Dozens of art movements have come and gone, each bringing about a massive change in the way we view art and what we consider art. It shows that art, like everything alive and touched by humans, evolves. The changes art has gone through show breakthroughs in creativity, how imagination has no limits and boundaries are made to be broken. Once, art was only reality-based — now, we have a wide variety of artistic categories not imaginable before, including abstract expressionism, constructivism, de Stijl, cubism, and so on.
Why Do Humans Make Art?
Many things set us apart from other animals, and art is one of the most astounding, magical ones. It's an example of humans trying to give meaning to meaningless, trying to find a way to express what they feel, trying to make sense of all they imagine. There is no reason an organism has to paint cave walls or sing in front of hundreds and thousands of people to survive. But humans need art because we can create and derive meaning from randomness, shapes, sounds, colors, and thought.
So, why do we make art? To tell stories.
Sometimes it's a story of a single individual, of the artist himself, sometimes that of a community, a nation, an event— but always a story; we use art to communicate something we want others to see, something someone else can relate to.
To Represent Rituals, Ceremonies, and Traditions
Humans use art to represent practices that have been a part of our lives for a long time. We make art to show rituals, sacred elements, things that move us, events that bring us together. Think of Da Vinci's The Last Supper — a religious masterpiece that is held in high esteem even today.
Art also helps humans practice faith, it takes the concept of higher beings and makes it easier to grasp it e.g. Sistine Chapel paintings by Michelangelo or Hindu paintings of their gods.
To Record History
Art is used to record the moments long gone; we use art as a medium to capture what was, to capture significant scenes that change or trigger the world or us. These paintings spark discussions and appreciation and help people remember what was like Oath of the Horatii by Jacques-Louis David or The Knotted Gun by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd.
To Teach Without Words
Words are fine and help us in our day-to-day lives, but art? Art catches attention way louder than words do. Humans process visual data better, and we remember it too. This makes art an excellent way to attract attention. It helps people communicate and express themselves without words; we can teach people better via visuals. Where is this seen? Often awareness campaigns and public service announcements are visual.
To Tell a Mythical, Religious, Literary, and Poetical Story
We also use art to portray and elaborate on myths, legends, religious events, or periods. Sometimes, it's easier to visualize literature to make people resonate with it than to try doing it with words.
To Create Portraits
Art isn't just about painting someone's portrait; it's about how an artist views that person. Think about Mona Lisa, the woman whose smile has captivated the world, or Girl With a Pearl Earring and the sadness her eyes portray. This wouldn't be possible without capturing the emotions that the artists did immaculately.
To Express Oneself
One of the reasons people make art is to allow themselves to paint their thoughts, their life, and their view of the world. Edvard Munch's The Scream is a great example, where he was thinking about the sky and thought nature was screaming. Or, Van Gogh's Starry Night, a tribute to life and death coexisting together.
To Reflect Beauty
Artists also create art to capture beauty in all its rawness, stillness, and life. Think of something as simple and serene as Monet's Water Lilies or still life paintings done by Edward Hopper.
The Evolution of Art Over Time
From cave paintings to contemporary art that we practice today, art has evolved repeatedly and broadened its horizons as humans changed their view of the world, nature, and the rules they were always told to follow.
Here is a glance at how art has evolved and led to where we are today:
Modern humans owe art to their ancestors. The origins of art can be traced back to the prehistoric era, long before records were used. Cavemen, while busy scrounging for food, hunting animals, trying to keep themselves safe, came up with art. The earliest artifacts that we have are from the Paleolithic era (or the Stone Age) in the form of engravings, carvings, pictorial images, stone arrangements.
Art in this era was used to represent objects, animals, and rituals that were being practiced. One of the best examples is the cave painting found in Indonesia, the oldest cave painting of a human ever found.
Then, advanced civilizations started creating what we refer to as Ancient Art. These civilizations included Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Greece. The purpose of this art was to tell stories, display religious and symbolic meanings, social status, and gods.
The Dark Ages marked a cumbersome period of cultural and economic downfall following the famous fall of the Roman Empire. The art created in this era was dark, brutal, and sad, reflecting the time itself.
As Christianity took over, art became more religious and was seen in the emergence of Hagia Sophia, roman catacombs, Notre Dame, among others.
Renaissance art was focused on nature and individualism and showed how people of that time had started to think of man as independent and enough. Renaissance produced influential artists that etched the world of art forever, such as da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Renaissance artwork was based on realism, attention to detail, and the study of human anatomy.
The artists started focusing on lighting, shading, and perspectives. However, this period saw clashes between Christianity and artists, leading to Mannerism.
From the ideas of late Renaissance artists emerged Mannerism which challenged the way we view art forever. The focus here was on style and technique, not the meaning of the subjects. This art resulted in complex compositions, breaking free from harmony and symmetry that the latter era was so fixated on.
The Baroque period came up with great art and architecture; it was a representation of the growth of human intellect and a wider view of the world. The paintings from this era carry the element of drama, as seen in the works of Rembrandt and Caravaggio. Painters experimented with contrast, compositions, and rich color palettes.
Originated in Paris, Rococo was softer than Baroque: it focused on decorative art, lightness, elegance, subtle colors, and natural forms.
The past heavily influences this period. Around this time, archaeological ruins of ancient civilizations in Athens and Naples were discovered. This triggered the passion of all things past and drove artists to create works depicting ancient art.
Romanticism shows us how humans saw paintings, music, and literature. This art period rejects harmony, rationality, and any form of order. Instead, we can see the power of human imagination emerge here, which came with an appreciation for nature. Passion, emotion, and sensations were the focus of this era instead of human rationality and intellect.
Called the first art movement, Realism originated in France and was a result of multiple events, including the anti-Romantic movement formed in Germany, the rise of media journalism, and the invention of photography. Realism, hence, followed into creating detailed, life-life art that focused solely on what was visible.
Art Nouveau, or "New Art," was an attempt to create art free from any imitations from earlier eras. The movement focused on the natural world and used long lines and curves to depict illustrations. Art Nouveau worked its way into all aspects of art, including architecture, interior, and graphic design, painting, and jewelry making.
Then came Impressionism, where painters tried to capture the impression of a particular moment. This was characterized by quick and short strokes and an incomplete feel. Modern life was used frequently rather than in historical events. Monet is one the well-known artists of this era.
Post-impressionism dealt with symbolism, personal meaning, and subjective thoughts and visions. This was achieved through abstract forms. Van Gogh is a Post-Impressionist painter known for his unique brushstroke techniques and usage of dark tones.
Fauvism was based on the works of van Gogh and Seurat. This style had the usage of intense colors, brushwork, bold designs, and flat compositions. This movement led to Cubism and Expressionism later on.
As humans became more in line with the world's ongoing industrial revolution, world views became conflicted, and spirituality subsided. Expressionism emerged as a response to this where artists drew on emotions using distorted forms and bold, intense colors.
Established by Braque and Picasso, based on the belief that art should not copy nature, Cubism emerged. This marked a huge milestone in the world of art, where artists now moved away from traditional techniques and beliefs and took on a fragmented approach via abstraction.
Surrealism was against rationality and showcased art that was beyond reasoning. World war I was a trigger and made artists seek the works of Kal Marx and believe theories by Freud. Hence, this era explored the unconscious mind and dreams.
Based on surrealism, this movement began post-World War II. Here, artists finally broke free from conventions and took in improvisation and spontaneity. This came with huge-scaled canvases that had to be placed on the floor to paint.
Op Art and Pop Art
Both beginning in the '50s and '60s, the movements were heightened by advances in science and technology. To confuse the onlookers, the paintings explored illusions, optical effects, monotonous, blurring, and abstract art. Pop Art also moved toward using mundane objects to create works of art.
Poor art, or Arte Povera, challenged modern and contemporary art by using common items and materials like soil, paper, rocks, rope, and other earth materials to depict a pre-industrial era.
This art movement rejected all prior art movements completely. Artists created art using performances, ephemera, and other new forms, purely focusing on ideas and concepts.
The '70s marked the beginning of the contemporary era, which continues to this day. There have been various smaller movements within contemporary art movement like Postmodernism, Feminist Art Movement, Neo-Expressionism, Street Art, Digital Art, and more. Contemporary art has challenged and changed the world of art in many ways. It focuses on present-day issues like racism, cultural divide, patriarchy, and challenges the predated concepts that are carried on even today.
Contemporary artists are continually using technology to their advantage and speaking up via their artwork.
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