It can be a painting in a museum or a sculpture in a park. Or maybe a movie that knocks your socks off. It can be a painted Chinese screen, an African mask, a Persian rug, or ancient Egyptian jewelry. Or a photo that captures a moment in history. It might be a construction made out of automobile parts. It’s all art.
WHAT IS ART?
We call lots of things art today. We use the term visual arts to describe the arts we can see. Painting, sculpture, and architecture have long been the major visual arts in Europe and North America. Today, we include photography, furniture, pottery, jewelry, and many other arts and crafts among the visual arts.
Sometimes we speak of the fine arts—other forms of expression that appeal to our sense of beauty and form. This broader category includes literature, music, and dance, in addition to the visual arts.
PAINTING, SCULPTURE, AND ARCHITECTURE
Painting, sculpture, and architecture have all been around for a long time. We tend to consider them the most important forms of art.
People painted and drew on the walls of caves during the Stone Age, as long as 32,000 years ago. They made pictures of animals—probably the animals they hunted for food.
Over time, artists started painting different subjects. They painted landscapes, portraits of people, religious figures, and still lifes (fruit, flowers, and other objects that don’t move).
Sculpture is as old as painting. The first sculptures we know about are small human figures. The human figure remained the most popular subject of sculpture until the 20th century. Today, sculptors are concerned more with the materials of sculpture than with subjects. They even make sculptures out of junk and other objects they find lying around.
Architecture is both an art and a science—the art and science of making buildings. Rulers and religions are responsible for putting up some of the most impressive buildings in the world. Rulers built magnificent palaces to display their wealth and power. Religions need churches, mosques, temples, and other structures as places of worship. Religious buildings also celebrate the mysteries of religion.
WHY DO WE MAKE ART?
Everybody likes to draw, swoosh paint around with their fingers or a brush, or model things out of clay. The desire to make art is universal. People make art everywhere, and they seem to have been doing it for as long as they’ve been around.
One of the main reasons for making art is pleasure. We enjoy making art and we enjoy looking at it. We find beauty in art, and that gives us pleasure. We also admire the skill and imagination that go into making art.
Art has served other purposes, too. Think about portraits—pictures of people. Before there were cameras, a portrait was how people remembered someone who wasn’t there.
Portraits of rulers made them look powerful to impress their subjects. History paintings reminded people of victories in battle and other important events. Sculptures also commemorated rulers and victories.
Before many people could read, art instructed and educated. For example, stained glass windows in churches were meant to teach people stories in the Bible. Many paintings from the past show religious scenes.
NEW IDEAS ABOUT ART
Our ideas about art changed during the 1900s. Technology expanded our notions of art. Photographs and film are new kinds of art that developed from new inventions. Today, people also create art on computers.
Artists also changed our ideas about art. In 1913, French artist Marcel Duchamp put a bicycle wheel on display in an art gallery. Nobody considered it art at the time. But Duchamp claimed it was art because he said so.
What did Duchamp mean? He meant that he had changed how we look at the bicycle wheel by putting it in a gallery. We could now see the wheel as a beautiful object, not just as a bicycle part. He turned other everyday objects into art to make people look at things differently.
Some artists decided to get rid of subject matter. They focused instead on shapes, lines, colors, and other elements of art. These artists made what we call abstract art. You can’t see objects in abstract art. But you can respond to colors and shapes. Perhaps they make you feel happy or sad.
Art museums also broadened our ideas of art. They began to display the arts that add beauty to our homes and our bodies. These so-called decorative arts include furniture, pottery, glass, fashion, and jewelry.
AT THE ART MUSEUM
Don’t try to take in too much when you visit a museum. You’ll just get tired. Find something you like to look at. Make comparisons.
Perhaps you like a particular color. Compare paintings to see how different artists have used that color. Look for that color in other kinds of art—for example, in rugs and pottery. What other colors do artists put with your color? Does your color get brighter or dimmer as a result?
Maybe you like art with animals. Pick an animal and find it in different paintings, carvings, weavings, or pots. Has the artist made you see things about the animal you’ve never noticed before?
Source: Microsoft ® Encarta