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The word "Art" means several things in different historical times. This word evolves with societal changes as time goes by. There is no universal definition of the word art. For instance, in the ages of our evolutionary ancestors, the word art is a way of expressing the daily happens around them. The Neanderthal man used art to explain what was happening around him. He came up with various sketches in his cave in an attempt to fathom the world around him. For example, ancient Egyptians used art to explain what would happen in the underworld once someone died. The tombs of the Pharaohs reflect this kind of art. It has the different representations of the gods and the Pharaohs crossing over to the underworld.
Art is deeply rooted in the human psyche. It is as real as the air that man breaths. Art is also as fickle as man is. So, while the Stone Age man thought that a few drawings on a cave wall was art, the modern man doesn't mind those drawings being done on his body. In modern times we have the emergence of tattoos as art. The shift from painting on canvases is also felt in graffiti art. There is also the modern trend of subway art. Subway art centers mostly on the happenings in subways of modern cities. So Art does change with man. It adopts the features and the environment in which the man is living in. This paper traces the changes in art through the various periods in history. It will demonstrate how art has evolved in tandem with the changes in human societal conditions.
What is art? Art refers to all creative human endeavors, excluding actions directly related to survival and reproduction. Art is any product of the creative impulse, out of which springs all other human pursuits such as science via alchemy, and religion via shamanism (Wordiq 2010). Therefore, art is an expression of the imagination and/or memory of man to create a piece of work that is either a resemblance of a reality or a perversion of it. Portraits, for instance attempt to immortalize a moment in reality. Photographs achieve this better. Caricatures mimic reality, while cartoons, movies and romantic novels exaggerate realty. The main purpose of art is culture and enrichment of the spirit (Worldspirituality 2011). Art seeks to satisfy the need for man to immortalize himself or immortalize particular happenings in his surroundings. Man seeks to understand. And art is the medium through which he expresses his doubts, dreams and his deepest thoughts.
Several factors influence the development of art. Art, as defined above, is an expression of the human person. Art is an expression of the culture of the people. Culture is an expression of the values that are prevailing at the time when a work of art is being produced. Culture is how people express their identity and how they reject other identities (Francois 2005). Culture is how you are raised and what you do in your everyday life. For example, the culture of the Maasai is pastoral farming. The culture of the Eskimos is centered on living in the cold Antarctic religion. Hence, if these communities were artistic, their art would be based on the cultures that are prevailing at the time. Art is thus influenced by culture. Since culture is a mammoth topic to discuss in a paper, we shall focus on the influence of the following factors in art: societal changes, revolutions, religious controversies and wars.
Societal change is the shift of ideas of a society from one age to another. Society can shift from the industrial age to the information age. The society has also experienced the agricultural age and the so called dark ages of Europe. Such shifts are usually reflected in the works of various artists in a particular society. For example, art from the medieval times reflects the societal mindset of that era. Medieval art was mostly Byzantine art, Gothic art etc. Medieval art freely relied on the use of vivid colors and religious subjects. Medieval art was followed by renaissance art.
The term "renaissance" means rebirth or revival (yellowbanana22 2008). The societal change that was being experienced during the renaissance was the new discoveries of science. Man began to understand his environment at a more intellectual level. Physics, Mathematics and Chemistry replaced religious dogmatism of that era. The most notable artists of this era were Leonardo da Vinci and Sandro Botticelli. Leonardo da Vinci is well known for his exploits in science. Sandro Botticelli is known for his masterpiece painted in 1500 of a nativity scene.
Another example is the Rastafarian culture. This culture arose is a throwback from the sad conditions of the blacks all over the world, especially the United States (Rasta man 2005). The discrimination of the black people led to the rise of artists like Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Garvey's philosophy is an attempt to develop black pride destroyed by years of discrimination and abuse. He believes that black people should embrace a new religion for them to e renewed. He consistently urged the subscribers of his philosophy to look to Africa for salvation. This has led many Rastafarians to see Haile Selassie as a god. Selassie is considered to be a direct descendant of the bloodline of Solomon. He is considered to be a prophet, a god by some, in the Rastafarian culture. From the philosophy of Garvey, there emerge artists like other artists sprung up.
An example of such an artist is Leonard Howell from Jamaica (Rasta man 2005). Howell built the movement in St.Thomas. After a grief prison sentence, he formed the Ethiopian Salvation Society. Through this society, he purchased Pinnacle Estate and established a settlement for the Rastafarians. This influenced other organizations like the Ethiopian World Federation. This Federation was manned by Malaku Bayer.
This Rastafarian influences lead to the development of Rasta artists, the greatest among them being Bob Marley. He was able to influence the world through his music and perpetuate the Rastafarian culture. Some of his most influential songs include Chant Down Babylon, Jah Live, Natty Dread, Rastaman Chant, Rastaman Vibration, and Rasta Man Live Up. Bob Marley formed his music through his group "the Wailers". His music had cross cutting influences as it is embraced by people from different worlds. His music is strongly influenced by the Rastafarian Culture. Its main themes are love, peace and respect. However, the music he sings is mostly a call to the black people to look to Haile Selassie as the god for Africans.
There are also different cultural influences on works of art. For example, African culture is slowly influencing European art. This is due to the western world societal shift towards an embracing of the African culture (the Metropolitan Museum of Art 2011). In France, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, and their School of Paris friends blended the highly stylized treatment of the human figure in African sculptures with painting styles derived from the post-Impressionist works of Cézanne and Gauguin. African culture is seen as a shift from the individualistic and almost mechanical western societies.
From the 1870s, thousands of African sculptures arrived in Europe in the aftermath of colonial conquest and exploratory expeditions. Some were displayed in museums of the colonial masters of the various African countries. Such displays were the attractions of modernist artists due to their uniqueness. (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2011).
Revolutions also play a part in influencing the course of art. A good example in point is the influence of the French revolution on the 19th Century Romanticism (Yahoo Contributor Network 2011). The French society was generally a much closed society. The society was puritanical, burdened by the weight of a powerful Catholic Church. A general attitude among the French towards the church in that era is expressed by Richard (1849) when he states:
Christianity adjusts the ills of an honourless, useless, and sorrowful existence of mankind on earth, by the miraculous love of God; who had not - as the noble Greek supposed- created man for a happy and self-conscious life upon this earth, but had here imprisoned him in a loathsome dungeon: so as, in reward for the self-contempt that poisoned him therein, to prepare him for a posthumous state of endless comfort and inactive ecstasy.
Such disgust against the puritanical principles of the church is what led to an explosion of French Romanticism in the 18th Century.
Further, the art of pre-revolutionary France was funded by the bourgeoisies. It was mostly ornamental and was only commissioned for vain reasons by the bourgeoisies (Origin for Knowledge 2010). Its themes were mostly youthful lovers, pastoral scenes, outdoor games, and then-fashionable portraits. An example of such art is "the Swing" by Jean Honor-Fragonard. It depicts a lady in a voluminous pink dress enjoying a ride on a swing. This period of art was called "rococo," from the French decorative term rocaille, and was highly ornamental. Rococo decorative art was exceptionally elaborate and very expensively made. The palace of Versailles was decorated in the Rococo style. The floors of the palace are made of intricately tiled panels of marble. It has mirrors are several feet tall, and many feature intricate cherub sculptures at the corners.
However, after the French Revolution, the population rejected Rocco art. It was seen as a representation of the oppressive wealthy class. The population favored art that was more emotional and vividly painted. This period of art was known as Baroque art, from a French word describing irregularly shaped pearls. The shift of art was so strongly felt by those revolting that the first they destroyed valuable pieces of Rocco art during the revolution. The common man wanted France to be a society that was based on equality, peace and fairness. On the other hand, rich land owners were hell bent on keeping the population enslaved.
This lead to the emergence of Romanticism art. From the late 18th century to the middle of the 19th century a new Romantic attitude began to characterize art works. Romanticism exalted individualism, subjectivism, irrationalism, imagination, emotions and nature. It valued emotion over reason and senses over intellect. Romantic Artists and philosophers were revolting from the previous era of bourgeoisie and a powerful church. The Romanticist was also influenced by foreign art from Canada, Asia and around the world.
A different factor that influences art is the issue of religious controversies. There are historical cases of art being influenced by religious controversies. Byzantine art was largely influenced by the Iconoclastic controversy (715 - 843). According to the website medieval art (2011), Byzantine Iconography is found in Eastern Orthodox images of the Byzantine Empire. The iconoclastic controversy was a religious dispute based on the interpretation of the Second Commandment of Moses. Iconoclasts interpreted this commandment to the effect that no graven images are to be made of any Christian deity figures or the Saints of the Catholic Church. They proceeded to destroy any works of art that they considered contrary to their interpretation of this commandment.
Lastly, we have the influence of wars on art. We can use the term 'war' not in the strict sense. We can see war as a protracted battle between two states. However, we can take the term war to mean the lack of peace in a particular country. Take for example the 2007 post election violence in Kenya. The lack of peace in the country the scales of war did not tip in favor of the existence of one. However, the breaches of peace were felt by a majority of Kenyans.
The 2007 post election violence influenced various works of art. Artists in the performing and visual arts attempted to evoke the nation with varying degrees of impact (the godownartscentre 2011). Musicians held prayers and concerts in an attempt to heal the nation of the scourge of what had happened. This was a direct appeal to those who were perpetrating the violence to stop the killings. The Kwani Trust, a form of a writer's guild, had its member's pen poems to shun the violence and call the nation to a higher call.
Another notably endeavor is the "Kenya Burning" Project. The Kenya Burning project is a project by the Go Down. The Arts Centre decided to come up with the project after seeing the photos of a freelance photographer called Nick Ysenburg. Nick had photos taken by a one Boniface Mwangi during the post election violence. Nick also had photos taken by Yasuyoshi Chiba in Kisumu during the post election violence. The Go Down then put out a call for photographs taken during the post election violence and held an exhibition in 2008 dubbed Kenya Burning". The exhibition comprised of works of 9 photographers and finally culminated in the publication of the exhibition in a publication named Kenya Burning-Mgogogoro wa Uchaguzi 2007/08.
Another example of an artist influenced by war is Joan Miro (yellowbanana22 2008). He was born in 1893 at the wake of World War I. After the war ended, he moved to Paris where he met Pablo Picasso. Like many artists of his time, his perceptions on life were gravely affected by the war. Most artists felt that the war was demonstration of the failure of logic. At that time, psychology began to take root and was a quite popular topic of discussion.
Since psychology put emphasis on the subconscious, this lead to the development of a genre of art known as Surrealism. Surrealist artists used their dreams, memory, and chance to create fantastic and often abstract images as works of art. Miro was a very notable surrealist. He painted his first surrealist work of art in 1924 guided by his imagination. He developed his distinctive style, using simple lines and flat, brightly colored shaped which took on universal and symbolic meanings.
World War II significantly influenced art. The influence of this war is significantly felt in comic strips (David & Daniel 2011). Former soldiers that took part in the war enjoyed reading comics such as Bill Mauldin's Up Front, George Baker's The Sad Sack, and Milton Caniff's Male Call. These comics were a representation of the life of a soldier on a lighter note. The soldiers who took part in active battle enjoyed them as they were usually based on hopeful and/ or heroic themes.
The comic Up Front was especially popular with the average soldier for its character Mauldin. This comic was specifically created for the soldiers who were at the front line. Further, there was a comic that went by the name The Sad Sack. Other notable comic titles included: The Wolf (by Leonard Sansone) and Hubert (by Dick Wingert). Another popular example of a comic strip is Male Call. This comic strove to inculcate nationalistic feelings in the hearts of those in the battle field. It achieved this by the use of a character by the name "Miss Lace".
In Conclusion, art is influenced by several factors. Chief among the influences of art is culture. Culture influences art through the religions of the people at that time. War that could be taking place and/ or lack of peace in a particular area would also influence art. Hence, while art is an expression of the psyche of man, it is a reflection of the society that the man lives in. It is a mirror of the societal circumstances prevailing.