Art is part of what makes us human. Humans love to show off their creative skills and are impressed by the artistic skills of others. They love to create stories, written works, images, and songs, and they love to experience other people’s artworks.
All human cultures have always been interested in art and music – no one has ever been able to find a culture that has little or no interest. The ability to appreciate art and music is built into the human psyche and exists everywhere, regardless of culture.
Sculpture and painting are the oldest known forms of art, though there might have been dance, songs, or stories before then. In later times we added new forms of art such as theatre and comics. There is no doubt that wholly new forms of art will appear in the future, as well as new styles of every existing art.
Painting is one of the oldest forms of art in the world. Some cave paintings are at least 40,000 years old. A 40,000-year-old cave painting exists in Indonesia, and there may be a 60,000-year-old painting in Australia.
Humans may have been painting caves for as long as humans have had the ability to create and appreciate art. Once humans could create and marvel at painted pictures, they may not have taken long to invent paintings.
Some figurines and petroglyphs are said to be hundreds of thousands of years old, but these dates are disputed. There might not be any real examples of flutes or figurines that are older than the oldest cave art.
The first paints were made from simple natural materials – ochre was a good source of color, and people also used animal fats, charcoal, and water to make paints. The paint worked so well on these cave walls that many of these paintings are still around today.
In much later times, western art became much more realistic. A painting from 1600 looks far more realistic than a painting from 1300, as artists gradually became better at techniques for creating realism.
In the 19th century, photography was invented and seemed to threaten the purpose of painting. A photograph was more realistic than any painting could be and took much less time and effort to create.
Western artists reacted to photography by turning away from realistic and towards stylistic and abstract art. New painting styles such as impressionism, cubism, and dadaism allowed painters to create images that no photographer could do and which awed people in a way that had nothing to do with realism.
Different types of paint are used to create different styles of painting. Artists can use oil-based paint, watercolors, pastels, acrylic, or ink painting to create different kinds of images.
There are even more genres of painting than there are types of paint. Modernism, abstract art, impressionism, photorealism, and surrealism are just a few of the many styles. Dozens of new styles were invented in the twentieth century alone.
There are also many East Asian, Indian, African, and Islamic styles of painting, including recently created styles. You can also categorize paintings by subject – portrait, landscape, and so on. Countless old styles are still used today, and many more will be invented in the future.
Great artists not only create paintings but drawings and photographs as well. Drawing is easier to learn but just as hard to master as painting.
To become great at drawing, you must learn to reduce objects to simple shapes. People learn to draw well by drawing what they see in front of them. You must learn to reduce an object to simple shapes and put simple shapes together to create an image.
Drawing can be just as realistic or just as abstract as painting. Abstract drawing styles such as gestures give the impression of an image or a scene while being far from realistic.
You can create drawings that use few lines and little detail but are still impressive art. You can also create hyperrealistic drawings that look almost like they could be photographs and go beyond the realism of paintings.
Photography is also an art form in itself. It does not require drawing, but it does require an excellent artistic sense if you want to make excellent photographs. Photography takes talent and practice; it is not easy to become a master photographer.
Sculpture and Installation
Like painting, sculpture is an ancient art. The oldest figurines are at least tens of thousands of years old, and some are arguably far older. The oldest uncontested artworks may be paintings and not figurines, but it is not clear what the oldest surviving art is.
The ancient Egyptians created human sculptures far more realistic than those from prehistory, and these techniques were improved upon by the ancient Greeks, who made truly realistic statues. There were also Babylonian and Mesopotamian master sculptors.
While we associate great classical paintings mostly with the renaissance period, we associate great sculptures mostly with the ancient world. The realistic Greek and Roman statues are among the best-known and most respected works of art in the world.
There is also a tradition of realistic sculpture in West Africa, with the Benin bronzes being the best known. There are many ancient sculpture styles in the Americas and in Asia.
Sculptors work in different materials, such as clay, marble, wood, and bronze. Since bronze could be melted down and sold, many of the bronze statues of the past were lost to people who stole them and sold them for scrap. Statues and figurines made of precious metals have even more trouble lasting for many centuries.
Contemporary sculpture differs from an ancient sculpture in that it is less likely to represent an object. An ancient sculpture represented a person, a bird, a lion, an inanimate object, and so on; a modern sculpture might not represent anything.
Modern sculptors also make kinetic sculptures or sculptures that can move; these were rare in the ancient world. One thing that remains constant from one century to another is that sculpture is three-dimensional art. A sculptor needs a different way of thinking from a painter to create art in three dimensions.
The sculpture is made of mass and space. Sometimes, sculpture emphasizes space and not mass. A modern sculpture might be made of thin metal rods, not a solid object but one that you can mostly see-through.
Another difference between sculpture and painting is that you usually cannot see all of a sculpture at once. A painting is two-dimensional, so it usually looks the same from any angle. With a sculpture, you usually have to walk around it and look at it from different angles to appreciate it fully.
Another form of modern sculpture is installation. Installation art is about building interior spaces for viewers to walk around in. Some outdoor sculptures are also considered installation art, but it tends to be indoors.
An example of a piece of installation art is Rachel Whiteread’s embankment, a large room decorated with structures made of white cubes.
An artist might decorate more than one room, and there could be people or objects for you to interact with within these rooms. An example of outdoor installation art is a giant crab made out of environmentally hazardous plastics.
The oldest play may not be nearly as old as the oldest painting or figurine, but theater still has a long history. Western plays existed long before the time of Shakespeare, going back as far as ancient Greece, and some of these plays are still performed today.
Plays today have much in common with ancient Greek plays. Genres such as comedy and tragedy still exist, and plot devices used in ancient Greece still exist today.
Every theatrical performance is unique and requires a skilled director and good actors to impress the audience. While it is very easy to copy a film digitally, a play has to be performed. Fans of live theatre prefer it to movies in theatres for this reason – one is watching skilled actors put on a unique performance, which has a chance of failing.
While one can read and study Shakespeare rather than seeing it performed, the quality of a play does not depend on the quality of its script. The excellent performance of a simple play is brilliant; the poor performance of a more highbrow play is not.
While someone who loves a movie might only watch it a few times, you can watch the same play many times. Every performance is unique. The two performances of hamlet can be very different.
Of course, a bad play can fail because it has a poor script, which a good director and good actors might not be able to make a good performance out of. The script, the sets, the costumes, and the actors must all work together to create a great performance.
Modern plays are influenced by non-western traditions as well. Japanese Noh theatre and Chinese Peking Opera influence plays produced in the west and elsewhere today.
Architecture is the art of building. Architecture is everywhere – our houses, apartments, stores, and bridges are all partly artistic and not purely functional. Some buildings are more decorative and others more functional.
Buildings have always had artistic merit. The Egyptian pyramids were originally white-colored, covered in casing stones, so they would shine in the sun and be visible from a long way away.
The oldest known large stone temple in the world is Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, 11,500 years old and built before there was agriculture in the region or almost anywhere. The temple obviously has artistic merit and was built with great care by hunter-gatherers that could not easily build a large structure.
When we think of an ancient civilization, one of the first things we think of is their architecture. Some of the most famous pieces of ancient architecture are the Taj Mahal in India, the pyramids in Egypt, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the pyramids in Mexico, and the coliseum in Rome. Cathedrals and Mosques are among the most famous medieval and early modern structures.
One could argue that modern architecture has become plain looking. The new technology has made buildings taller but plainer. While this may be partly true, there are still plenty of modern architectural wonders.
The Burj Khalifa in Dubai is a great example of modern architecture. It is as modern and futuristic as can be and a work of art as well. The Sydney opera house in Australia is another wonder of the modern world. The design of the opera house’s roof is ingenious and like nothing built before then.
While not everyone loves theatre, everyone loves music. Everyone has a favorite band, a favorite song, a favorite genre. Music appeals to everyone, perhaps more than any other art form.
Learning to play music can also appeal to very many people, more than at least most of the other arts. Just as one cannot find a human society with no interest in art in general, there is no such thing as a human society without music.
Music ranges from very simple to very complex, from an orchestra with dozens of instruments to a vocal song with only one singer and no instruments.
Music is used to enhance many other art forms. Stage plays, movies, and other live and recorded performances include music. Music has accompanied dance for as long as anyone can remember.
Music can be thought of as a universal language. Words in one language mean nothing to speakers of a very different language. However, a piece of music that conveys an emotion has the same effect on people everywhere in the world.
New forms of music appear every year on every continent in the world. While interest in theatre may have decreased, interest in music is just as high as it ever was.
Many parts of the world have complex classical music traditions, and there are countless new and old forms of popular music. Electric guitars, synthesizers, and computer technology have helped people make new forms of music in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Scientists have studied how music affects the brain more than how other art forms affect the brain. By using brain imaging technology, scientists are learning how music affects people’s emotions and psychological states.
Like all forms of art, dance is about expressing emotions and about culture and tradition. Usually, dancers move their bodies in time with the music, though this is not always true.
Different dances have different time signatures. Every song has a tempo, which is the number of beats per minute. People training with dance instructors learn about terms like time signatures and measures.
Dance can be a more emotional experience than other art forms because you participate in it and not merely observe. The music, the movement, and the skill and effort it takes give dance its emotional power.
Dance is also a live performance art like theatre is. There is a script, a director, and performers. Sometimes, a dance performance even tells a story.
Many sports are also inspired by dance acts. Figure skating is similar to a dance act, and so is synchronized swimming or gymnastics. Even some martial arts have a lot in common with dance.
Literature is the art of writing. No one is sure how broadly to define literature. It may mostly be limited to novels or works comparable to novels, or it may include many forms of non-fiction.
Diaries and essays may or may not be considered literature. Novels come to mind first when the word “literature” is used, but literature may include many other things as well.
One of the most ancient famous pieces of literature in the world is the epic of Gilgamesh, a Sumerian epic that predates the Greek and even the Ancient Egyptian classics. It may be the oldest piece of great literature one can find anywhere.
While literature is thousands of years old, one could argue that novels are only a few hundred. The oldest modern novels may have been written in the 18th century. One could argue that many earlier works such as the Japanese Tale of Genji or the Roman Satirycon are novels, but others disagree.
Some later candidates for the first novel include Robinson Crusoe (1719), Moll Flanders (1722), or Don Quixote (1605). Earlier literature usually claimed to be true rather than fiction, even if it was full of magical events and fictional places that people even at the time would not believe.
The novels of the 18th century did not dwell on magical events the way earlier romances did. They often included magical or implausible events but were also about the state of society at the time.
Many people were strongly critical of the new novels in the 18th century, but they soon became the most important form of literature in the west and the world. Novels are popular everywhere.
Many people become rich or famous from their novels, and there are countless literary awards given away to novelists, with the Nobel Prize for literature probably being the most prestigious.
People also have plenty of interest in short stories, which are less intimidating to new writers than novels are. Many novelists begin with short stories.
Literature other than fiction storytelling is also popular everywhere. Non-fiction literature includes memoirs, diaries, biographies, travel literature, and scientific works.
The quality of a work may determine whether or not it is called literature. Popular novels are less likely to be called literature than award-winning or classic novels.
Moving pictures are one of the newest arts. While crude ways of projecting images are older than the 19th century, there were no movies before the late 1800s and no feature-length films before the 20th century.
At first, films were very simple – a few minute’s worth of workers leaving a factory, for example – because the new technology would excite people. It didn’t matter if some of the first films publicly exhibited in the 1890s had essentially no story – people would want to see them as an exciting demonstration of new technology.
In the twentieth century, it quickly became necessary for films to have stories, characters, humor, and action. Feature-length films soon became much more important than short films.
Before long, shooting a successful film usually required a large budget, and Hollywood became the movie capital of the world. Much later, VHS tapes, DVDs, and streaming turned movies from something seen mostly in public to something seen mostly at home.
Today, those who create videos without budgets can get rich and famous. Youtube and other video-sharing sites make it possible for small content creators to distribute their works.
Feature-length narrative movies are more expensive to create, but digital cameras have also helped smaller directors make their films. Celluloid is prohibitively expensive; digital cameras give more directors a chance. Putting television shows on streaming services also gives lower budget directors more of a chance.
Video is accessible art, not quite as much as music, but very popular nonetheless. Those who do not read novels still watch movies, so those who create videos can reach a huge audience.
Comics are another new art, with no clear decade at which they appeared. People think first of superhero comics. The first superhero comics were created in the United States in the 1930s, with Superman being one of the first superheroes and still the most famous.
However, there is far more to comics than superhero comics. The art form has gone in countless directions over the decades.
Graphic novels are very different from shorter and cheaper comics. Graphic novels are longer, have a huge range of subject matter, and are aimed more at adults than regular comics.
Japanese comics, or Manga, are one of the most popular forms of comics. Manga arguably existed already in the 12th century, and artworks similar to comics long before. It is a separate tradition that did not branch off from the American comics of the first half of the 20th century.
Comics allow artists to tell stories that would be difficult to tell otherwise. Many stories are best suited to comics and would not work as well as movies or books.
Many other countries have their own traditions. China, Korea, Belgium, France, Britain, Spain, and Italy all have their own styles of comics. While comic fans prefer physical copies, digital distribution is also popular.
While styles of art may be lost forever, art will never go away or become less popular. People in all times and places enjoy art and admire artists.
People who are not professional artists enjoy creating art everywhere. Art is part of the universal human experience and will continue to evolve forever.