Thursday, September 25, 2008

Art History: What is Art with a capital A?

On the first day of my Art History class, the definition of "Art, capitol A" was challenged. Apparently the modern definition refuses to accept things with aspects to them other than art, such as the Woman of Willendorf. The Woman of Willendorf was probably a religious artifact of some kind that might have been used in ritual or perhaps was a pregnant woman's self portrait.

Woman of Willendorf

Art is apparently to be looked at. Modern Art fits this model with its strange blocky colors slapped onto a canvas and hung in a museum. I'm still trying to familiarize myself with Modern Art, so I don't quite understand it.

After this class, I wrote on my notebook the following:

"Art with a capitol A has been put on a pedestal by so many critics that it's hard to appreciate the artistic value of the simple world. Art the way I see it is therefore broadly unappreciated. With this in mind, Art with a capitol A is, in my opinion, inferior as a presentation of art. Where religious artistic endeavors are multi-purpose, 'Art' only has a solitary purpose."

To expand on that, I look to one of the two pieces that I have been presented with, 'Dancing Hunter' from Catal Hoyuk, one of the pre-Sumerian settlements from about 6000 BCE. I don't have the art history book yet, but I can infer from what I know of the time period and the location that this is probably religious as well, given that in this time almost all art was religious in some fashion. Pagan religions in this time drove humans to make paintings to honor the many thousands of gods or singular god in their religions. This is apparent in the art from Ireland on the stones guarding the Hill of Tara or New Grange from a similar time period.

Dancing Hunter

New Grange is an underground temple in Eastern Ireland that was designed to honor one of the solstices. The temple has stones with spirals all over them around the entrances. These spirals show up in other artistic/religious works of the early Irish pagans. No one quite knows what they mean, but they are definitely religious art.

New Grange

Two aspects of this suggest that the Dancing Hunter is religious to me. First of them is the fact that it exists in the first place. Without the religious drive to create art, most people in these periods of time were more focused on surviving than anything else. The second is the fact that the Hunter is dancing. The dance is probably to celebrate an ancient pagan god. Dancing during the neolithic age was a common religious practice, and I actually don't know of any other reason for dancing in that age. Most areas in which we dance in modern society either didn't exist in that age, or the purpose of celebration was supplanted with honoring their god or gods.

So, considering all this, is the Dancing Hunter Art with a capitol A? Probably not with the religious connotation. It might have been made to look at, or as a house decoration, but that wasn't the sole purpose of it. The painting has a number of other purposes than 'being art'. In my personal opinion, this qualifies as art, or at least artistic.

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