Historical/cultural value of art vs. the artistic value

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Historical/cultural value of art vs. the artistic value

From John Nolan

Published before 2005


Juan wrote:

So, if a painting does not contain one trace of shared signs or symbols (even ones that are, perhaps, long-forgotten such as an Egyptian ankh, or something) that a viewer can recognize without having to have it all explained, then it's just one big "in-joke".

Interesting. This made me think of the ancient Egyptian culture, who for 1000s of years created images that were technically (in light of a naturalistic approach) weak in their representation of forms. I do not know a whole lot about the history of Egyptian painting, but it seems as if they really tried to beautify their buildings with their paintings. Perhaps the reasons were strictly narrative (recording events of their history and what they imagined in the after-life). We see their work in museums and have no problem finding (at least mild) interest in their art. This is probably mostly due to the historic an cultural interest.

The Byzantines, who represented the dominant artistic expression for 100s of years, also created works that were technically naive (especially in light of the "teachers" (Greeks and Romans) that came before them). Their art primarily served and was stylized according to their views about worship. I think their forms are weak, but they served their purpose at the time for their worship and leave us a fascinating record of their culture.

I wonder, were the Roman and French descendants of the classical era sitting around saying, "Man, I can't believe people (Byzantines) actually create this stuff and display it publically in their homes and buildings. Classical art is so much better."

Many on this list would say, "Man, I can't believe people (Modernists) actually create this stuff and display it publically in their homes and buildings (and museums). Classical art is so much better."

Looking at Egyptian art now gives us much insight into their culture.
Looking at Byzantine art now gives us much insight into their culture.
Looking at Modernist art now gives us much insight into our culture.

It is interesting to consider the historical/cultural value of art vs. the artistic value. Egyptian and Byzantine art is weak in form, but I'm glad it's in museums for me to learn about their cultures. Modern art is weak in form, but I HATE that is in museums ... because I am ashamed about what it says about our 20th century culture. There was no more depressing time for me than when I strolled into the Whitney 1 time out of curiosity. It was the most wasted 10 minutes of my life to go through all, what, 7 floors? looking for good art. I wonder if posterity will find any appreciation for our current art when it looks back at our culture as I now look back at the Egyptians and Byzantines.

-- John