Monday, May 20, 2024 | Dhu al-Qaadah 11, 1445 H
clear sky
34°C / 34°C

It has been omni-present, but what is art?

Ray Petersen
Ray Petersen

Edgar Degas wrote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” Having helped my wife Lena discover new artistic avenues of expression during our New Zealand vacation, I understand exactly what he meant.

We will all have looked at some artwork at some time or another and thought, “What on earth is that all about?” if that happens, the artist has achieved his primary objective, if Degas is to be right.

Art though, if we look a little deeper, has always had a purpose, and not always simply to entertain, but as much to foster creativity, reinforce critical thinking and develop problem-solving skills to ease our way through life.

Prehistoric cave art has never been an art ‘movement’ as such, but more, according to Charles Moffat, as a precursor to writing, a means of recording the functionality of those earlier civilisations, passing on knowledge, in a “pay it forward,” sense. He says too though, that there is a touch of both realism and abstraction that indicates individuality, and imagination, which are demonstrated in the famous ‘Venus of Willendorf’ fertility statuette, which is 17,000 years old, and was discovered in Southern France.

Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Greek and Hellenic art took man through the period from 5,000 years ago to the time of the Romans. Those civilisations revelled in their deities and their leaders, perpetuating the latter in both life and death, generally through sculptured busts that emphasised the perfection of the human form, whether it was accurate or not, but with precise facial characteristics to appease the vanity of the leadership of the time.

The Roman Empire certainly glorified itself, and its people, but was also the first to develop artistic expression through its architecture. It was the first to use marble extensively, and the Emperor Augustus said of Rome, “I found it a city of bricks, and left it a city of marble.”

Islamic and Byzantian art began in 476 AD and formed an instantaneous response to the restrictions on imagery, but are there for us to see in their earliest forms by way of the Hagia Sophia, which started life as a Basilica, but in the 1400s was transformed into the iconic religious monument it is today, and the Alhambra (Qalat Al Hamra), conceived and built for the royal Spanish Court.

The European Middle Ages almost reflected the misery of the times, with the ‘Black Death’ a portent of those grim days, and it is no surprise that the subsequent artistic revelations of Michelangelo, DaVinci, Donatello and the like were referred to as an artistic ‘renaissance’. Here, colours and form, or humanism, again became important, and impetuosity ruled, or as Raphael wrote, “When one is painting, one does not think.”

Baroque, neo-classicism, romanticism, realism, impressionism, expressionism, surrealism and post-modernism, and many other artistic movements have since appeared in so many forms, and the artists’ imaginations have pushed every imaginable boundary, but it is our individual responses to the art that shape our own visions of what art is, or has become.

Just think back for a moment to the first time you saw a Picasso, and probably reeled in horror at the thought that someone would pay a fortune for that rubbish. Yet seeing the same picture today, you will almost certainly look at the same picture differently.

And even the ultra-modern concept of ‘tagging’ type art installations of the new age ‘Banksy’ genre, make social comment, but are interpreted so differently by each of us.

So. What is art? It’s different things to different people, but Meg

Biram put it beautifully, “I think everything in life is art, what you like, how you dress, the way you love someone, and how you talk, you smile, and your personality. It’s what you believe in, and all your dreams, the way you drink your tea, and how you decorate your home, or party. Your grocery list, the food you make, how your writing looks, and the way you feel. Life is art!”

Ray Petersen

arrow up
home icon