Necessity of Art
There was a lot going on in other parts of the world before 2500 BCE in places such as the Fertile Crescent. Do a web search for the empires that rose and fell there. This course starts at 2500 BCE because it is when Upper Egypt and Lower Egypt, two separate empires, were united.
Another thing to remember is that the world has not physically changed for the last 10,000 years. It still looks the same as it did then. Mankind, however, made many of the changes the earth has endured. The pyramids for example are visible from outer space. Do a web search or some reading on ancient Egypt. Their entire culture revolved around their belief of where they came from and where they were going. Search the web for information about the Greeks and how their intellect drove them to lay the foundations of modern science, philosophy, architecture and so much more. The Romans conquered the ancient world through brute strength and military prowess but, it was through them and their language that Christianity found a foothold in the history of civilization.
Man is the only creature on earth that can ask themselves these profound questions; who are we? Why are we here? Where did we come from? It is the ability to question our existence that separates us from the other inhabitants of this planet. Because of this curiosity, we express ourselves.
Self-actualization is our greatest need. It is a greater need and more important than food, shelter or clothing. It is also part of our psychological make up to be happy. In order to be completely happy we must have three needs fulfilled: The first, is the need to belong. Being assured that we do in fact belong is just as important. Whether we belong to a tribe, a group, a family or a club; belonging is vitally important to a feeling of happiness and well-being. In fact, it is the main reason kids join gangs.
The other need we have, in order to be happy, is affection. Affection tells us that we are thought of or special enough to be loved. Belonging and affection are inter-changeable. The last need we must have to assure our happiness is control. We constantly need to feel that we are in control of our lives and everything that supports or surrounds it.
Art is a form of expression. Art is the expression of self or, self-expression. Art is also a form of control. Primitive man used art to target bond. That is, by depicting or drawing the animal or the image of it, they were capturing its spirit. By drawing or painting the animal they were hunting, they would then have control over it.
Art has also been used to define or to give a physical shape to, the gods of many religions. So powerful is art that the Judeo-Christian god, God or Yahweh (and many other names for the same diety) commanded Moses that’ “graven images” were not to be tolerated.
Art has been used to communicate the power of belief and faith. It has been used to define the unsealed. It has been used to capture or control the forces of Mother Earth and Father Sky. It is what was used before writing to record lore and legends. In its very least usage, it has been used to decorate and to identify families, tribes, armies, kingdoms and wealth.
What it is, is what it does. It is said that form (what something looks like, or its shape) follows function (what the form does). For example: a water pitcher looks like a water pitcher because of what it does. It holds water until it is ready to be poured into another form. Sometimes, however function follows form. If you lived in an efficiency apartment, you would have to conform to the space. Or, perhaps this is clearer, a barn houses barn animals. Ernst Fischer, who wrote “The Necessity of Art” said, “Art is as old as man. It is a form of work, and work is an activity peculiar to mankind.”
Art has the ability to transform the invisible into the visible. After all, what does God really look like? Art can capture not only what a face looks like, but perhaps even the spirit of the person in the portrait. Ernst Fischer, also said, “Man takes possession of the natural by transforming it. Work is the transformation of the natural. Man also dreams of working magic upon nature, of being able to change objects and give them new form by magic means. This is the equivalent in the imagination of what work means in reality. Man is, from the onset a magician.”
It is necessary to have a concept of time when studying Art History. Yet, it is just as important to realize that time is itself a concept. Study the prehistoric cave paintings that were found in France at Lascaux and in those at Altamira in Spain. Then, compare them to the artwork found in Micenian Greece or the Dark Ages.
Art is more tangible than time. However, time is and was a very important element. Time after all, is a way to control man’s destiny. Look at the motif called the “Greek Key” and ask yourself why or how were the Greeks able to articulate time in a way that Einstein would coin much later: the Time Wave. The measurement of time is the real issue here. The measurement of time (clocks) or chronology, was perfected as a result of the need by the early Christian church to honor God at the same time, several times a day. Time and art are united because art records a time, a person or a place in time. Art, makes time stand still. Much later in the early twentieth century, art takes a peek into the future and as a result is horrified.
Your life is a reflection of your surroundings. It could be said that you may take a Frenchman out of France but you can never take France out of the Frenchman. Art is a reflection of a time and a place. It is also created by time and place. Could the pyramids have been built exactly as they were elsewhere? Where would civilizations be without commerce and trade? Trade assures that ideas and cultures are exchanged. The Greeks learned from the Egyptians. The Romans copied the Greeks.
Geography is so important a component that without the Nile, there would be no Egypt. Without the Fertile Crescent, no Mesopotamia. Without the rocky landscape of Greece, Greek culture would have remained isolated.
Stop and think of it. If you knew everything, what would death mean to you? If you knew you would live forever, what would you fear? Would there be a need for fear? What would you have to know if you knew you would live forever? Knowledge and immortality are the Yin and Yang of God. Only he can contain both. The great fable of the “Garden of Eden” was a great paradoxical tail.
As Freddy Mercury, of Queen Fame sang, “Who wants to live forever? Who needs to live forever?” Man can think of and therefore create anything and everything. Man (Adam & Eve) chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil instead of the fruit of the Tree of Life. For that, Adam would have to’ “Live by the sweat of his brow.” Eve would have to suffer “the pain of childbirth.” The moment they gained knowledge, they became ashamed of their nakedness. Think of it; either way, Adam and Eve would have to make a choice. That’s the key, the point; the ability to choose our destiny. Choice is control. Knowledge is power! Think about the 4-Stages of Knowledge; Innocence/Ignorance, Fancy/Dream, Experience and Wisdom
The Egyptians struggled to “live forever” by preserving not only their mortal remains, but the memory of that life as well. The Greeks had very fuzzy borders between gods and men. In fact, many of their gods acted as men and many men became gods. The god possessed immortality but perhaps not much in the brains department. The Romans realized that the deeds and the knowledge of their ancestors paved the way for future generations. As boundless as Man’s knowledge is or can be, the one thing he cannot possess is immortality. What is the promise of the Hereafter?
“Man became man through tools… There is no tool without man and no man without tools; they came into being simultaneously and are indissolubly linked to one another.” Or, so says Ernst Fischer.
Karl Marx on the other hand said, “But what from the very first distinguishes the most in incompetent architect from the best of the bees, is that the architect has built a cell in his head before he constructs it in wax. The labor process ends in the creation of something which, when the process began, already existed in the worker’s imagination, already existed in an ideal form… the worker brings about a change of form in natural objects; at the same time, in the nature that exists apart from himself, he… has to subordinate his own will.”
St. Thomas Aquinas said, Habet homo rationem et manum! “The hand released human reason and produced human consciousness.” Therefore, art is the expression of the human conscious. J. G. Herder said, “Man stepped into the world: what an ocean immediately raged around him! With how great an effort did he learn to distinguish! To recognize his various senses! To rely only on the senses he had recognized.”
Piet Mondrian, the painter, believed in the possible disappearance of art because reality would displace it. Why? Because “it” was a substitute for something not present at the time it was executed. He said, “Art will disappear as life gains more equilibrium.”
What is this equilibrium he spoke of? Was it in regards to when man gains more balance with nature? Does this statement recognize that art too, has a nature and is necessary? Will man ever be in complete balance with nature? If not, will art always then remain necessary? Why does man need art for distraction, as a way to relax or be entertained? What makes human beings respond to the “unreality” of a piece of art as if it were reality itself?
The need to be one with everything. There’s a bad Zen joke that goes like this: How does a Zen Buddhist order a hot dog? “Make me one with everything!” Man needs to be whole and he can never be. Wholeness let us say belongs to the gods. Wholeness is a combination of knowledge and immortality. But, in order to be whole he must become more than just an individual. He can only be whole when he takes possession of the experiences of others. Art allows him to associate, to share experiences and ideas with others. Art allows man to become one with the whole of reality.
Art allows man to absorb himself in (a) reality and on the other hand to control that reality. Art is according to Socialist theory; work. Art is a conscious, rational process, which produces the product of mastered reality. Ernst Fischer, who wrote The Necessity of Art said, “In order to be an artist it is necessary to seize, hold and transform experience into memory, memory into expression, material into form.”
A means of becoming one with the whole of reality
The individual’s way to the world at large
The expression of his desire to identify himself with what he is not
If art is love, is love the answer? Art is conditioned by time and represents humanity through its correspondence of the ideas, aspirations, needs and hopes of a particular point in history. “My nature is to join in love, not hate.” – Antigone by the Greek playwright Aeschylus
Art, then, if I may be so bold, is love. Art enables the “I” to identify (love is identification) with another’s life and make him what he is not, yet is capable of being. “For without that minute residue of (magic) its original nature” says Fischer, “art ceases to be art.” When the magic is gone from the relationship – it’s the same. Or, as Francis Bacon (1561-1626) said, “Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true”
Art is necessary because it has a function. It depicts reality (truth) and singles out beauty. Art is affected and conditioned by time or the cycles of time which include Birth, Growth, Maturity and Death. These four stages affect everything and everyone!
Art developed along with tools and language. Art began as an exercise (copying) in reproduction and replication. Art became associated with the development and perpetuity of myth. Art was one of the earliest forms of magic because it was believed that the spirit of hunted animals could be bonded with by painting them. Art was also used to depict fertility through the use of fetish figures.
Art also helped to develop and identify class and society (natural pecking order based on fertility/strength), created tribal unity by association (identification) and by fostering common belief(s) by creating images and idols. Most belief systems were collective and priests and sorcerers represented the collective.
Art is about imagery. Images are social forms. Images contain or represent power. Images represent symbiotic relationships. Some African tribes, for example, are vague about what is a picture and what is real (some modern children and even adults have the same difficulty). The image is the essence of the spirit. Imagery helps transfer the collective’s (a group’s) beliefs, hopes or needs to prey or to higher powers.
Art plays a very powerful and important part in society. It works for society by performing magic. Art depicts, represents or duplicates what is important to life. What is important to life is crucial to life.
Art evolved with civilization from a collective form or common expression (Homogeneous or single influence) such as folk art to a more socially oriented or class art (Heterogeneous or multiple influences).
Realism was first based on nature (naturalism) and evolved into idealism (focused on beauty). Symbolism and mysticism were byproducts of naturalism. With realism came humanization. With idealism came the opposite effect of dehumanization but not in the sense of being less than human but more so, yet less than gods.
Art is handed down or passed on from master, to pupil, to admirer and copyist. In ancient Egypt, the word sculptor meant he who keeps alive. Art is an integral part of the belief system. Images of gods were used to not only describe outside (natural) forces, they were also used to make those forces more responsive and controllable. Images were also used to invoke, placate or challenge the gods.
Imagery also represents the collective belief and is a projection of the human need to believe or to surrender to some kind of design or purpose when faced by a hostile life or universe. This imagery is supported by (or supports) a mythology. Every culture has a mythology. Except, as the Egyptians believed, the Egyptians.
They believed that their myths were actual truths and part of their history. Mythology is an attempt to understand or interpret the mysteries of life. Mythology is based on belief. It is either a step beyond logic or it is a form of logic. It is both sacred and profane. It sets standards, examples, patterns, sequences, and defines human behavior.
It is part of what Jung described as the collective unconscious. It was this same collective unconscious that gave us the myths of the Cosmic Egg, the Flood, the quest for fire, good and evil (battling monsters), the Ladder to Heaven and the Creation Story. These myths can be found in more than one culture in more than one corner of the earth (on or around the same period of time).
Art was born not only with tools and language but with human consciousness. The consciousness of self and the environment. Consciousness of self allows man to be a change maker.
Three thousand years ago, the foundations of modern culture were laid out through a combination of human skill and natural facts in order to exploit nature. Civilization then, is the creative interaction of humans through (trade and art) a surplus of resources accelerated by high technological achievement (such as travel).
Part of that consciousness recognized the difference between knowledge and immortality. The gods possessed both. Man however, was given a choice between knowledge and immortality. Of what use is knowledge when life is finite? Of what use is knowledge when you have immortality? Man, as the story goes, chose knowledge and has been struggling ever since to be immortal Faced with their mortality, humans had to create or relate to the immortal being(s) that controlled their environment. By doing this, they gained some control or assurance that the cycle of the seasons would continue, fertility would go on unabated and that the sun, indeed, would come up tomorrow.
Art is a reflection of content and form.
Society (or people within a collective) create form(s) or order, based on social consciousness (awareness) or need. Form then, is a social function. Form is primary in society. Content is secondary. Content, however, changes before form does.
Form contains subject, content and the meaning or message. Eventually, classical pagan forms would give way or be incorporated in order to express new (Christian) or altered content. Form is the familiar way society and individuals within that society see or look at their surroundings. The first figurative art (20,000 BCE) were “Venuses” which have been found from the Pyrenees to the Black Sea. Then there was a gradual decline in the production of these objects due to both the Ice Age and declining food sources especially herd populations. These sculptures are both male and female (Venus) with appropriate male and female symbolism.
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