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					       Art: The Ultimate Expression
Before the portrayal of the human body can be critiqued, you must understand
the artistÕs culture. As man evolved over centuries, his views of the body
also transformed. Our tour definitely showed the drastic changes in
different culturesÕ art. Each culture and era presents very distinct
characteristics. Through time and experimentation, we have expressed our
views of the human body clearly with our art.
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.
Most of the figures were seen in the same: profile of the legs, frontal view
of the torso, and profile of the head. Like most civilizations, Egyptians
put a lot of faith in gods. The sky god Horus, a bird, is found in a great
amount of Egyptian art. Little recognition was ever given to the artists.
The emphasis was on the patron.
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
EgyptiansÕ. 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. They softened the lines of the body. Greek
sculptors slowly perfected every contour in the human figure. Greek people
viewed the human body as something beautiful and so they depicted nude men.
Women were eventually nude but only when there was a reason, they needed to
be bathing or something where they would be naked. They people that are
sculpted are always young and their bodies are still idealized. The Greeks
invented contrapposto, the relaxed natural stance of a sculpture. A figure
that is standing in contrapposto becomes a sculpture in the round, meaning
that the emphasis is not only on a frontal view but also from all angles.
The Hellenistic Period emerged as the Romans began to produce some of the
finest art in history. This new revolutionary style was incredible. Figures
werenÕt confined to the unnatural or boring positions they had for
centuries. All body parts were in perfect proportion. These statues came
alive as their limbs reached out into space. Vacant stares evolved into
human emotions, which were easily recognized on their faces. I think this
renaissance portrayed the way people were thinking. They were exploring
philosophy, religion, and politics. This was a time for rebirth.
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. Man was viewed in religious scenes due to the spread of
Christianity.
Byzantine and medieval art was very representative. The artistsÕ ability to
produce lifelike figures had regressed. The emphasis was not on man anymore.
Their art was made to glorify God.
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. Filippo Brunelleschi, allowed artists to determine the relative size
of each figure by inventing the vanishing point perspective. With that tool
it was possible to put everything in perfect proportion. Humans were not
always idealized as they were in earlier centuries. Many elderly people are
found in the paintings.
Neoclassical paintings commonly showed contemporary garments and scenes.
History painting became very popular. A larger transition was made when
color was used to set a mood or express inner feelings. Nothing like this
had ever been considered. Man viewed his experiences as important stepping
stones. To assure that experiences arenÕt forgotten they were preserved in
artworks.
Humans are often used in modern art. Although the people may appear very
large or important, they are usually just vehicles used to convey a message
to the audience. In Segal's Red Light, we saw a man walking alone in front
of n old truck. The man was not colored at all. He seemed to be sauntering
across a street at night. A feeling of depression or sadness surrounds the
man. The human is not important but the emotion is. Most of the modern art
uses the human body to portray a feeling or emotion. Rarely will you find
any new art that displays a humans because they extraordinary.
Romantic landscaping is incredible. The idea of most of these pieces is to
show how insignificant man is. Before humans were always the center of
attention but now here they are almost trivial. Artists like Thomas Cole
show us what is pure and simple. The paintings use a lot of color to create
very natural, unaffected scenes. It seems that we come upon these landscapes
almost by accident. They depict ideal settings that are unscathed by the
injustices of the world. In my opinion, the beauty of these works is
unsurpassed by any other art.
Through the ages each culture had its own interpretation of what the human
body means. I have briefly explained a few of the broadest views of the
human body. In order to explain one in great detail would take volumes. I
thoroughly enjoyed MonaÕs tour of the museum and I hope to see her there
again.
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