Learning About Art

A while back, I wrote a post in which I contemplated studying the great works of art. My determination fizzled out after a second post in which I asked several questions about art. But I can’t get the idea out of my head. And so I’ve decided to proceed.

To begin, I checked a book on art out of the library. Based on the title, it seemed to have been written just for me — Art History for Dummies, by Jesse Bryant Wilder, MA, MAT, Art Critic and Arts Writer. (That’s all part of the by-line.) As a rule, I’ve avoided the “… for Dummies” and “Idiot’s Guide to …” books, but in this case, I qualify.

So far, I’ve read the introduction and the chapters dealing with primitive art, the Egyptians and the Greeks. Here’s what I’ve discovered:

An art movement is “launched intentionally by a small group of artists who want to promote or provoke change.” Art periods are “not driven by conscious choice on the part of the artists.” In other words, as I understand it, movements are when a group of artists try to change the culture and periods are when a group of artists reflect their culture.

Art includes the following design elements:

  • Pattern — lines, colors, shapes, lights and shadows that create consistency and unity.
  • Rhythm — a “visual beat” that makes your eyes move from “hot color to cool color, from light to shadow, or from a wavy line to a straight one.”
  • Balance — the distribution of visual weight.
  • Contrast — the preserving and upsetting of balance with lines, shapes and colors.
  • Emphasis — “something that stands out from the rest of the artwork.”

Make of that what you will. In the book, examples were given that made it all a little easier to understand.

The first art, the author confidently states, was painted on the walls of caves. (For your reading enjoyment, I’ll leave out all the evolutionary musings and digs at biblical history.) Since the dudes who painted on cave walls aren’t around to interpret them for us, the experts have given it a shot. They conclude that the paintings were “sympathetic magic, kind of like voodoo. The idea is that if you paint a picture of a creature, then you have power over it.” This seems to be consistent with the evolutionary view that humans were more ignorant in earlier periods of history.

I have my own theories. During long, cold winters, cave dwellers sat around looking at pictures on their walls, much like we do. Cave paintings were simply primitive television. Either that (and I really prefer this theory), the tribal leader would call a meeting to discuss the strategy for the next big woolly mammoth hunt. One guy, who wasn’t at his best in meetings, did what many of us who aren’t at our best in meetings do in meetings — he sat in the back of the room and doodled on the only available surface.

You now know as much about art as I do. More to come in a future post.

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