National Gallery of Art - Washington DC
Classic lines, colors, patterns, complex yet simple linear and predictable gentle curves. Archaeologists now tell us that many of the ancient works of sculpture that we think of as stone, were at one time painted in vivid colors, colors long lost to time. Would we feel the same about the Freeze of the Parthenon if we saw it in the original colors? Or would we think of it as gaudy folk art, or comical art? The creation of art in a society that was largely illiterate raises a ton of questions and theories. An important starting point, is that wide spread literacy is a relatively modern concept. Prior to the industrial revolution the vast majority of people in Europe and North America had little formal education. Representational art was a way of conveying beauty, but also a way of communicating messages to those who could not read, or had a limited ability to read, and very limited access to printed materials even if they could read. Books were a luxury item 200 years ago. Art has always served the purpose of conveying beauty - of striving to stir the soul of the viewer, but can also serve the dual purpose of communicating a message. The painting of Washington Crossing the Delaware shows the hardship and bravery of Washington and his troops at Valley Forge that critical winter, but it is also a beautiful work of art, showing extraordinary composition, a romanticized rendering of the scene and amazing use of color. It is a moving work of art, that even if you didn't know the story behind it, would still effect the viewer. This raises a question on ancient art, we see the beauty, but what are missing by not knowing if there is a story behind it? Not all art has a story behind it, but some does. Do we need to know the story to fully appreciate the art? it also raises a question on modern art, is art created in a literate information age society, still dual purpose? Is modern art, art for beauty without a need to communicate a message? Maybe yes, maybe no.