One of the first civilizations, the Egyptians was the first people to portray humans. They believed in the existence of the soul that survives after death. Therefore they made in stone-idealized humans to house Ka-tha soul. For the Egyptians, longevity was very important. And like most civilizations, Egyptians put a lot of faith in gods.
Early Greek art was greatly influenced by the Egyptians. Geography permitted both cultures to exchange their talents. The beginning of Greek art is marked by the geometric phase. The most common art during the geometric phase was vase painting. In the vase painting, a vase was prepared and a slip was applied on the vase before painting it. Then the vase was fired and the artist would incise his decorations into the hard shell. It was important to incise humans into the fired slip and not paint with slip. The people in the pictures needed light color skin, which was the color beneath the slip, because Greeks wanted to make their art as realistic as possible. Much like Egyptian art, the Greeks idealized the bodies of the people in their works.
As the archaic period evolved, Greek sculptures were almost identical to the Egyptians. Unlike Egyptians, the Greeks refined their techniques. Greeks used marble to construct their sculptures. It was considered more valuable and beautiful than any material available. The people that are sculpted are always young and their bodies are still idealized. The Greeks invented contrapposto, the relaxed natural stance of a sculpture. A figure that is standing in contrapposto be becomes a sculpture in the round, meaning that the emphasis is not only on a frontal view but also from all angles.
The Hellenistic Period emerged as the Romans began to produce some of the finest art in history. This new revolutionary style was incredible. Figures weren’t confined to the unnatural or boring positions they had for centuries. All body parts were in perfect proportion. These statues came alive as their limbs reached out into space. Vacant stares evolved into human emotions, which were easily recognized on their faces.
The fifteenth century marked the arrival of the renaissance. Artists have finally recaptured the amazing detail and realism that the Greeks and Romans had perfected. Artists pushed the limits with new exciting mediums and bright colors. Filippo Brunelleschi, allowed artists to determine the relative size of each figure by inventing the vanishing point perspective. With that tool it was possible to put everything in perfect proportion. Humans were not always idealized as they were in earlier centuries. Many elderly people are found in the paintings.
Neoclassical paintings commonly showed contemporary garments and scenes. History panting became very popular. A great change was brought when color was used to set a mood or express inner feelings. Nothing like this had ever been considered. Man viewed his experiences as important stepping-stones. To assure that experiences aren’t forgotten they were preserved in art works. Byzantine and medieval art was very representative. The artists’ ability to produce life like figures had regressed. The emphasis was not on man anymore. Their art was made to glorify God. Christian art was introduced during the middle of the second century. In many cases the only difference between Christian art and Hellenistic art is the religious subject matter.
Humans are often used in modern art. Although the people may appear very large or important, they are usually just vehicles used to convey a message to the audience. In Segal’s Red Light, we see a man walking alone in front of an old truck. The man was not colored at all. He seemed to be sauntering across a street at night. A feeling of depression or sadness surrounds the man. The human is not important as the emotion is. Most of the modern art uses the human body to portray a feeling or emotion. Rarely will you find any new art that displays humans because they are extraordinary.
We cannot decide whether it’s the function of art to glorify humans or make him insignificant. Critics will forever debate this question. We can only enjoy the different genres of art.