life from which it springs and each artist
portrays different aspects of the world they know. Briefly, it may be said that
artists paint to discover truth and to create order. The creators of art make
discoveries about the wonders and beauty of nature and the dignity and nobility
of man. They give these concepts an order to help us understand life in a
greater depth. In understanding the history and style of any period of art, we
have to comprehend the balance between social and political development of that
particular era. Within each and every period, development of style is affected
by a response to particular philosophies, social and economic conditions,
political and spiritual influences. World Issues have been reflected in art
throughout the ages, and this premise is supported by three particular periods
of time. This is clearly evident when viewing ancient art, where symbolism was
an important part of society. Also, through the eighteenth and nineteenth
centuries, where art was a critical form of expression and finally in the modern
age of art where even in looking into the works of individual artists, one can
get a sense of the feelings and events of the time and the world. Let us now
examine theses three periods in detail, to support this hypothesis.
If we are aware of meaning of religious, political, or other symbols, it
will better our understanding of the frame of mind of the artist. Each piece of
art is unique, a reflection of the artist's perceptions, insights and
experiences. Certain aspects of the world are often exaggerated, or eliminated,

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while the art reflects both the period and the artists own orientation.
Aristotle once said that “Art is the human intelligence playing over the natural
scene, ingeniously affecting it toward fulfillment of human purposes.”
(Bronowski 64) This wonderful world of creation began in ancient times, when
people first created images to express their response to the world around them.
Various civilizations in the past painted images preparing to understand life
after death. Another favorite subject was the glorification of gods and rulers.
The subject which an artist selects for a painting depends largely upon the time
in which he/she lives. A painter painting in the middle ages would probably
have picked a religious subject, for that was almost the only kind of topic
portrayed at the time. Still, outside factors of current events and different
world issues would greatly effect the artists state of mind, and therefore his
As you look into the ancient past of Egypt, it is quite interesting to
note the bureaucracy in the times of 3000 BC, which helps us to understand the
art work accomplished in these times. As the Egyptians were united under one
central government and ruled by a pharaoh, they were organized by control
through a tightly organized bureaucracy. The Pharaoh dominated all facets of
the peoples lives. The people dreamed of afterlife as a reward for their hard
work while living, and often depicted afterlife where the spirit could find
pleasure wandering unseen among the living. The palace art and architecture of
these ancient kingdoms was intended to emphasize a hierarchical ordering of
society, form ruler, to subject. Egypt's tombs and temples were ornamented with
paintings of great distinction. A painting at the tomb of Theber shows floral
offerings being made to the hawk god Mentu. This is highly stylized and rich,
showing the worshipping of animal gods at the time.
In Greece around the same time period, the mainland and the islands were
settled by non-Greek tribes from Asia minor. In Crete, a civilization evolved
to rival the wealth and sophistication of surrounding places, like Egypt. In
later years, these people named Aninoicens had become quite wealthy from trade
with the near east. This point of trade was controversial to what they
initially believed in. The art of these new times were filled with glowing
images of floral and fauna , portraying a society that had a love for nature and
beauty. Before, their painting would contain feelings of angst and bitterness.
As time progressed, the good times were limited by many wars and hostile
grounds. In 1250 BC, during the Trojan war, the minoins developed a new form of
monumental art to mark the graves of the numerous dead The size and function of
these vases brought them closer to sculpture than most pottery. These
monumental vases were painted in abstract, and geometrical patterns with no
reference to the naturalness of minoin life. Often portrayed, were scenes
depicting a moment in the individuals life, or a burial scene to commemorate the
As we proceed through the times and move to the fifth century, you can
see that this era was dominated by the city of Athens when Athenian drama,
poetry, philosophy and politics ruled. In times of the Persian wars,
naturalness of action in narrative painting and relief carving came together.
This emphasized human dignity in free standing sculptures. Life size statues
were created for the first time, most of these, including the famous Kouros and
Kritos boy, stand with one foot forward, as if they were heading off to war.
Artists put into their pictures our common hopes, ideals, dreams and passions
and show us their meaning and value concerning issues surrounding the times.
Creators in all the arts make fascinating discoveries about the wonders and the
world along with the naturalness, movement and structure of the human form. They
give these an order which enables us to see and understand the past and past
life with greater depth.
Christianity spread slowly throughout the western world, becoming an
official religion of the roman empire in the fourth century. By this time, the
empire was falling apart, so there was a stiff and formal style of art called
Byzantine. This style lasted for centuries, until conditions were greatly
During the middle ages, extending from 500, to 1500, the church was the
source of main stability in western Europe and the monasteries alone kept the
artistic culture alive. Beginning in the twelfth century, life for most people
became more secure. Towns grew, trade excelled and industry began to prosper.
Large, quickly growing towns became centers of wealth, learning and especially
art. In northern Europe, a true gothic style developed, best known for the
magnificent cathedrals and stain glass windows created in this era. This high
rise in town life, brought with it a spirit of inquiry and invention. A famous
painting created in the Byzantine style of this time was ‘The Madonna of Angels'
by Giovanni Anabue. In this painting, it is noted that Mary and Jesus are on a
throne surrounded by angels. Although portrayed as lifeless, the figures begin
to take on more human characteristics than ever before, for town life increased
the knowledge of the artists, coming together and improving their styles.
By the latter half of this civilization, there was a shift to more
gracious, enjoyable lifestyles, characterized by courtly art expressing grand
splendor. In France at this time, scholarly art took on secular elegance, while
in the court of Louis IX. Pressures of a secular society made gothic artists
turn towards elegance and fashion- especially in Wells cathedral, which was then
erected. This was an architectural masterpiece commissioned by the king, with
enlightening Christian murals to symbolize the wealth and good times, and to
welcome the prosperous times ahead.
The development of the Flemish school of painting in the fifteenth
century marked the end of the great gothic period. This happened just in time
for a rebirth in painting - the ever famous Renaissance period. In this period
of exploration, invention and discovery, artists traveled to new lands seeking
fresh ideas, also studying the world and the heavens. Here, a culture of
antiquity was rediscovered. Artists in this period, with increased knowledge of
the world, began to study anatomy, science and mathematics involving perspective
and dimension. Art was exciting, particularly in the high Renaissance, yet the
times were troubled. Discoveries in science were changing the ways man thought
of himself. The growth of wealth and the discovery of new lands had triggered a
struggle for r power and many wars resulted. The challenges which this age
brought fourth, fortunately spurred a group of brilliant artists. Younger,
Holland and Flanders are some of the many well known artists of this era.
As you can now notice, as we go as far back as the European middle ages
and ancient times, art was a valuable form of expression, as it depicted
feelings and recorded events which were occurring in various countries. In
these times, where very few people were literate, art was an important way an
individual could explain stories of the world with great expression.
Ever since the colonial times, there has been a strong tradition of
realism in the United States. George Bellows and Ben Shahn were both social
realists who painted members of the working class and their problems and
pleasures. Painters like these were rejected from the art academy's and salons
because of this supposedly vulgar and improper subject matter. These wealthy,
authoritative figures believed that painters should paint to represent nymphs,
gods , holy images, or at the least, aristocrats. In one of Shawn's paintings,
titled ‘Mine Disaster', he represented a scene of a tragedy which occurred close
to his home. He depicted a calamitous scene of a gathering of relatives waiting
for news of a mining accident. Although he was basically a realist, he included
some abstract impressionism in the background to reinforce the sense of
desolation and create tenseness, grief and anxiety.
Painting developed later in England than in the other European countries,
partly because of the fact that both Henry the eighth and Thomas Cromwell
destroyed the works of art in English churches and cathedrals. They believed
that there were some hidden meanings, or false biblical references which they
could not understand. Contrary to the beliefs of these rulers, many artists
believed that art may be the key to existence and that artwork remained one
possible way of speaking truth in a world of chaos. After the restoration of
the Stuart rulers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, people of wealth
in England preferred to employ foreign artists.
The Neoclassical period began in 1789. It combined a new scientific
approach and appealed to the intellectual who believed in power of reason to
uplift society. This movement became associated with republican ideas of
revolution and was said to belong to the age of “reason and revolution”.(
Russel 25) Flowing this period, in the early eighteenth century, a period
labeled Romanticism evolved. In this period, confidence in reason and
artificiality of court life was characterized by a great value of emotion.
Often there was an incorporated fascination with untamed nature, picturesque or
exotic themes. For the most part, times were good, life was simple and wild
imagery in art reelected a carefree nature. Realism and social protest occurred
at the beginning of the nineteenth century; the inception of the industrial
revolution encouraged a capitalist economy. The paintings of this time involved
social criticism of many political figures, judicial and police systems, to
rebel against the changing ways. Again, the realistic portrayals of daily life
were rejected by the authoritative standards of the academy- especially the
honorary ‘Salon of Paris'. This brought about an artistic rebellion called
impressionism, where artists painted directly against the standards of the salon.
Suitably, they called themselves impressionists. These artists wanted to
portray the immediacy of a moment and in doing so, capture the truth of the
times and the lives they lived. There were four main influences on these
artists, these were the newly introduced camera, the art of past artists, the
afresh obtained, imported Japanese woodcuts and new scientific discoveries in
light and color. With the introduction of the camera, artists were no longer
needed to transcribe reality, therefore they were forced to find new outlets of
artistic expression. With Japanese art to study from, there were new and
exciting techniques to try and replicate. Through this age of revolution, a
growing movement towards freedom for personal expression in subject matter,
techniques and style of art were signaled.
These periods of expression were merely buildups to the advanced
movements and rapid changes of the art in the twentieth century. Even before
the triggering point of the times- being the first world war, many post war
artists became engrossed in highly personalized interpretations- antibiotics,
computerization, electronic transistors and the prospects of an atomic world. A
brief feminist movement became a passionate cause for some, combining feelings
with a response to the real world. Still, the world was preparing for the
technological breakthroughs to come.
Out of the mystification of changing needs and changing material, art of
the twentieth century, through creative minds, brought measures of logic into
play. Following a brief euphoria of World war one, arts in the depression
became more socially conscious, realistic and nationalistic. Realism derived
from traditional American art, which was basically expressionism with strong
emotional overtones, focusing on feelings involved in such somber times. It was
said that “The future of art no longer seems to lie with creation of enduring
masterpieces, but with defining alternative cultural strategies.”(McHall, 206)
Up until the twentieth century, painting in Canada was solely dominated
by French and English styles. This was until 1910, when the group of seven set
out to develop a nationalistic style by expressing true Canadian spirit in their
paintings. The portrayal of landscapes made Canadians aware of the magnificence
of their own country and fostered a pride in a particular comeliness.
During World War II, a number of European painters ventured to the
United States, where they had a profound effect on young painters. After the
war, a group of these artists initialed a movement that became famous throughout
the world and served as a model for artists everywhere. This was called
abstract expressionism. The artists produced works which were noticeably larger
in size, energetic in effect and incredibly individualistic in character.
Initially, these paintings illustrated war scenes and images commemorating the
soldiers who had perished, but following the war, the paintings were continued
to be produced, with a change in subject matter. These works convey the
strength and confidence of a powerful country, but they were also private
statements proclaiming the “importance of the individual in the face of
pressures for conformity and depersonalization.”(comptons ‘96) With this strong
movement, the United states became the center of the western art world for the
first time in history.
When looking into the lives of individual artists, you can see how
events which effected them and the emotions projected by various events were
revealed through paint. Picasso is an incredibly interesting painter to study,
for he had an adventurous life involving strong emotion. Picasso played an
important role in some of the many different movements of the early twentieth
century. He formed a style called his ‘blue' period between 1901 and 1904 where
he illustrated elements of melancholy, dominated by subjects of vagabonds,
beggars, prostitutes, poverty stricken and deprived people. He abandoned all
rules of linear perspective and overlapped planes even as he went through his
rose period, where his subject matter contained mostly dancers, acrobats and
Through many more years, he experimented with increasingly analytical
and geometric forms while continuing to develop a unique cubist technique,
making paintings less “rigorous and austere”(cd rom). His masterpiece , “
Guernica”, was his moving vision of the Spanish civil war. It was his response
to the 1937 bombing by the fascist forces of the small Basque town. This was a
great emotional/political statement, which combined violent distortion of images,
with a restrained subtlety of colour. Between two marriages, he also had a
mistress named Francoise Gilot. His meetings with Gilot inspired Picasso to
create a charming series of paintings featuring mythology and including
representations of fauns, nymphs and pipers- quite different from his usual
style. As Picasso remained in France throughout World war II, he was forbidden
to show his work, and he joined the French communist party. A number of his
paintings then expressed the horror of the war ( The Charnel House 1945) and
following this sequence, he responded to the Korean war by Painting ‘War and
Peace'-1952, and ‘Massacre in Korea'-1951. It is very obvious to see that the
worldwide events which took place in Picasso's life time greatly effected his
subject matter and his feelings.
The second world war was a watershed for art, while Nazi occupation of
Paris helped to break down the dam to be the home of modern art. Artists fled
to the United States to escape the fascism. The success of the United States in
the cold war was measured by the fact that within a decade of the end of World
war II, the United States enjoyed a cultural reputation, fitting into a higher
global power status. The Soviet Union at this time was committed to crude
socialist realism, suppressing other kinds of art like abstract expressionism.
In turn, the United States embodied all the U.S.S.R denied.
A trend that arose in the late 1950's was a reaction against abstract
expressionism, it was labeled popart. Rather than avoiding references to mass
culture, pop artists accepted and used them. Popular subject matter were soft
drink bottles, hamburgers, gas stations, comic strips, billboards and airplanes.
In using these popular images, artists celebrated the technological culture and
revealed it's insolence and cheapness. Andy Warhol is probably the most famous
pop artist. In his work he clearly illustrates the influence of machine
production. Often his repeated portraits of identical images were based on
photographs that had been enlarged by mechanical means. This style provides a
multiplicity of views and moods of attractive women ( in most cases). This
style was supposed to represent a wild zest for life which these women possessed.
“ This was also meant to give the art a sense of abiding and fascinating
tension.”(Bronowski 14)
In modern times, nationalist art became an important topic as well as
internationalism in the art world. At any given time, in major cities worldwide,
work from many nations are on show. Even though we except the fact that the
global art scene consists of a network of cosmopolitan cities, it is becoming
increasingly obvious that art recognizes no boundaries in present day. Robert
Motherwell stated in 1966 that “Art is not national, to be merely an American or
French painter is to be nothing; to fall to overcome ones initial environment is
never to reach the human.” Even in the early part of this century, but
progressing through the years, artists saw themselves as internationally linked
by aesthetic and conceptual issues with universal readings. Globalization in
this case is revealed as a preferable substitute to nationalism. It is actually
dangerously misleading to label art of the past or present into national
packages. In today's world it is difficult for post colonial nations to
maintain identity and integrity in the global art world. There is no guarantee
that national art will flourish in the world and raise profile, it depends on
the initial economic support. There have been small national successes, for
instance in Haiti, murals were painted on the city walls to celebrate “new Haiti”
in 1986. This event bore witness to national solidarity in the face of
oppression. It brought future hopes and a vehicle for communication for a
country where 90% are illiterate.(Buck, 1991)
The modern age of reason promised to resolve all problems through the
application of science. Art of this time echoed a preoccupation with technology
and environment. Today, many artists feel liberated from tradition and rules
and feel free to follow any exploration, but as these artists are witness to
many global events, tragedies and breakthroughs, these are often reflected in
their works. Fad and fashion are nurtured by mass media and artists struggle to
do anything to capture attention. Enormous diversity characterizes present day
painting. This diversity is characteristic of modern life, and each style
reflects, questions, or analyses some aspects of contemporary society.
“Through painting, the artist expresses ideas and emotions, as well as a
version of the reality he or she perceives, in a two dimensional visual form.”
(cd rom) Some artists paint concrete forms with which viewers are generally
familiar with and some try to create entirely abstract relationships. The way a
painting is constructed does not change the fact that as life goes on, and world
events weather negative or beneficial occur, these events are reflected through
the universal language of art. To study the paintings of any age is to look in
the diverse interpretations of the era in which they were produced. Through
painting, artists can give expressions of their own ideas and emotions
corresponding to personal, national or global topics. As painting depicts the
lives we live, it can also quite clearly be stated that an appreciation of
painting and all art forms, can also deepen and enrich the lives we live.

Daily Logs

I have already had an interview with Mr. Cramm and decided to do my SIP on Art
and how world issues have been reflected in art throughout the ages. This well
be an interesting project for me because I am an art major, and enjoy every
aspect of art and art history. It will be interesting to incorporate the two
subjects. Today I met with Kath Peer to set up times when she can teach me and
show me some of her slides. I also took out some art history books from the
Unionville H.S. library.

This morning I went to the Unionville public library and took out some more
books on art history. I began looking into them and making notes. I have
formalized an introduction and basically organized my essay (and the messages I
want to convey). I need to book another interview before I do any more, but I
feel that I have a stable start to this project.

Today I talked to Kath Peer for a while on her ideas for which time periods I
should study, and which world issues I should look in to. I'm going to try and
set out some timelines to help. Today I also read some of my “art in the
ancient world” book- I feel I should read a bit before I start taking serious

Today I planned on going in for an interview, but unfortunately I missed my but,
so K continued reading the history books to familiarize myself with my general
topic. So far I have read into ancient Greek and Roman art/issues and started
into renaissance. I have set dates for myself, so that I can start organizing
my time and working hard to meet the deadline.

Today I managed to accomplish a lot of work on my essay. I have read and now
made notes on many interesting and informative books, and as of today, I have
recorded a lot of useful material.

I researched the life, art and livelihood of Pablo Picasso today. I wanted to
go into detail with a couple of famous artists lives, and I think Picasso was a
great choice. A lot of his paintings were impressions of wars and events which
occurred in his lifetime- which he had very strong feelings towards. I have
almost finished my note making, and just need to look more in detail to the past
century (20th) of art.

Wow! Finally I am finished a long and hard battle of note making. This morning
I went through my twenty seven pages of rough notes and highlighted them all
according to the three major time areas I am focusing on. Now I can finally get
on to the easy part- the essay writing.

I have spent the past three nights writing the first copy of my essay. The
notes and examples came together very nicely, and I feel that I have written a
substantially good essay. I still have to type it and edit, but most of the
work is done and I feel fairly competent of what I have accomplished.

Works Cited

Bevetzin, Norman. The Arts in Canada. Copp Clark Publishing, Toronto: 1977

Bronowski, J. The Visionary Eye. The MIT Press, Mass.: 1978

Buck, Louis. Relative Values. PBC Books, London England: 1991

Casson, Jean. The Concise Encyclopedia of Symbolism. Chartwell Books Inc.,New
Jersey: 1979

Clark, Kenneth. The Romantic Rebellion. Butler and Tanner Ltd., Great Britain:

Comptons Interactive Encyclopedia. Tribune New Media/Education Company: 1992-

Osbourne, Harold. Oxford Companion to Art. Oxford University Press, England:
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