Art and Music in HistoryBy John Schlismann
Art and music has always been an integral part of any society; no matter how basic and primitive or complex and advanced. Art is the cultural output of a society that reflects its attitudes, values, morals, and what it considers ideal and beautiful. Art truly is one of the great measures of a civilization and is a window into what a particular culture thought and valued.
The first art forms that we have recorded go back to ancient times before the classical eras of Greeks and Romans. Venus of Willendorf is estimated to have been created in 20,000 B.C. and is a crude statue which probably represents female fertility. Five thousand years later artistic drawings are created on a cave wall in what is now modern-day France. The art shows animals moving in their natural environment. The first major artists in which we have an extensive amount of work were the Ancient Egyptians. There construction of temples, pyramids, sphinxes are all amazing for a time 2500 years before Christ. Much of there artistic accomplishments stand and can be seen today in museums and the Desert. The most recognized form of ancient art would be the Greek and Roman style which produced stunning temples, coliseums. The ancients were most noted for the architectural achievements. Not much is known about ancient music because nothing survived as record of there achievements. Speculation was that the music was probably folksy and lively depending on the area in which it was played. The ancients set the stage for artistic masters to come.
With the coming of Christianity the arts has a new patron, and the Christian Church and its theology will become the dominate subject of the majority of the artistic and musical creations over the next 1000 years. The influence of Christendom was first observed in the Roman period but not until the Medieval and Romanesque periods did Christianity completely dominate Western art. In music the Church put together different monophonic chants such as the Gregorian chant to celebrate Mass. The composers are unknown and there rhythms derived from Latin texts. The Gothic period started in 1100AD and continued until 1400AD. The greatest achievements of this period would be in architecture. The Gothic Cathedral becomes an icon of the Church’s power with its new style including elements such as the pointed arch, the pinnacle, flying buttress, nave, and double aisle. Artwork is almost exclusively controlled by the church and the era brought forth such masterpieces as The Annunciation by Simone Martini, Lamination of Christ by Giotto di Bondone. The music of the Gothic era developed into polyphony and the organum was developed. The Gothic era brought to a close the virtual total control the church had over the arts.
Art reached completely new heights when it was able to break away from the strict controls of the Church in the Renaissance period from 1400-1600. The greatest artists and sculptors in history such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci came from the Renaissance. Much of the art was still religious in nature as shown in many of Michelangelo’s works but artists like Leonardo were breaking away at times from strictly religious painting as shown in his Mona Lisa. Artists used the same basics as the Gothic artists when it came to line, space, color and formal organization but the humanistic movement of the renaissance brought a whole new aspect to the arts. Humanism brought a different organization of the basic elements of art as used during the Gothic period. Renaissance artists used linear perspective and their colors were brilliantly polychromatic in their paintings. An important tenant held by many renaissance artists was that art must be true to nature. The obsession these artists had with accuracy, creativity and the aesthetic ideal led to one of the most important and beautiful artistic eras of history.
The Baroque and Rococo periods immediately followed the Romantic era, and were full of ornamentation and artistic excess. The term baroque (from Portuguese barroco) translates into “pearl of irregular form”. The Baroque period produced such artists as Rembrandt and new uses of shadowing and color became very apparent in paintings. The artistic excess of the Baroque was mostly seen in its architecture which was thought of as an inferior overly ornamentation laden copy of the Renaissance style. The music of the Baroque period emphasized “melodies that were broad and sing able, and harmonies which were rich and full of Pathos. The Baroque period saw the expansion of the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. Artists such as Rembrandt van Rign were Protestant and Peter Paul Rubens was instrumental in the Catholic response. Great composers such as Handel and Bach came out of this period.
Following the excessiveness of the Baroque came the Classical period which only lasted about fifty years but produced some of the greatest musical talent in History. The Classical period was in response to the excessiveness of the Baroque and stressed perfection of form. Great composers such as Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart came from this era. The classical ideal of perfection of form was exhibited in art, architecture and music. The artistic and architectural accomplishments of the period are not terribly significant other than it inspired the Romantic period as a response. New instruments become commonplace such as the piano, the violin, viola, cello ect… The Classical period’s emphasis on perfection, led to some of the most beautiful music in history.
The Romantic period saw a great surge in creativity in the artistic realm and the music just kept on evolving into the beautiful works of Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Verdi. The romantic era was one of emotion as the world was going through crisis and change. The Romantic artists emphasized freedom and free expression. Many of the paintings showed revolutionary scenes such as Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading People” painting created in 1831. Following the Romantic period was the Impressionist period which was mainly concerned with how light affected color in painting. A lot of landscapes were painted and the artist tried to increase the Romantic effort to create feeling. Famous impressionist artists include Monet, Manet, and Renoir.
After the Impressionist movement the Modernistic movement starts the focus of the artist is on creating things that are new and unique in both music and art. Much of the art is basic and tries to represent emotions and the events that are going on in our technological society.
Art and music throughout the ages has gone through many different stages of development and has had its peaks and downfalls. This class has given me a better understanding of the history of the arts and what I consider to be aesthetically pleasing. I look forward to learning more and will continue to develop artistic appreciation as I expose myself to the arts.
About the Author: John Schlismann has an interest in Art History for more info check out the Art Institute Web Site: http://www.artic.edu/