by Umair Mirxa @DastaanWorld
Once upon a time, some 70,000 years ago in Blombos Cave on the Southern Cape coastline of South Africa, one of our prehistoric ancestors drew a cross-hatch pattern, engraving it in ochre. We don’t know who did it or why but it remains the earliest example of abstract or symbolic art available to us.
History of Art
Examples of human art can be traced back to the Stone Age, when creative works included engraved and/or painted shells and stones. Cave painting was developed during the Paleolithic era when hunter-gatherer humans lived in caves. The production of handicrafts, however, began with the dawn of the Neolithic period. The history of art begins here.
The oldest known example of figurative art of a zoomorphic figure is the Löwenmensch figurine. It is also known as the Lion-man of the Hohlenstein-Stadel. The figurine is dated to around 40,000 years ago, and was found in Germany in 1939.
The Venus of Hohle Fels, a mammoth ivory figurine, was found near Schelklingen, Germany in 2008. It dates to between 35,000 and 40,000 years ago. It is the oldest known example of figurative art of a human figure.
Cave paintings and carvings made in bones and stones have been found from across the Paleolithic ear. They are found around the world, in southern Africa, Australia, western Mediterranean, Central and Eastern Europe, India, and Siberia. The art includes both abstract and naturalistic pictures, including animal paintings and sculptures of feminine figures.
Neolithic art evolved to include schematic paintings which represented women in triangular shapes and men in the rough forms of a cross. New materials were used, including amber, crystal, and jasper, and Cardium Pottery was first produced. Engraved and painted pottery, including bowls and vessels, made of ceramic, clay, and even gold have been found from this era, in addition to amulets and figurines.
Once great civilizations such as Sumer, Egypt, and the Indus Valley had arisen, art began to coincide with writing, particularly in the form of cuneiform and hieroglyphic writing. Art was now also incorporated into architecture, especially in Mesopotamia, while relief sculptures in wood and stone were developed during this era.
In Egypt, there were elaborate works of art produced by professional artists with specialized skills. The Greeks built on that foundation, producing exquisite paintings, sculptures, and ceramics as well as using art in their architecture. The ancient Romans, in turn, brought a unique realism to their art and architecture, even if they were inspired by more idealized Greek works.
Evolution of Art
The decline of the Roman Empire gave rise to the Medieval era, beginning with early Christian art. A lot of religious art was produced over the next millenium by Muslims, Goths, Vikings, Byzantines, and the Anglo-Saxons.
The beginning of the Renaissance marked a return by artists to the valuation of the material world. Landscapes in this era were painted in three-dimensional reality, and works of art portrayed the corporeality of the human body. It is the age of da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Donatello, Botticelli, Vasari, Bosch, and Vermeer. It is, perhaps, the greatest age in the history of art.
Islamic art both introduced new styles and built upon existing ones with hereto unprecedented ideas. Calligraphy and geometric designs became the vogue. This was particularly because some branches of Islam forbid depictions of humans and other sentient beings.
There is no clear marker for when modern art began but a good estimation is from the middle-to-late 19th century, particularly with the advent of Impressionism, Realism, and Symbolism. This is the age of van Gogh, Monet, de Goya, Munch, and Gauguin.
The 20th century, in turn, brought Fauvism, Cubism, Surrealism, and Expressionism among others. Pablo Picasso was at the peak of powers in this age, as well as Matisse, Derain, Duchamp, and Braque.
Globalization, and rapid advanced in science and technology, brought myriad changes to the world of art, not the least of which is digital painting and sculpture. Cultures came together, giving rise to unprecedented ideas and works of art, music, and architecture.
Art can be viewed today in forms and mediums unavailable at any other stage in the history of art. From Disney’s hand-drawn motion pictures to Pixar’s computer-graphics generated animation, and from 3D viewing to Virtual Reality devices, art continues to explore worlds da Vinci himself could only have imagined in his wildest dreams.