According to Nigel Spivey, “we humans are alone in developing the capacity for symbolic imagery (art).” Art, therefore, separates humans from animals, because animals don’t create observations or perspectives of life. To build upon BBC’s How Art Made the World, a five-part documentary series looking at the influence of art on today’s life, we will explore further the many disciplines of art. Let’s first discuss how painting has shaped and influenced our lives.
Painting is the practice of applying paint, pigment, color, or other medium to a surface. Paintings are creative expressions or observations of moral dilemmas, religion, politics, emotions, humor, life experiences, awareness, and beauty. The history of painting dates back to pre-historic humans from artifacts found and spans all cultures—therefore, it’s universal to us humans.
The oldest known paintings are cave paintings from Grotte Chauvet in France ca. 32,000 B.C. depicting images of large mammals from the area—horses, rhinoceros, buffalo, and mammoths that were often hunted. Interesting, these same types of cave paintings have been found all over the world—India, Spain, China, Australia, etc. These were probably observations of daily life as hunter and gatherers with appreciation of these great creatures.
From the conception of painting over 30,000 years ago until the early 20th century, it’s doubtful any other form of communication had a greater impact on a society’s thinking and ideas than painting. Before the 20th century, much of the world was illiterate. Paintings, however, could be interpreted regardless of one’s illiteracy. People of power quickly understood this and, therefore, many used and exploited paintings for their benefit—propagating power, fear, glory, duty, justice, protection or love to the public. As the art of painting evolved over time, more-and-more complex messages could be conveyed to the public through paintings.
Images (paintings) dominate our lives. They tell us how to behave, even how to feel. They mold and define us. But why do these images, the pictures, symbols and the art we see around us every day, have such a powerful hold on us? The answer lies not here in our time but thousands of years ago. Because when our ancient ancestors first created the images that made sense of their world, they produced a visual legacy which has helped to shape our own.
Perhaps no other organization used paintings more effectively than the Catholic Church. Even with a mostly illiterate population over thousands of years, the Catholic Church was able to communicate what the bible stated with countless paintings of stories from the bible, culminating with the ceiling paintings of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City by Michelangelo—telling the story of the creation of Adam, the exodus from Egypt, and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church’s expertise and brilliance with its art paintings surely has contributed to the success of Christianity…so we can say, paintings have surely greatly influenced our lives and the world we live in.
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