Ars Gratia Artis: Art for Arts Sake

The next jump in mankind´s relationship with art did not come until the development of pottery. There were some developments in jewelry art but this was exclusively made for religious purposes, this type of “art”, because it was reserved for only a tiny percentage of the population, cannot be considered a divergence of form.

Sometime around the year 3,500 BC the Egyptians developed techniques to glaze their pottery and this led to the art known as Faience. Faience was a thin glassing of pottery, which allowed artists to first use paints do produce designs on the material, which was actually not clay but a quartz like substance, end up with a beautifully designed exterior. While the designs were nearly exclusively religious, its use was not limited to priestly use and all of the people in ancient Egypt were intensely religious. But there are examples of early art in North Africa from as early as 300,000 BCE, little statues that show signs of having been painted as well. The earliest of these was found in Morocco and while they are considered “art”, the stones used were more than likely chosen because of their natural appearance and very little actual tool work is visible.

Much of the art still existing today from before the Christian era was done using sculpting or carving techniques. There may be a couple of reasons for this. Paintings, unless done on a mineral, or even wood, usually do not survive the test of time very well. Another reason is that cultures then were constantly being invaded and invaders usually destroyed any art with religious connections and mineral iconography is much more likely to have survived simply because it is more durable. But from North Africa to Sumer and Babylon, even to the nomadic people in the North Central Asian Steppes, we see many examples of carvings and sculpturing that were painted. The surviving ancient Greek and Roman sculptures that we see as white were originally painted.

The Minoan Civilization however seems to be the first to start breaking out of the religious motifs when they developed the art of fresco and mosaic design. This use of geometric forms instead of religious symbology was a relatively new and revolutionary concept and the practice spread to things like pottery, which began to show scenes depicting animals, flowers, birds and nature scenes. The Minoans actually developed six different forms of potter alone, including some that are still used today by local artists from Greece to Crete. There are several excellent online school courses that teach complete classes exclusively on Minoan Art simply because this culture broke several barriers.

So now, with the perspective of time, we can see art coming down from cave walls and at the same time becoming almost exclusively religious in nature, and then redefining itself again in more populist forms. As we move forward however we will find that they history of Art has had several similar cycles and we will be able to do a more in depth study on not only the types of art but on the artists themselves.