Arts and Architecture

When did art start?
Answered by Ellen Stockstill and Science Channel
  • Ellen Stockstill

    Ellen Stockstill

  • Science Channel

    Science Channel

  1. Art started before written language did.  Caves containing paintings 30,000 years old have been found by archeologists in France, Spain, and Germany.  These works of art, some of them portable, primarily feature paintings of animals ranging in size from tiny to immense.  Most of the animals in these kinds of paintings are drawn in profile, and sometimes only parts of their bodies are portrayed (like the head and neck).  The cave at Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc, France, for example, contains a depiction of rhinoceroses, horses, mammoths, reindeer and other animals [source: Smarthistory].  Magnificent examples of rock art have also been discovered in Africa and Australia.  Some of the oldest examples of rock painting are in Southern and Eastern Africa.  In Australia, Aboriginal paintings and engravings passed on religious knowledge to later generations.

    Palaeolithic rock and cave art in Europe does not have a straightforward timeline of development.  Scholars believe there were bursts of innovation and creativity in Palaeolithic art along with periods of artistic stagnation.  Methods, techniques, and trends of painting and engraving changed over time.  Rock painters during the Palaeolithic period had five colors to work with made mostly from minerals instead of plants:  red, yellow, brown, black and white.  Painters used their fingers or, more often, tools to apply paint to cave walls.  Artists may have also used chunks of pigment like a crayon to draw on the walls directly.

    Prehistoric art, art created before the development of written language, goes beyond painting.  Some of the oldest art pieces in the world are figurines.  The oldest that archeologists have discovered is a 2.4-inch female figure made from mammoth ivory.  Found in 2008 in Germany but created 35,000 years ago, this figurine is the earliest known representation of a human.  Similar to other "Venus" figurines that have been found in Europe, this female's sexual organs are greatly exaggerated.  Scholars believe these exaggerated features probably represent fertility [source: AlphaGalileo].

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  2. The oldest art produced by humans seems to be paintings of animals found in caves. It is believed that these cave paintings may not have necessarily been for decoration, but to record the activities of hunting seasons. Artifacts have been discovered from ancient times that display decoration on knives and other utensils, proving that at some point, the appearance of an object became important in addition to its functionality. The ancient Egyptians decorated their mummy cases, the Greeks built statues, and the Romans decorated pillars in to increase the aesthetic pleasure of their environment. Sometimes religious symbolism was included in these decorations.

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