Early man painting his hands, Cueva de las Manos, Perito Moreno, Argentina, dated 13,000-9,000 BCE
Visual art could have been the first expression of human being, at least that is what we believe from the found evidences. He could not talk in a language like today and lived in smaller groups, each group having its own way to communicate. He thus left behind images; wonderstruck images of bison and deer, of tigers and hunting and of his own hand prints. Human told everybody that he existed! All these exuberant cave paintings, almost 30,000 to 20,000 years old, may or may not be art for the pre-historic man; but what they surely are, are the primal expressions of mind.
As we come further ahead in history, man began to live in larger groups, had a language to communicate known to more humans and lived in settlements that we call Civilizations. He now began building structures to stay and emphasize ownership of land. These structures but were all adorned with paintings that told the story of life, of the kings and the warriors and the servants. The imagery on the prehistoric structures is vivid and could be again the closest to truth expression of the human mind. Fortunately, the world was still of pure expressions and lesser humans. As we move further in history, we come to the existence of religions, majorly the prophetic religions which expected a large number of humans to believe in the same ideas and abide by uniform laws. Everything came under the scrutiny of laws, even art didn’t remain untouched. Art now became a language that could reach farther than the spoken word and communicate the stories of faith and friendship, of duty and power, of gods and demons. With more of less difference, the hole world went through a similar transition.
Art was now bound by so many strings, artists tried to break free from them, but were moving away in a linear direction. Large part, rather almost all part of the art was commissioned and thus may be said to express a communal statement than free expression. By no means is this art less in giving pleasure or aesthetic experience, but it had lost the zeal of prehistoric expression of mind. This was seen more so in Europe where religion and thinking was unilateral and so was the outreach of art towards classical Greek. In the oriental countries like China, Japan and India, the art followed a slightly different idea of beauty and classical but yet the art expressed what was commissioned and might not have been a complete free will.
The advent of modernity with Industrial Revolution brought about mass production of goods and for the first time the difference between hand craft and machine product was discussed. The difference between art and craft too was identified and thus came about a new faculty of understanding art, called as aesthetics. Art was now more well defined and separated from commissioned work and popular demand. This was the beginning of 19th century when art and artists became thinkers and explorers, the age was called as the age of enlightenment. Unfortunately the age of enlightenment proved to be the age of shadow for many countries where Europeans created their colonies and imparted their ideals of classical ignoring the indigenous concepts of beauty. But we shall be discussing issues of colonialism in another blog. Modernity brought with it a new awakening of self- awareness and a wave of individuality; it brought about the concept of art as free expression, of something that is a direct reflection of human mind.
Since then, man began to experiment in art to achieve a pure expression of mind, beyond communicating a social statement, or uniformity of language, or any cerebral understanding for that matter. Ever since modernity, art has been freed of the stigma of power and governing word, and is in process of reaching pure expression. Different experiments like Cubism, Dadaism, Pop art and pure abstraction of efforts taken for reaching the mind. In other words, we are attempting to reach where we began from in the first place, the caves that expresses the human mind, that told all that we exist. Art today is thus our own experience of being alive, of breathing, of touching and smelling and seeing and hearing and of taste. Art is what we are and what we could be. A painting thus is the emotional quotient of humanity and spreads happiness across the human race.