The Evolution of Art (and how it Shaped the Modern World)

The Evolution of Art (and how it Shaped the Modern World)


Art. It’s a word that is associated with a great
deal of professions in today’s world and your thoughts as to what it pertains to will vary,
as well your feelings towards it. Some choose to admire art, to study it vigorously,
to display their talent with glee or reluctance and others might choose to deny art as being
a part of their lives. Throughout history however, art has had a
critical role in shaping the modern world as it walks hand in hand with innovation,
evolving our knowledge, society and state of being as we evolved it. Let us start near the edge of humanity: The upper Palaeolithic age of man. A time when survival was the primary objective,
with art serving this very purpose. Cave drawings were used as a way to recount
events and the things early man had treasured: one such thing being the hunt. While cave drawings had very little form or
style to them, they perfectly illustrate how man thought during this era. Take this cave drawing for instance; the beasts
present are drawn dimensionally proportionate because man saw them as vital for his survival,
while the human forms are especially flat and thoughtless in nature due to the under
developed sense of self of prehistoric man. Moving into the Neolithic era, Humans begin
to form settlements. Man uses art as a way to honour ancestors
and as part of ritual practices, done by way of statues, totems, masks and effigies. In both of the aforementioned eras, it could be argued that because these illustrations and designs were used as primal survival mechanisms, that they cannot be classified as art, however, it is worth considering that these eras laid
the foundation for art as a whole and thus they are worth mentioning and classifying as art. The Bronze Age saw the dawn of Civilisations,
with humans creating primal works of art to honour their ancestors, as well as to invoke and reinforce belief in something greater than themselves; achieved by crafting statues, pots and masks designed to be symmetrical and durable. Additionally, literacy had begun to take root
within certain civilizations, with hieroglyphics forming the basis for keeping records and
communication in Ancient Egypt. Considering that at their core, these were
just symbols which were allotted meaning, it is theorised that this form of writing
was a natural evolution of cave art to an extent. Despite being miles apart, the ancient Mayans
of South America had developed a similar carving style, displaying figures and murals which
served a similar purpose to hieroglyphics but also lead to the development of some of
the first calendars used by a civilisation in place of using seasonal cycles to depict
the passing of time. The ability to carve and sculpt are considered
to be specialized skills in these societies, vital for ritualistic practices, recording
data, expansion of civilisations, and consequently, how we’re able to learn about them ourselves. Art across this era was not used primarily
for decoration, but rather as a tool for survival and testament to the advancements of a civilisation. We shift our focus to Europe, at the
dawn of the Age of idealism; which saw the rise of Greek and Roman culture and a tempest of knowledge and psychological thought, putting an emphasis on individualism as opposed to
celebrating deities exclusively. Architecture of the period was durable and
showed evidence of being grounded in ratios of mathematical beauty and strength. Finely illustrated Pottery and murals recounted
events and told tales of Greek deities, and while the forms present on them still depth, they were effective at conveying information and emotion. In an effort to display man as equal to their
deities, statues crafted of the human form by both the Greeks and Romans were exceptionally
well developed, athletic and proportionally accurate, with the intent of crafting works
that were flawless. This was not done in defiance of their deities however,
but to prove the potential and aptitude of humans- not just in artistic ability, but
in all developing fields. Time passes, and civilisations rise and fall;
with the middle ages seeing Christianity overshadow paganism as the primary ideology in Europe. Art of the era focuses heavily on contextualising
and depicting religious figures, as well as… more eccentric art accompanying manuscripts. Architecture and manuscripts received a noticeable
upheaval in their design and durability and while a majority of the artists from the earlier
years of this period remain somewhat anonymous, their designs helped shape a contained society
which spanned a millennium, encompassing a range of differing, yet similar styles. Art suited the promotion of religion quite
well, as it served to beautify and attract followers to an ideology, which was the reason for the incredible increase of detail and grandeur of art during this period across
Europe- something that the church capitalised on in order to promote the creation of increasingly lavish works in order to attract more people to Christianity. Similarly, art served to beautify Buddhism
in the East, with countries like Tibet and Thailand primarily crafting statues of the
Buddha depicting him in a state of calm, in order to allude to people of the harmonious teachings of Buddhism. It is often thought that with emergence of
Islam in the Arabian Peninsula during the 7th century that the creation of art was forbidden for followers of the religion, however, this is an often misunderstood aspect of the religion. While creating pieces with figures present
in them is looked down upon by factions of the various Islamic schools of thought, the
pioneering of calligraphy, geometric art and elaborate patterns were extensively refined
by arabian artists, eventually leading to the creation of the most mesmerizing murals
and architecture of the eastern world. Art had also played a central role in the
evolution of China’s culture. Like the Arabs, Calligraphy and architecture
are a uniquely refined and stylised part of the eastern civilisation, with countless emperors
pushing for the promotion of art in society. This is evident by the quality of silk embroidery,
ink art and carvings throughout this period and became particularly prominent as Chinese
art became influenced by the teachings of Buddhism. Throughout this one thousand year period,
we see that Art was the ultimate asset to make the unknown appear attractive, which
made it an exceptionally powerful tool to influence the masses towards an ideology,
however, it also proved to become a underlying part of many religions and cultures as societies
developed. We shift our focus back to Europe, at the
turn of the 15th century, where the Renaissance stirs into being. Arguably one of the most important transitional
periods in history, the explosion of insight and culture that had occurred during this era hadn’t been seen since the time of the Hellenic civilisations. Art had manifested itself in developing technologies
in tandem with mathematics, in fields such as medicine, architecture, engineering, astronomy
and cartography, with this era marking the now exponential progress we’ve made in the
aforementioned fields. As an example of this fact, while Andreas
Vesalius was one of the primary leaders in anatomical studies at the time, influential artists such as Leonardo Da Vinci and Albrecht Dürer had similarly propelled our understanding of the human body through their efforts. Dissecting and illustrating the human form
and the increased insight concerning how our organs operated had evolved medicinal practice
and proved paramount to kick starting our endless quest to understand our shells. To be an artist during this period required
a great understanding of utilising perspective and form as opposed to the pieces of previous
eras, as artworks had fully embraced composition and incorporated what we now know as the general
elements of design within them. While religions continued to use art as a
tool to inspire and control the masses, the Renaissance itself was brought about due to the rising middle class’s questioning of the Church. Looking into the past and analysing the mannerisms
of Greek and Roman culture, many found solace in the fact that these civilisations, despite
keeping sentiments of worship as part of their lives, thrived due to the ideology of humanism,
which was refined during the Renaissance itself. Owning art paralleled wealth and social status
while Art itself had evolved into more of an industry during this period, with institutions
teaching the field popping up all around Europe. The emergence of the line concerning what
it meant to be an artist as opposed to an architect or engineer was faint, but had begun
to show itself and one simply didn’t hold the title of “artist”, but was a specialist
in a particular field. To be skilled at more than one’s field was
achievable based on the prerogative of the individual, with some artists finding prominence
in a wide array of areas. The rise of the academies eventually help
solidify the master artist’s efforts and granted them esteemed positions, but with
success comes complacency, and with complacency comes fear of change. Taken as a whole, the religious agenda of
the medieval age was continually expressed within art of the Renaissance, but art of
the era simultaneously assisted scientific and societal development and laid the groundwork
for the way the artist approaches art itself, due to taking a far more technical approach
to creating art compared to the efforts of previous eras. Various artistic forms were once again used
as a tool by religions during the Baroque era, with art of the time displaying grandiose spectacle as well as events that transpired within the period itself. Meanwhile, the Neoclassical movement saw artists
aiming to recapture the grace and acute nature of Greco-Roman art by recreating figures from
the Hellenic era. Art also saw its use as a political tool in
order to show off the lives of the wealthy and influential, playing a vitalrole in
instilling belief in figures like Napoleon, which saw art continue to be a highly effective
tool for pushing an agenda… …and at this point, the scale begins to tip. While European art in particular was largely
used for political gain or to push a religious agenda, pieces had slowly begun to embrace
human fragility, with some artists opting to display the subtle complexities concerning
the seemingly simplistic mannerisms of human life; with the Romantic age showing a further
emphasis on the individual, nature, and the celebration of imagination, while the Impressionist
movement focused on crafting saturated landscapes, flooded with stylized light and shadows; which
not only proved to accentuate figures and the environments they inhabited, but elicit
raw emotion from the observer at first glance; a contrast to the sombre nature of the Neoclassical
style, which effectively utilised chiaroscuro and begs the observer to walk into the piece, decipher it’s message and wonder a while. Stepping back to a global view once more,
we see the development of tribal art transform at a steady pace across the world. The Native Americans saw Totems and pottery
serve as an inherent part of their culture, with symbolism and style being influenced
by the surroundings of a tribe. They were also incredibly efficient in how
they dealt with aspects of their daily lives, with no portion of what they had at their
disposal going to waste. For example, every part of a hunted animal
was used effectively, and this resulted in the creation of simple, yet elaborate clothing,
technologies and ceremonial tools as a result of their practices. Meanwhile in Africa (Greetings from ZA!), masks and statues continue to be a core part of the countless tribes throughout the continent, with innovation
of art slowly resulting due to the evolution of ritualistic behaviours. One of the most unique tribes in Africa however
would be the Ndebele tribe of South Africa; which not only developed some of the most
stylistically distinct African art, but intentionally fostered art as a very part of its culture. Distinct geometric forms against stark, contrasting
colours forms the basis of the Ndebele style, which encompassed everything from the architecture,
clothing, and tools of the people. While colour has almost always had a role
in drawing emotion in art, the Ndebele were one of the first Southern African tribes to
utilise a wide array of colors to convey specific meaning as part of their very lives. Their style further to developed during the
20th century, with bead-work becoming synonymous with the Ndebele; A culture that is still
strong within South Africa today. Art in Japan strayed a different course from the realism movements sweeping the world. Tonal forms have always less prominent in
Japanese Art, while line work and intelligent use of colour were prefered to subtly add
flair to pieces. This inspired artists like Van Gogh to craft
art with an emphasis on the effective use of brush strokes and colour as opposed to
the process of blending his paintings. As the world became more interconnected, so
too did the active exploration of artistic styles, with Japanese Ukiyo-e paintings and
the geometric forms of African Art playing pivotal roles in shaping neo-western styles. While art continued to be a natural part of
the various societies and cultures across the world, thoughts on art itself were fragmented
in Europe during the 19th and early 20th centuries. The emergence of more expressive styles were
frowned upon by the academies due to the perceived lack of effort and skill in creating stylised
pieces; dividing those who used art to express their emotions and thoughts and those who
saw it as something that should always depict the world in a manner that reflects how one
sees with their own eyes. Those who chose to create more expressive
styles would often lose their alumni with the academies and their standing with society,
with many independent artists confined to poverty, and fewer still only finding reverence
after death. From here, we see the realism movement find
firm ground, as well as the gradual birth of a wealth of anti and neo art movements. Free from the constraints of a specific ideology
or cause, Art transforms into a far more subjective field and artworks both new and old are interpreted
in bold new ways by both observers and artists alike. Take ‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo
for example. It is argued by scholars that despite his faith in the Catholic church,
that a brain surrounds his depiction of God in the piece, alluding to a suggestion that
the creation of Gods is something man made in itself Adding to the fact that some would insist
that his depiction of God is akin to an older version of Michelangelo himself, and it is
certainly guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. It is imperative to keep in mind however that these
are just some of the many interpretations of the piece, and the observer is
free to interpret what they deem appropriate. [AESTHETIC AESTHETIC AF] With the advent of modern art, comes the continued
argument of realism vs style. Between observers and artists alike, some
are adamant that realism should prevail over style, as it shows the artist’s true technical capacity and skill as an artist. Many artists of varying techniques know that
this notion simply doesn’t hold much water however, with Picasso proving to be the perfect antithesis to perceived correlation of realism and artistic ability. From a young age, Picasso was able to perfectly
capture the style of the old masters, but because his immense talent was tapped from
a young age, it provoked him to explore alternate directions for which to take his art, leading
to him pioneering the cubism movement and deriving eternal joy from creating art, for
his life had become art. It’s a reminder to the aspiring artist that
they’re free to explore whatever medium or style they see fit, as realism isn’t the
epitome of art. However, it still plays a fundamental role for any artist, as one cannot expect to inject style into their work without understanding reality itself first. Regardless of formal training or natural talent,
in this contemporary age, it could be stated that the amateur can now compete with the professional, the very thing masters of the Neoclassical movement had both predicted and feared. In reality however, art today has become less
about the style of an age or society as it has been about the artist discovering and
expressing their own style, regardless of the medium, ability or style of the artist. Being an artist may not hold the same weight
in accelerating society today as five centuries prior, and studying the history of art in
acute detail certainly isn’t a stipulation to become an artist, but understanding our
past is a necessary step to begin crafting a future that encourages critical thought-
for thought breeds action, and with action comes creation. Inspiration takes hold and the cycle begins anew. Across history, art has been a powerful tool
to push agendas and promote ideologies. It has been the fabric and bridge of countless
cultures and people. Art is capable of taking us back to times
long past and places we can only imagine. Art will always mean different things to different
people, Today however, art is anything you want it to be; and to me, that is a beautiful thought. I’ve provided further reading, as well as the names of all music, artists and their artwork appearing in this video in the description below. I’ve also included links to my social media in the description, as well as a link to my Patreon. Consider subscribing for more and thanks for watching- I’ll see you in the next one ~⋆

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