Western Art. Felicity lesson 8
Art is the range of art forms. They are about expressing things and representing things outside themselves. The word ‘art’ usually refers to visual arts which we sometimes call plastic arts. ‘Plastic’ arts do not involve plastic! These arts involve materials such a paper, paint, ink, charcoal, metal, wood, stone etc…. The visual arts include painting, drawing, print making, sculpture and so forth.
Art has been around as long as humans have. There were paintings on the walls of caves tens of thousands of years ago. People drew themselves and the beasts that they were hunting. They represented the natural world and mankind’s struggle in it.
Civilisation is about 5 000 years old. This is when writing began in Ancient Iraq. Many forms of art exist from that time. People made sculptures and dolls from clay and cloth. Their writing was about the same themes as their artwork. Writing grew out of drawing. People drew pictures to represent things – and these came to be words. Some of these pictures we call ‘ideograms’.
The Ancient Egyptians had a form of writing called hieroglyphs. The word ‘hieroglyph’ means ‘sacred sign’ in Ancient Greek. This was somewhere between writing and drawing. Drawing pictures was too time consuming. So a system of writing was invented that was based on representing sound rather than ideas or things.
Art in the Ancient World tended to be realistic. However, people had some fantasies. They drew, painted and made sculptures of imaginary beings. These creatures were partly human and partly animal. The Ancient Egyptians had gods and goddesses who had human bodies but the heads of jackals, crocodiles and cows etc…
Architecture can be a form of art. Architecture can be completely functional – simply building a house or bridge that is as easy as possible to build and not at all fancy. But soon people added flourishes to make buildings more alluring. Art is about aesthetics – making things visually attractive.
In Ancient Greece they believed that beauty could be expressed as a ratio. It was 3:8. A building should be 8 units wide and 3 units high. So it could be 8 metres wide and 3 metres high. Or it could be 16 metres wide and 6 metres high or anything that kept the ratio 3:8.
Corinthian architecture was the most popular form of architecture from Ancient Greece. It takes its name from the city of Corinth. They built columns on their temples and had a portico at the front. Roofs were triangular. You can see Corinthian architecture in many famous buildings in the west even today.
The Ancient Romans continued the Ancient Greek traditions and extrapolated from them. They produced many statues and sculptures of nudes. The Romans and Greeks claimed that the Philistine people were unappreciative of the arts. This is why the word ‘Philistine’ means someone who does not have any artistic refinement.
Christianity began in the 1st century AD. Christianity became the dominant religion in Western Europe after the 4th century AD. The bulk of art was Christian inspired thereafter. Its imagery became increasingly stylized. This means there was little individual choice for the artist. He or she was supposed to follow set patterns. Images became less lifelike.
Stained glass was a popular art form at the time. They used wax to make colourful images in glass. These illustrated religious stories.
El Greco was a famous Greek artist in the 16th century. He lived in Spain and they called him ‘El Greco’ meaning ‘the Greek’. He was known for returning art to producing very lifelike images of people. However, they tended to be shown with rather long, thin faces like El Greco himself.
In the 15th century the Renaissance started. ‘Renaissance’ means ‘rebirth’ in French. This was the rediscovery of classical learning. European artists began to copy old Greek and Roman styles of art. They started to depict scenes from Ancient Greek and Roman myths. No one believed in the gods and goddesses of the ancient pantheon but they were shown anyway.
Some aristocrats became ‘patrons of the arts’. A patron (a man) or patroness (a woman) would have a salon. A salon is literally a ‘room’ for artists. The patron or patroness would give money to poor struggling artists whether painters, drawers, sculptors, musicians, composers, poets or whatever. The artists would then produce work that the patron or patroness found pleasing. This would sometimes be flattering images of the patron or patroness ; painting, drawing or statues. It might be a panegyric – a poem of praise. Sometimes the artists would produce something laudatory about the ancestors and ancestresses of the patron or patroness.
Italy was the centre of European art from the 15th century to 18th century. Many famous artists were Italians such as Caravaggio, Galileo, Michelangelo, Rafael and Titian. Michelangelo made a sculpture of David for Florence Cathedral. The statue is 5 metres high and was supposed to be 100 metres up on the cathedral. It was so magnificent it was decided to keep it on the ground. Up high people would not be able to appreciate the detail.
In the Renaissance a popular theme was pastoralism. This is related to the Latin word for shepherd ‘pastor’. Pastoral scenes would be idyllic images of the countryside – of farms, of hills, forests and rivers. They would also show flocks of sheep or herds of cows. The shepherd and the shepherdess would feature. So would the herdsman and the milkmaid.
Milkmaids were women who milked cows. Milking a cow by hand is laborious and takes half an hour. Milkmaids were always depicted as exceptionally beautiful. They had radiant healthy skin. Poets as well as painters described these woman this way – as having a youthful and flawless complexion. Why was it that milkmaids had a reputation for such lustrous skin?
There was a disease called smallpox that ravaged Europe. This was a contagious disease that caused people to get pox – ugly growths on their skin. Smallpox killed some people. Those who survived it were permanently scarred with pockmarks. In the late 18th century it was discovered that milkmaids were protected from getting smallpox. They caught cowpox from cows. Cowpox is a much less serious condition – it does not kill people. Cowpox made the milkmaids immune to smallpox. We use the word vaccine because it come ‘vaca’ meaning ‘cow’ in Latin.
Some arts are not visual as such. Poetry, prose, theatre and music are also arts.
Art can be in things like wallpaper, carpets and interior design. It can also include fashion design especially haute couture. ‘Haute couture’ is French for ‘high tailoring’. Haute couture is treating clothes as an art form. It means designing clothes that are incredibly extravagant and eye catching. They are very expensive and impractical – they cannot be worn on a day to day basis. The other type of fashion clothes are called by the French words pret a porter (”ready to wear”)
Some artistic terminology applies to all art forms. This includes ‘leitmotiv‘. This is a pattern that keeps repeating. If there is a symbol on a carpet that is seen many times on the carpet that is an example of leitmotiv. If there is a certain rhyme which is used again and again in a poem that is leitmotiv. If in a piece of music there are a few bars that are repeated several times that is leitmotiv.
- What are plastic arts?
- What are arts other than the plastic arts?
- Do plastic arts always involve plastic?
- What are the first examples of art?
- What are hieroglyphs?
- Why did we invent writing?
- What was the ideal ratio in Ancient Greece?
- What is a popular Ancient Greek style of architecture?
- What did the gods of Ancient Egypt look like?
- Who was El Greco?
- What was the Renaissance?
- Name three Italian Renaissance artists.
- What is pastoralism?
- Why were milkmaids thought to be beautiful?
- What is a patron of the arts?
- What is leitmotiv?
- What is a panegyric?
- What is haute couture?
- What does it mean if an image is stylized?
- What is your favourite form of art and why? Five marks.