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Prehistoric Art

Prehistoric art started with a ritualistic and magic focus, e. g. to invoke the spirit of gods and animals for the Paleolithic hunters and slowly evolved to ornate domestic objects and communicate the stories of sedentary men in the Neolithic era. b. Stylistically, prehistoric art varies from a forcefully “expressive naturalism” found in the caves to the “geometrically abstract” decorative designs during the Neolitic (Prebles, p. 233). 2 – Egypt a. Egyptian architecture, funerary painting and sculpture express the grandiose, austere and sacred spirit of its god kings.

The idea of Egyptian funeral art is to assure the grandeur of the royal members in the afterlife and also to secure the memory of the dead and the protection of the living. b. Characterized by a geometrical scheme of anatomical proportion and political hierarchy, Egyptian art sustained very stable combination of “naturalism and abstract idealism” (Prebles, p. 238). Detailed and clear, the paintings act as catalogs of information about each dynasty. 3 – Greece a. Classical Greek art has set the supreme ideal of human beauty and perfection: proportion, simplicity, rationality, “order and restrained emotion” (Prebles, p.

243). The vision of the ideal beauty surpasses the individual and daily life, towards a godlike perfection. b. Greek art tried to lock the coordinates of perfection into a golden ratio of proportions (4 to 9 for Buildings, the Canon for human figure). Beyond technical idealism, Hellenistic art showed an expressive and dynamic style rendering psychological conflicts. 4 – Rome a. Roman painting and architecture adapted the Hellenistic works to express the grandeur and fame of the Roman civilization, its political dominance and pragmatism.

Portraiture reached a high level of personalization to the revelation of the individual’s character. b. Imitative of the Greek esthetics, the immense constructions like the Pantheon or the Coliseum tried to combine stateliness opulence with practical use, to emphasize the power. The ornaments followed mathematical laws of symmetry, perspective, patterns or acoustics so that they enhance the interior space at maximum. 5 – Byzantine Art a. Byzantine art was composed of devotional frescoes and paintings adorning the churches’ and monasteries’ interior and depicting the sacrificial lives of Christ, the Saints and the divine order.

The artistic message was in fact a religious one, each tableau telling a parable or a holy chapter with a resurrectional message rendered with a dramatic blend of soaring tragedy and gentle charity, while the precious. b. The stylistic trait specific to Byzantine art was its bidimensional, abstract, or anti-realistic character in support of a more symbolic and spiritual approach, that of devotion. Artists were not concerned with anatomical or perspectival measurements, but with iconic canons, graphical symbols and precious adorning techniques reminiscent of oriental decoration. 6 – Gothic Art a.

The severe and grandiose Gothic art has a Christian communitarian purpose, calling its believers to obey the word of the Gospels. b. Most clear in architecture, the Gothic style’s hallmark is the pointed arch, the “light-filled, upward-reaching structures evoking a sense of spiritual elation” (Prebles, p. 259). Different from previous eras’ communitarian spaces, the gigantic Gothic cathedrals married a complex configuration of immense lower walls, aerodynamic arches and steep towers, as well as a devotion-appealing combination of grand austerity and opulent stained-glass windows and wall paintings.

7 – Italian Renaissance a. The idea behind this artistic current was the recognition of humanistic values and the emergence of the individual. The artists returned to the Greek canons and intellectual values to revive the arts and express complex allegories and scenarios. b. Renaissance masters uptook the crafty challenge of “representational accuracy” (Prebles, p. 263): naturalism and individuality, as well as correct perspectival representation through the new scientific and anatomical discoveries.

Grace, beauty, intelligence, perfection of composition and supremacy of expression were the stylistic ideals reached by many masters such as Donatello, Boticelli, Michelangelo, da Vinci. 8 – Northern Renaissance a. Instructional symbolism is a signature of Northern Renaissance masters, preoccupied with the Protestant Reformation ideas: on the one hand, the everyday life of the simple man or breath-taking landscape painting, on the other complex scenes or religious reinterpretations, often grotesque and highly codified (like the case of Bruegel and Bosch).

b. The use of linseed oil for the paints rendered the colors a gleaming and translucent quality and better resistance. The result was smoother details and light-dark transitions, unique texture and depth. Portraiture gained more inner movement and psychological subtlety. 9 – Baroque Art a. Baroque art unleashed the emotional realism and tried to explore the extremes of known passions, most likely sensuality, vibrant exuberance, the beauty of the contorted human body and other daring esthetic experiments.

Both religious and non-religious topics were re-interpreted by this luxurious vision. b. It employed dramatic light-dark contrasts: chiaroscuro. It had a highly ornamental value present in the use of filigrees, asymmetries, “curves and countercurves” (Prebles, p. 279). 10 – Indian Buddhist Art a. Indian Buddhist Art expresses the rich spiritual teachings of Buddha encrypted in a symbolic manner, while human nature is seen as transitory and art calls to enlightenment and the escape from the infernal cycle of lives.

Gupta Architecture is a wavy depiction of layers and labyrinths as a symbol of the stages needed towards the enlightenment. b. Idealized perfection in Buddhist Art compositions serves a ritually purpose, so this is why the abundance of symbols, rhythms, decorations and refinement of details are telling of a spiritual elevation. 11 – Indian Hindu Art a. Indian hindu art bears the central idea about mutually-fulfilling opposites, like birth and destruction, male and female, human being and god united by a sensuous joy of life. b.

Naturalistic and heavily adorned, the statues of gods are illustrative of these dualities by their ambivalent quality; a dancing Shiva describes a vibrant motion in the fixed medium due to the expressiveness and sinuosity of the figure. 12 – China a. Chinese paintings show delicate, almost impressionistic landscapes for example. The spiritual power of the painting was based on the way it reveals the intrinsic accord between human and nature, as taught by Taoist and Buddhist concepts. b. Chinese painting is decorative, not representational.

It uses methodical patterns of highly detailed patterns in the same way as their calligraphy draws images of complex ideas. 13 – Japan a. Japanese art expressed high care for woodcut printing, a very symbolic type of art present at all levels of life, and it is telling of the day-to-day life, as well as popular topics. Religious art, inspired from Buddhism, expresses a ritual of purity and wisdom. b. One dominant stylistic feature is that of a vigorous realism and discipline (during the Kamakura period).

For instance, the wooden statue of a Buddhist priest in a real-life size expresses an inner intensity and a grace that transcends the medium. 14 – Islamic Art a. Islamic art has a devotional focus and it is meant to enhance the beauty of the world and thus to contribute to the spiritual richness of Allah the Creator. The most privileged of all graphical arts is that of the calligraphy, where the words of the Koran are ale to reveal the divine in an earthly form. b. Arabic decorations are deeply “geometric and floral” (Prebles, p.

319), an interplay of arches, filigrees, mosaics and adorned columns. We find them on pottery, architecture or documents – as an esthetic and sensuous outlet for the severe rationality of Islamic culture. 15 – African Art a. African art has a ceremonial and ritual quality. The art of masks or totems serves to commemorate the renowned ancestors, gods or social symbols. Generally anamorphic, the statues express a symbiosis between the human beings and the earth with its beings, and serve in diverse domestic or magic rituals. b.

Textile arts display rhythmic patterns and minimalist shapes are interwoven together harmoniously, with strong colors, to serve specific purposes of initiation, mourning or other rituals. 16 – Native American Art a. The spiritual significance of Native American Art is heteroclite, but as most nomad cultures, they magically enforce the ties between the members of the community, their habits and rituals, but most importantly, to a higher metaphysical level, they display a sort of communicative function between this world and the after-world, as well as between human and animals.

The hunter’s rituals and prayers are present in the war body art, as well as the domestic symbols of harmony on the pottery and textile art. b. The textile art presents minimalist patterns such as chevron lines and geometrical symmetries with symbolic value, meant to help the living be in harmony with their ancestors and with the mother nature..


Prebles Artforms, 8th Edition by Patrick Frank (chapters 14-19, pages 230-346)

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