Since the dawn of human existence and literally thousands of years before written languages developed, people have used their surroundings as a canvas for expression. Art has changed a great deal since it began many centuries ago. Centuries, however, are not necessary to notice the small changes that are evident even between cultures of similar times. Egyptians were the first people to make a large impact on the world of art. Egyptians needed art for their religious beliefs more than decoration or self-gratification.
The most important aspect of Egyptian life is the ka, the part of the human spirit that lives on after death. The ka needed a physical place to occupy or it would disappear. Most of the important men of Egypt paid to have their body carved out of stone. That was were the spirit would live after the man dies. They used stone because it was the strongest material they could find. Longevity was very important. The bodies are always idealized and clothed.
Figures are very rigid, close-fisted, and are built on a vertical axis to show that the person is grand or intimidating. Early Greek art was greatly influenced by the Egyptians. Geography permitted both cultures to exchange their talents. The beginning of Greek art is marked by the Geometric phase. The most common art during the Geometric phase was vase painting. After the vase was formed but before it was painted, the artist applied a slip (dark pigment) to outside. Then the vase was fired and the artist would incise his decorations into the hard shell.
It was important to incise humans into the fired slip and not paint with slip. The people in the pictures needed light colored skin, which was the color beneath the slip, because Greeks wanted to make their art as realistic as possible. Much like Egyptian art, the Greeks idealized the bodies of the people in their works. As the Archaic Period evolved, Greek sculptures were almost identical to the Egyptians’. Unlike Egyptians, the Greeks refined their techniques. Greeks used marble to construct their sculptures.
It was considered more valuable and beautiful than any material available. Christian art was introduced during the middle of the second century. In many cases the only difference between Christian art and Hellenistic art is the religious subject matter. After a slow start the Christians introduced something new, the mosaic. Mosaics became a favorite medium for decorating churches. Emily Dickinson wrote, “If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. ”
The so-called academic painters of the 19th century believed themselves to be doing their part to improve the world in presenting images that contain or reflect good conservative moral values, examples of virtuous behaviour, of inspiring Christian sentiment, and of the sort of righteous conduct and noble sacrifice that would serve as an appropriate model toward which we should all aspire to emulate. The new world order reflected in academic modernism was seen by the progressives as merely supportive of the status quo and offered a future that was little more than a perpetuation of the present.
The conservatives wished to maintain existing institutions and preferred gradual development over radical change. The fifteenth century marked the arrival of the Renaissance. Artists have finally recaptured the amazing detail and realism that the Greeks and Romans perfected. Artists pushed the limits with new exciting mediums and bright colors. Works of art, in my opinion, are the only objects in the material universe to possess internal order, and that is why, though I don’t believe that only art matters, I do believe in Art for Art’s sake.