1.6.1 The Structure of Art: Form and Design
In order to read this you have spent considerable time and effort learning individual letters, combinations that form a word, the structure of a sentence, and the organization of multiple sentences to move from one idea to the next. You use all of those skills to make sense of and understand the written word. And from there, you can introduce your own ideas, knowledge, and experiences to expand upon and bring additional meanings to what you have read.
We follow a similar process in learning how to look at and understand art. In Chapter Two: The Structure of Art–Form and Design, we will first define forms of art and the materials and processes used in creating them. We will then examine the elements of art, such as line, color, and form, as well as the principles of design, or how those elements are combined to create a composition. With this new vocabulary we can better understand and talk about what we are looking at, enriching our experiences interacting with art and architecture in the world around us.
1.6.2 Significance of Materials Used in Art
One of the basic choices in creating any work of art is the material from which it will be made. The materials might make it more or less important, more or less valuable, or might bring a variety of associations not inherent in the actual form of the work. In Chapter Three: Significance of Materials Used in Art, we will examine both the monetary value and the cultural value of works of art based upon the media—the materials—employed, and some of the many sources from which those values are determined.
1.6.3 Describing Art: Formal Analysis, Types, and Styles
Taking the building blocks of the vocabulary we built in reading Chapter Two: The Structure of Art–Form and Design, in Chapter Four: Describing Art: Formal Analysis, Types, and Styles we will discuss how to critically analyze, or systematically describe, a work of art. We will examine the elements and principles of its design, the category in which it falls based on the relative representation of the natural world, and how we might group that work with others, or the work of other artists based on its appearance, or style. These tools not only help us learn more about the work of art, they enhance our appreciation of art by providing us with a greater understanding of the individual work’s components and its relationship with art in the same or other cultures and time periods.
1.6.4 Meaning in Art: Socio-Cultural Contexts, Symbolism, and Iconography
Studying the historical, social, personal, political, or scientific reasons a work of art was made provides us with further, and key, information in understanding its meaning and symbolism. A work of art is part of the culture in which it was made; all artists, even those who wish to rebel against some aspect of the time in which they live, are influenced (and perhaps constrained) by the world around them. In Chapter Five: Meaning in Art– Socio-Cultural Context, Symbolism, and Iconography, we will consider the many factors that influence the creation and our comprehension of works of art. And, we will explore meanings within a work, its symbolism, as a way of providing us with deeper understanding of what the work meant within the culture it was made.
1.6.5 Connecting Art to Our Lives
For art to have meaning, it must have some connection to us and our lives. Artists and those who hire them to create works of art have myriad reasons for doing so. In Chapter Six: Connecting Art to Our Lives, we will first look at aesthetics, the study of the principles and appreciation of beauty in art, from an historical perspective to gain an understanding of another way in which the value of art has traditionally been determined. We will also explore roles that art plays: it can be a means of expression, a symbol of inclusion or exclusion, a tool of communication, or a medium of education. When we find our connection to a work of art, we are engaged with and enriched by it.
1.6.6 Form in Architecture
Human beings have created a wide variety of architecture forms from pre-historic times to the present across the entire world. The continuous presence of architecture in human history indicates the vital and numerous roles structures play for both the individual and the society in which they are made. In Chapter Seven: Form in Architecture, we will examine purpose, function, and meaning in design and construction of sites and buildings within a variety of cultures. What can the history of constructed forms tell us about the needs, beliefs, and principles of our near and distant ancestors? Answering these questions sheds light on the role of architecture throughout history, as well as how it functions in our own time.
1.6.7 Art and Identity
Often today, when we think of art and identity, we are referring to the artist’s identity, and what we mean is the artist’s personal identity and what the artist is trying to communicate on a personal level. The notion of personal identity quickly expands, however, to include aspects that link the artist to others with similar characteristics, such as gender, ethnicity, spiritual beliefs, and nationality. From there, we can begin to talk about identity within a clan, culture, nation, and other groups that share like traits and properties.
In Chapter Eight: Art and Identity, we will look at how notions of identity influence artists and the art they create. Whether artists are attempting to express individual, private feelings, or capture the personality of a nation, they must first define what the characteristics are and determine how those chosen will be represented in the work of art. We will look at these visualizations of identity in a variety of forms, from small hand-held objects to large-scale works of architecture, to discuss the impact of materials, size, and audience. And, we will examine the circumstances surrounding the creation of these objects to investigate the role social, religious, and political forces play in defining and assigning identity in art.
1.6.8 Art and Power
Throughout history, art has been used as a means of communication by those in power. When rulers commission depictions of themselves, for example, they may or may not want them to be recognizable portraits, but the sculpture or painting will certainly communicate what the ruler wants those who see the work to know about the ruler’s position, wealth, and attributes, that is, indications of the ruler’s power. These signs of power can be used to reassure the ruler’s own people or to warn potential adversaries of the forces at the ruler’s disposal. Rulers and others in authority have the ability to enlarge a show of power beyond a bodily display of physical strength and dominance to more potent and permanent monuments such as murals, sculpture, and buildings.
The power of art extends far beyond uses by those in control. Art can be used to build influence, increase leverage, and give hope to those who possess little authority. It can be used as a form of protest against those in command. And, it can be used to induce change. In Chapter Nine: Art and Power, we will look at art as a tool to comment upon and garner power, and as a means of communicating power and power relations. We will identify common visual strategies, and note similarities and differences over time and in different cultures
1.6.9 Art and Ritual Life: Symbolism of Space and Ritual Objects
Human beings possess the ability to project our thoughts forward to speculate about what will happen in our future. We can contemplate our own mortality and reflect on existence beyond our own lives. Doing so can plunge us into despair or elevate us to heights of exultation. In times of desperation, art can serve as a talisman, an object believed to have power to bring luck or offer protection, against those things or events we fear in hope the occurrence can be warded off. In the case of the inevitable, such as sickness and death, art is used to give comfort to the suffering and solace to the survivors. We also employ art to pay tribute to what we cherish and honor; with works made of the finest materials, crafted with ingenuity and the utmost skill we give expression not only to our fears, but also to our hopes.
In Chapter Ten: Art and Ritual Life–Symbolism of Space and Ritual Objects, we will look at how art helps us to understand ourselves as mortal creatures, and the role it plays in our spiritual lives as we strive to locate meaning and purpose in existence as a finite or infinite concept.
1.6.10 Art and Ethics
Art can introduce us to new ideas, and it can influence what we think about ourselves and others. Art informs us and it can change us. Does this potential for tremendous impact place an obligation upon the artist, the photojournalist, or the museum curator to act under certain guidelines of originality or truthfulness, for example? If so, how do we define what original art is, and whose truth are we telling?
Chapter Eleven: Art and Ethics introduces us to some of the issues facing artists and others in the world of art in how they present themselves and their art.