Art is a skill refined and passed on from generation to generation. Despite the common belief, not a single artist was yet born with a paranormal artistic talent, instead what they did, was to build upon the base of knowledge that was already established by the previous generations. It is a collective endeavor of our species. Human art was born around the Paleolithic period and we are refining it ever since. Interestingly we are not the only species to have the impulse to create visually compelling patterns, but we are the only one able to pass on today’s knowledge to generations of the future. The tiny puffer fish creates beautiful designs in the sand which is apparently part of an elaborate mating ritual. For us humans, art was not only expression, but it was a form of language, a vehicle for telling a story. This fact was most prominent in the Egyptian art. Their art was more similar to writing than it is to modern art. Every civilization throughout history had its own idea and views on what art is, and what is the ideal way it should be created. Representative art reached its climax in Greece during the Hellenistic period, over two centuries ago. Greek sculptors finally arrived to a level of craftsmanship nobody had seen before. They created marble statues that depicted the human figure to absolute perfection. Although many before them would think that the ultimate level of art is about arriving to that level of craftsmanship, they didn’t stop there, they started pushing it further, creating idealized figures. The definition of Art differs from person to person and most significantly from civilization to civilization, but if we want to find out what Art really means to us as individuals, we have to search for the answer in ourselves.
Non-representational prehistoric art can date back to more than 100,000 years, in form of pierced and painted snail shells and small pieces of ochre etched with simple geometric patterns. The oldest known representational imagery was created in the Paleolithic period by the Aurignacian culture. We can find hundreds of caves with beautiful drawings, paintings and sculpture across Europe. The best known examples are the caves at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc, Lascaux, Pech Merle, and Altamira.
One of the main reasons Egyptian art is so fascinating is because it lasted thousands of years without changing one bit. Imagine the same thing happening with any other art movement or style. For example a style such as pop art being the only art the grandfathers of our grandfathers were familiar with, and the only one that the grandchildren of our grandchildren will know. Egyptians were an interesting civilization obsessed with consistency and order. This shows through especially in their depiction of the human figure, which was always depicted in the same proportions showing each part of the body at its clearest angle. Their art is very similar to written language and it was used to pass on stories generation after generation.
While the Egyptians were not at all concerned about their paintings or sculptures being life like, the Greeks were striving for realism in their sculptures. They were relentlessly analyzing the human body, each artist building upon the progress of others. In just a few generations of hard work they were finally able, for the very first time in history, to create the perfect imitation of life. This was not only a great accomplishment for the Greek sculptor, but a significant milestone in human evolution. However now that they achieved the pinnacle of artistic achievement, we would think that they would carry on producing gorgeous realistic figures till the end of times. Nope. They stopped within a single generation. The reason behind this being a primal human instinct called “the instinct of artistic exaggeration”. They started lawfully distorting the body to exaggerate the brain’s aesthetic response to it. They wanted to create something more human, than human — and they did.
Roman art pulls most of its creativity from the cultures it defeated. Greek influence is most prominent in their sculpture and architecture. Their sculpture is very similar to Greek sculpture, but their focus was on the head and facial features, because most art was commissioned by the rich, famous, and powerful of Rome. Their painting was more sophisticated than that of the Greeks. The most impressive paintings were the burial panel paintings, which were also depicting the portrait of the deceased. Although their architecture was heavily influenced by the Greeks, they made some significant breakthroughs. They invented concrete and took the art of constructing buildings to the next level.
The renaissance is the pinnacle of representational art. Most of the famous old masters lived in this period, from Botticelli, to the four ninja turtles — Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rafael, and Donatello. This period is most known for their vivid bright colors, the use of modern perspective — they were the first to use linear perspective — and for the attention to balance in their paintings. Their subject matter is not overly interesting but their craftsmanship and execution speaks for itself.
Perfection in representational sculpture was achieved during the Greek period, while in painting it was later in the Renaissance. And just like the sculptors felt like successfully replicating life was not enough, the painters felt the same. Painters started to give more attention to the emotion of a scene rather than the realistic representation of it. There were happening significant scientific breakthroughs during that period in paint manufacturing and also in optics. The improved paints allowed painters to bring their easel outdoor and explore new subjects, while the discoveries in the science of optics inspired them to experiment with a technique called broken color. This technique allowed the artist to apply their color to the canvas unmixed, and let the eye optically blend the colors that were next to one another, to achieve the desired color intensity. Rather than pre-mixing the colors like the old masters did, they kept colors separate, yet they allowed them to dynamically combine in the eye of the viewer to create a shimmering effect of light on surface.
If impressionism is experimental art, modern art is revolutionary. It rarely uses perspective cues other than occluding objects, and it breaks most rules of representational painting. Modern art is not a single style the modern artist work’s in, but it can fit more than a dozen styles under a single label. Its purpose is to evoke emotion and to manipulate the psychological sensations and brain processing in creative ways. It is the highest possible level of visual art since it’s not concerned with anything other than visual perception. In my opinion, it is an art form that stands closer to psychology than to realistic painting or photography. That being said, we can argue that perception is subjective to a certain degree, so two individuals could have two different experiences watching the same work of art. Often this fact gets misunderstood or exploited by artists who for some reason ignore the fundamentals of art and perception and jump straight into modern art. A Padawan first has to become a Jedi Knight, in order to then become a Jedi Master. Unfortunately there are too many who ignore this fact and jump straight into deep waters.
This is how funny videos like this are born