Art has often been used as a means to inform, to educate, and to inspire, and the religious works that we have viewed have been traditionally used for these purposes. In addition to those, we need to consider the many forms than have long been used to provide information for secular, or non religious, purposes as well as those that have emerged more recently.
Perhaps the first would be the creation of scrolls and book forms, both of which occurred very early, the exact dates of which are indeterminate. We know the Egyptians created a form of paper made from flexible papyrus stems they rolled into scrolls and the Romans developed the codex form of books we use today, although each of these forms is also known to have been used by others. The Egyptians developed their system of writing in hieroglyphs, abstracted pictures that represent words or sounds, around 3,400 BCE. Literacy and writing was restricted among the Egyptians to highly educated scribes. (Figure 6.17) By around the first century BCE, the Romans had formalized a system of tiered education, that is, progressing through grades based on age and development of skills. Although formal schooling was generally reserved to those who could afford it, education was not restricted to any particular class or group. While the ancient Chinese used paper and printing methods from as early as the first century, these did not appear in the Western world for centuries afterwards. The invention of the printing press and movable type by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in 1439 was truly momentous, as both written and pictorial forms could then be replicated and dispersed widely. (Figures 6.18 and 6.19)
The advent of photography beginning in the 1830s considerably broadened the potential dissemination of information. Photography’s use in printed matter developed, and is notable for, the journalistic approach and documentary features it brought to newspapers and magazines in the early twentieth century that continue to this day. The graphic arts presented new means and a new arena for artists and also for the spread of information. Of course, at the same time, the potential for manipulation of these means resulted in the spread of a great wealth of material of dubious accuracy and purpose. Misinformation is spread as easily as information, so the need to critically evaluate the material and ideas you gather is increasingly important if you seek truth from art.
The early and mid-twentieth century brought us movies and television. From the late twentieth century to the present, the growth of visual media has greatly expanded the possibilities to the point that we are constantly bombarded with data we must assess with regard to its truth and value. The possibilities for gathering information and for using artistic means to inform are now broad and deep, and provide us with richly enticing and inspirational imagery for our viewing, thinking, learning, and art-making of all types.