In prehistoric times, humans had no sense of what art as we know it today really meant. Drawings and sculpture were used as a means of recording the surplus commodities during times of trade in ancient civilization. The Near East, Egypt, Rome and Greece were amongst the first city-states that began creating forms of art through architecture, ceramics, sculpture and mosaics. The purposes of these forms of art were to show the opulence and splendor of these cities in the greatest times of antiquity and to reassure a timeless continuity; which as a result later brought along the birth of ‘art for art’s sake’. The term ‘art for art’s sake’ means art that is created for the means of what Milan Kundera coins ‘the disposition of sensible or intelligent matter for an aesthetic end’.
During the early Renaissance, with discourses such as philosophy, medicine, science and theology sprouting, artists idealized and romanticized biblical or mythological scenes and figures through the fine mastery of the art of painting. Sculpture was mainly reserved for biblical figures, and made for churches. What was happening in society in relation to art during that time was that the Royal families reigning would commission to have their own portraits painted. The vastly epic works by Michelangelo and Da Vinci were mostly depicting religious figures, so for Royal families’ portraits to hang along the likes of paintings portraying Jesus and other biblical figures symbolized many hidden meanings of power and riches. These portraits were also the beginning of artists mimicking actual human forms and faces which lead to paintings such as the Mona Lisa and various other self-portraits to follow.
I am not excluding many other art genres that were going on around Europe such as the sculptures of the 17th Century, Baroque architecture, all leading up to Neoclassicism. I am simply omitting them on basis of what is relevant to my writing, henceforth I forward a century of art not particularly relevant to my discussion.
The creation of art works by Caravaggio, Goya, Delacroix and Turner were artists whose works turned a new leave depicting everyday people, landscapes and events. Later on in the 1800’s Schools of Art started sprouting around Europe. These schools developed a new kind of artist. An artist that now had the possibility to draw inspiration from the world around them, and no longer a world that existed only in a biblical or mythological sense. It was highly controversial, because up until then art was reserved for a certain class, and depicted only a certain subject. But it lead to the creation of Realism around 1850. Industrialization saw radical changes and growth for other cities and classes, and art had a new subject: man – the everyday man. Artists portrayed the everyday mundane social and working activities of the middle class. Manet and Courbet painted reality, that which was relevant to the peasant worker and plebe.
Because the Royal families still held power and money, when the first Salons were opened, they were the sole choosers of which paintings would be showcased. But with the revolution happening, art became for the people. And with the middle class now having access to art, it was a major breakthrough for what art as a commodity meant. The middle class attend café’s, races, and Salons. In the 1860’s – 1890’s in Paris especially, artists wanted to depict these pleasurable leisure’s of the modern world, and no longer the mundane activities as been done before.
So Impressionism meant exactly what it alludes to: the artist taking its impression of how he or she saw something and exactly depicting it so. Late-Impressionism and Postimpressionism further broke the molds of what and how objects and subjects within art should represent. Because art is ever-evolving, discourses started to exist rapidly and resulted in various movements in art to form.
In the 20th Century, the art world saw the minds of Matisse, Andy Warhol, and arguably the greatest artist of all time, Picasso. Art had come a long way since Neolithic times, and it was through the minds of these artists that all preconceived notions of art was further pushed in a whole new direction. The Impressionist gave artist the freedom to draw inspiration from how light fell on an object, and how the eye would then see it. Nabis, Fauvism, Cubism, Dadaism drew inspiration from colour. The aims of these movements is as Maurice Denis sums it up “to remember that a picture, before being a horse, a nude or some kind of story, is essentially a flat surface covered with colours arranged in a certain order”.
Cubist and Futurist artists’, who found themselves in the midst of a technological revolution, embraced the commercial concepts such as mass media and commodities and reflected it in their work. Inebriated by modern life, these artists translated that ideology into manifestos for their art movements. The result? Art, no longer with the notion of plain impression or imitation; but a debunking and demolishment of traditional art representation resulting in an iconoclastic appeal that evoked public reaction and inspired a new world of Avant-Garde thinking that is Modern Art. Because now, art can mean a photograph, a video game, an illustration, graffiti, heck even a shark in a glass display (thanks Damien Hirst): anything that is visceral, confrontational and enigmatic. Art is no longer for arts sake, and so it was introduced to the global economic market of the 21th Century.