Saturday, June 18, 2011

Art Fundamentals

Elements and Principles of Art and the Processes Used to Create Art

Art History

  • Art Historians are academics who study the art works of different cultures
  • by doing so they attempt to gain an understanding of the social, cultural and economic contexts in which the artworks were created

There are two ways by which art historians analyze artwork.  
  1. Formal analysis - focuses on the use of elements and principles in the artwork to understand its meaning  
  2. Contextual analysis - involves looking outside of the artwork and examining the social, cultural, religious and economic contexts in which the artwork was produced, and also the later contexts in which it continued to be consumed, inorder to understand the meaning of the artwork
It is important to note that although formal and contextual analysis take different paths of analyzing the artwork, they are both tools used for understanding the meaning of the artwork and the contexts in which it fits in.


1) Old Stone Age

  • Earliest artworks are the cave paintings found in Chauvet Cave located in France that date back to 30,000 BCE
  • Paintings of animals in red tempra and black charcoal 

Chauvet Cave depiction of animals 

  • The oldest sculptures found are female figures with exaggerated bellies, breasts, and pubic areas which are dated back to 28,000 BCE
  • The most famous of these is the Venus of Willendorf
Venus of Willendorf

  • In a different cave, Lascaux, the first outlines of human hands were discovered that date back to 13,000 - 11,000 BCE
  • An straw like tool was used by the cave people to create blow paint around their hands inorder to create an outline of their hands
  • It is believed that these works of art were part of hunting ceremonies
Hand paintings in hunting rituals 

2) Art of The Middle Stone Ages (7000 - 4000 BCE)
  • Climates warmed up and cave-dwellers moved out of caves and into rock shelters
  • These new paintings were similar to the cave paintings; however, there was one major difference
  • In the rock shelters, the cave-dwellers created their first ever depiction of the human figure
First depictions of the human figure

3) The New Stone Age
  • As early as 4,000 BCE, our ancestors began mastering architecture
  • They created large rings or rows of rough hewn stones
  • The most famous of these is the Stonehenge (1000 BCE) where large 50 ton stones called megaliths were placed in a pattern of concentric rings and was used for astronomical observation
  • With these structures, our ancestors pioneered post and lintel construction: 2 upright pieces (posts) topped with a horizontal piece (lintel)
The post and lintel construction of Stonehenge

4) Ancient Mesopotamian Art
What a ziggurat would have looked like back then
  • The Sumerians reigned from 4000 - 2340 BCE
  • Religion was a central aspect of Sumerian life so they built massive temples in the center of their cities
  • These temples were large stepped pyramids called known as ziggurats 

What's left of the ziggurat 

  • Another important civilization was that of the Babylonians
  • Babylonian king, Hammurabi, left an enduring legacy that codified Babylonian law (Code of Hammurabi) in 1792 BCE
  • The best known artwork of this civilization is a stone stele onto which Hammurabi's code is carved with a relief sculpture at the top depicting Hammurabi receiving his code of law from the sun-god Shamash

Carved stone stele of Hammurabi's Code

Assyrian relief carving depicting lion hunting
  • Between 900 - 600 BCE a third important civilization ruled in northern Europe, the Assyrians
  • The most notable artworks of the Assyrians were relief carvings depicting battles, sieges, hunts, and other important events
Assyrian relief carving depicting hunting
  • After the fall of the Assyrians the Babylonians dominated again
  • This reign was known as the Neo Babylonian period (612 - 538 BCE)
  • During this period the Babylonians constructed one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon
5) Persian Art
  • Persian art flourished from 538 - 330 BCE where present day Iran is located
  • Notable for architectural achievements such as the palace at Persepolis (constructed of stone, brick, and wood)
Persian palace at Persopolis
6) Ancient Egyptian Art
  • The civilization lasted from 3500 BCE until 332 BCE when Alexander the Great conquered Egypt
  • Egyptians are known for their sculptural and architectural feats
  • Examples: the Sphinx, pyramids of Giza, statues of Pharaohs, and the bust of Queen Nefertiti 
Pyramids of Giza

Three major cultures flourished on the islands in the Aegean Sea, on Crete. and along the Aegean coast; the Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean cultures.

1) Cycladic Art
    Cycladic sculpture of female figure 
  • the Cycladic culture reigned from 3200 - 2000 BCE
  • The most prominent artworks of this culture were simplified, geometric, nude female figures
  • However they also produced decorated pottery and marbal bowls and jars
2) Minoan Art
Minoan Fresco depicting sea life
Minoan pottery depicting sea life
  • Minoan culture was centered around the city of Knossos, where legends of the Minotaur sprung up
  • The Minotaur maze was actually the royal palace
  • Minoan art mostly depicted sea life
  • Their paintings had a natural pictorial style and took two forms: fresco (paintings done on palace walls) and pottery design
  • Architecturally the Minoans completed 4 palaces which were completely unfortified (probably wasn't a very smart idea) and in a light, flexible, organic style
3) Mycenaean Art
  • Mycenaean culture was centered around the city of Mycenae on the Greek mainland 
  • The Mycenaeans built elaborate tombs that preserved large amounts of objects
  • The Mycenaeans were masters in gold smithing and relief sculptures
Mycenaean gold cup demonstrating the Mycenaean mastery of gold smithing and also relief sculpting 


Venus de Milo
(Notice how the hips are
shifted. This is a perfect
example of contraposto
where the weight is shifted
onto one leg.) 
  • From 660 - 475 BCE (Archaic Period) the Greeks created sculptures in marble and limestone
  • Temples were built with columns in Doric and Ionic styles
  • Greek sculptures changed from stiff frontal positioning to contrapposto ( counter position) in which all the weight of a person was shifted to one leg in a relaxed/natural pose
  •  From 448 - 400 BCE (Middle Classical Period) Greek architecture made a huge leap as the Greeks made much larger and complex structures such as the Parthenon
  • From 400 - 323 BCE (Late Classical Period) use of Doric Columns declined, instead more decorative Corinthian Columns were used
  • From 331 - 323 BCE (Hellenistic Period) the Greek style began to mix with Eastern Civilizations resulting in free standing sculptures such as Venus de Milo and works of art designed to present ideals of beauty such as Laocoon Group 
Laocoon Group


  • Etruscan civilization arose in the first millenium BCE in what is nowadays Italy  
  • Etruscan art was a transition from the Greek ideals to the pragmatic Roman concerns
  • Most Etruscan art is found from tomb decorations
  • The majority of buildings are gone; however, ceramic models that were fashioned after Greeks still exist
  • Their art also includes sarcophagus lids, baked clay, and bronze work
Etruscan sarcophagus 


  • Early Roman art was strongly influenced by Etruscan/Greek art
  • Romans made advancements in architecture and engineering (concrete and curved arches were used to make aqueducts and coliseums)
  • Romans created relief sculptures for decorations and burials (for commemorations mostly held with Roman ideals)
The Colosseum 


  • The Byzantine Empire is mostly known for its mosaic work with small ceramic tiles, pieces of stone and glass to create mural 
  • Most of these mosaic murals contained Christian themes
  • The most well known Byzantine architecture is the Hagia Sophia which was built in Constantinople (current day Istambul, Turkey) between 532 - 537 A.D.
    • Hagia Sophia 
    • During the Medieval Period most people were illiterate and education was limited to nobles and clergy
    • Books were extremely valuable and the main source of art during the Medieval Period
    • Nomadic Germanic people became highly skilled metalworkers (created abstract decorative metalwork, jewelry, and mastered bronze, silver, and gold smithing)
    • Vikings mastered woodwork and carved artistic designs and sculptures into their ships 
    Architecture in the Later Medieval Period
    • During the Medieval Ages churches became a form of art
    • the earliest churches were built in the Romanesque style, a style of architecture that used Roman arches (also called vaults) It is important to note that the Romanesque vaults had rounded tops
    • From the 12th - 16th century; however, the Gothic Style was used ( in the Gothic style, the arches were pointed rather than rounded, ribbed vaults became used, and flying buttresses used)
    Because the Gothic style had a much stronger architectural support, the churches did not require giant solid walls to support the structure and because of this, during the Gothic Period, stained glass windows became commonly used for lighting in churches.  
    Romanesque Cathedral (notice how there are very few windows and how the windows are very small)
    Gothic Cathedral (notice how there is a significantly larger amount of windows and how much larger the windows are compared to the windows in the Romanesque Cathedra)

    Gothic to Renaissance
    • The artist most often accredited for the transition from Gothic to Renaissance style art is Giotto Di Bondon (1267 - 1337), best known for his frescos 
    • He introduced simple perspective, overlapping, and giving figures more powerful gestures and emotional expressions 
    The Renaissance
    • paper money was first developed, led by the fortune of the Medici family
    • wealthy families were the major patrons of the arts 
    • before the Renaissance, artists were considered lowly
    • after the Renaissance, artists became intelectual figures.
    In the 1400s there was a competition for the design of the doors for the cities new baptistery. Lorenzo Ghiberti won the competition and his work was called Gates of Paradise.
    • 1377 - 1446 Filip Brunelleschi completed the dome for the Florence Cathedral
    Brunelleschi's Dome (the project required Brunelleschi to create a double shelled dome design)

    Interior view of Brunelleschi's Dome (He also had to create linear perspective when painting the inside of the dome)
    Botticelli The Birth of Venus
    Donatello's statue of David
    (notice again the use of
    • Painter, Masaccio, was highly credited for using linear and aerial perspective in his frescos
    • Donatello (1386 - 1466) was considered the founder of modern sculptures. He's best known for his statue of David made of bronze.
    • Botticelli (1444 - 1510) best known for The Birth of Venus 

    High Renaissance Artists 
    • Leonardo Da Vinci (1452 - 1519) the Renaissance Man
    • Da Vinci was an inventor, architect, engineer, painter, sculptor, scientist, and musician
    • Da Vinci used a technique called sfumato, the use of mellowed colours and blurred lines.
    Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa (notice the mellow colors and the that the lines seem to be blurred)
    • Michelangelo (1475 - 1564) was a painter and sculptor
    • Best known for the Statue of David and painting the Sistine Chapel
    • One of the most influential Renaissance artists was Raphael Sanzio (1483 - 1520) 
    • Raphael employed assistants to help with his art
    • Giorgione (1477 - 1510) made the landscape the main focus for the first time in the history of art in his painting The Tempest (1508)
    Giorgione The Tempest (notice that by placing the background in the center and using it as a focal point, the background becomes the main focus of the painting)

    • Titan Vecelli (1488- 1576) was an innovative portraitist (meaning he included backgrounds)
    • Tintoretto (1518 - 1594) used mannerism (distorted perspective, scale and twisted things). He was very dramatic and also use chiaroscuro (contrast between light and dark).
    Reformation and Counter Reformation
    • The reformation was when the Protestants criticized the Catholic Church and called for its purification. This brought and end to richly decorated churches and religious images in art. 
    • The Catholic Church's reaction was the Counter Reformation. This emphasized lavish church decoration and art of a highly dramatic and emotional nature. El Greco, a counter reformation painter, used mannerism and elongated figures to capture the religious fervor of the Counter Reformation.
    Laocoon, by El Greco (notice the use of mannerism)

    • Art in Northern Europe was more realistic than in the South (thanks to oil paints)
    • During the 1500s the North was still stuck in the Gothic Period 
    • Not all artists in the North embraced ideals and techniques of the Renaissance
    • Matthias Grunewald (1475 - 1528) known for his religious scenes
    • Alexander Durer (1471 - 1528) favored naturalistic detail with ideals from southern artists, best known for his woodcuts.
    Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, by Albrecht Durer

    • Baroque art refers to artwork from the late 16th century to mid 18th century
    • Tended to be less static then Renaissance art and was characterized by greater sense of movement and energy
    • Renaissance era witnessed wars between cities/ Baroque witnessed conflicts between empires
    • Baroque art was influenced by the Counter Reformation and was used to promote faith
    • Gap between rich and poor grew as did animosity
    • "Baroque" came to mean richness of color and uses chiaroscuro (sontrast between light and dark)
    • Famous Painters: Caravaggio, Artemisia, Gentileschi, Gian Lorenzo, Bernini, Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt
    • Reached peak in France when Louis XIV came into power
    The Crucifixion of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio (notice the sharp contrast between light and dark and the religious subject matter)

    Seen as extensions of Baroque period but different in style and content

    Rococo - was a celebration of gaiety, romance and frivolity of life at court
    • Emphasis on light hearted decoration with use of gold and pastel colours
    • Three greatest masters: Jean - Antoine Watteau, Francois Boucher, Jean - Honore Fragonard
    The Swing,  by Fragonard (notice the light colors)

    The French Revolution (1789) was reflected in the artwork of the time

    Neoclassicism - was the opposite of Rococo and was influenced by the enlightenment
    The Death of Marat, by Jacques-Louis David (notice how the subject matter was influenced by an enlightenment era event)
    Romanticism - the Romantic Movement was centered on exotic themes and included foreign settings, violence, animals, and history
    Example of Romantic Era art 


    Realism - was a reaction to neoclassicism and romanticism 
    • was inspired by the idea that paintings must illustrate all features of its subject, including the negative ones.
    Stone Breakers, by Gustave Coyrbet  

    Impressionism - largely grew out of dissatisfaction with the rigid rules of art
    • Edward Manet is referred to as the first impressionist
    • Impressionist artists used rapid strokes to capture rapidly changing light
    Renoir, Le Moulin de la Galette (notice the play on light scattered by the leaves from the trees )

    • Modernists were a group of 20th century artists who used arbitrary colours
    • Picasso developed cubism, a style of art that uses the basic geometric shapes and natural forms
    • Expressionism developed in Germany
    • Center of art world shifted from Paris to New York
    • DuChamp challenged traditional view of art
    Pablo Picasso, Girl With Mandolin (notice that the female figure is created using geometric shapes) 

    • WWII brought organized movements in art to a virtual standstill
    • During 1950's art the art scene in New York was ruled by Harold Rosenberg and Clement Greenberg
    • Abstract Expressionism had 2 categories: action paint shop and color field painting
    • In response to abstract expressionism, other artists returned to naturalism 

    • 1960's pop art incorporated mass culture and used inappropriate subject matter
    • Roy Lichtenstein adopted imagery of comic books
    • Minimalism sought to reduce art to barest essentials
    • Photorealism was art that replicated the sharpness of photographs
    Andy Warhal, Marilyn Monroe   

    • Earthworks were forms of mass art that utilized already existing outdoor structure
    • Performance art is theater in which the actors themselves become the art
    • Postmodernist art either reintroduced traditional art concepts or exaggerates modern art to the extremes
    • Philip Johnson suggested the radical idea of art being decoration
    • There is no longer a "center" of the art world as styles are very widespread

    Chinese Art
    • remains of painted wares have been found dating back to the 4th millennia BCE
    • The Great Wall was the largest work and feat of engineering
    • Chinese rulers left tombs brimming with all sorts of art
    • Buddhism affected Chinese art and culture as seen in China's Golden Age (Tang Dynasty)
    • Over time Chinese art became gradually more political
    art from the Tang Dynasty

    Indian Art
    • Strong influence from Greek ast on classic images of Buddha
    • India also had ruins of great civilizations that rival Egypt and Mesopotamia
    Japanese Art
    • Isolation from other countries allowed Japanese art to remain consistent and traditional
    • each dynasty had its own individual twist to the traditional art
    • Japan is most well known for it's print making
    The Great Wave, by Hokusai (one of the most famous Japanese woodblock prints)

    • Some of the oldest art in Africa are cave paintings found in Namibia and dated to 23,000 BCE
    • The Nok civilization created life-like terracotta sculptures
    • Much of the treasures of Benin Kingdom were destroyed by the British in 1897
    • Many culturally rich artifacts were lost due to inability to preserve against nature and raiders
    • Polynesia employed tatto and body piercing as an art
    African art consisted of sculptures such as this 12th century A.D. bronze sculpture of a kings head