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Chapter 12 Summary—English

Art Traditions from Around the World

Lesson 1: Art of Earliest Times
Prehistoric people left no written records, so we look to the objects and artworks they left behind for information. The earliest art comes from the Paleolithic period, or Old Stone Age which began about two million years ago and ended with the close of the last ice age around 13,000 B.C. This was when people painted lifelike animals on cave walls. The Neolithic period, or New Stone Age is a prehistoric period stretching roughly from 7000 B.C. to 2000 B.C. During this period, people created large monuments from huge stone slabs called megaliths. By 3000 B.C. four major “river valley” civilizations had developed at different points on the globe: in Mesopotamia, Egypt, India, and China. Each civilization was ruled by a monarchy, had a religion based on nature, and was skillful in art and architecture. In the area of the Middle East known as Mesopotamia, the Sumerians sculpted lifelike human figures and built structures known as ziggurats, or stepped mountains made of brick-covered earth, upon which they placed temples to their gods. In ancient Egypt, the rulers were worshiped as gods. Their bodies were preserved for the afterlife in the pyramids, and paintings on the tomb walls tell us about Egyptian culture. The ancient civilization of India arose in the Indus River Valley. Small relief carvings show animals and characters from the ancient Indian writing system. Chinese civilization developed in the Yellow River Valley, where paper and porcelain were invented and artists cast bronze vessels covered with intricate motifs. China’s historical periods were divided into dynasties. A dynasty is a period of time during which a single family provided a succession of rulers. Chinese art of that time is categorized by its dynasty.

Lesson 2: Art of Asia and the Middle East
The art of Asia and the Middle East reflects different philosophies and religious beliefs from those in Western art. The art of India was influenced by the Hindu and Buddhist religions. Stupas, or beehive-shaped domed places of worship, were built by Buddhist architects to house relics of Buddha. After the fifth century A.D., temples and sculptures of Hindu gods were created. China adopted Buddhism early on, and the Buddhist focus on meditation allowed Chinese artists to capture the beauty of nature in their paintings. They painted fans, pages of books, and scrolls. A scroll is a long roll of parchment or silk. Some were hung on walls while others were meant to be unrolled and read like a book. The Chinese also produced sculpture for religious purposes and to honor the dead, and created fine ceramic objects of porcelain. Buddhism later spread to Japan, where intricate temples were built of wood. The Japanese used wood because the islands of Japan are made of volcanic rock and they could not use this stone to build their temples. The Japanese also created monumental bronze sculptures of the Buddha. Beginning in the eighth century A.D., artists developed uniquely Japanese screen and woodblock prints. Woodblock printing is making prints by carving images in blocks of wood. The Muslim religion was formed in the Middle East after the birth of Muhammad in A.D. 570. Islamic art was characterized by the use of ornate line, shape, and pattern. Muslim places of worship, known as mosques, were decorated with calligraphy, geometric patterns, and stylized plants and flowers. Islam spread to India, where the Taj Mahal was built as an outstanding example of Islamic architecture.

Lesson 3: The Art of Africa
The continent of Africa is subdivided into many cultural groups, but throughout Africa the visual arts are linked to other art forms such as music, dance, and drama. Much of African art was created for everyday or ritual use, and emphasizes the important events of life and the forces of nature. Artists of Ife in Nigeria created bronze lifelike portraits of Yoruba kings and queens to add a sense of stability during periods of political transitions or following the death of a ruler. Terra-cotta sculptures from the ancient city of Jenne in Mali show proud figures standing or seated on stallions. They represent the soldiers of Mali’s great empire. A powerful military leader and king named Sundiata founded this empire. The epic story of the rise of Sundiata is passed on by griots. Griots are oral historians who are also musicians and performers. In southern Nigeria, Benin artists created high-relief plaques that covered the walls and pillars of the royal palaces. Here four special ranks are depicted. The king is placed in the center and is the largest figure. In the Asante kingdom of Ghana, kings controlled the work of goldsmiths as well as the production of the Kente cloth, a brilliantly colored and patterned fabric that became the royal cloth. Masks were made in many parts of Africa and of many different materials. They can be abstract or realistic and often cover the whole body of the dancer who wears them.

Lesson 4: Art of the Americas
The earliest or pre-Columbian people arrived in North America by crossing the Bering Strait. The term pre-Columbian refers to the time period before Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas in 1492. From the Bering Strait, they spread out to cover North and South America. Many civilizations emerged, with a variety of art forms. The oldest civilization in Mexico is known as the Olmec culture. The Olmec made remarkable stone carvings, especially huge human heads carved from volcanic rock. In South America, the Incas were skilled urban planners, and cities such as Machu-Picchu were built with expertly shaped and fitted stones.
In North America, all of the people we now call Native Americans created art of some kind. Inuit artists from Canada and Alaska carved stories associated with everyday life on walrus ivory and created masks to serve religious needs. In the Northwest Coast Region, groups such as the Haida, the Tlingit, and the Kwakiutl created ceremonial masks and dramatic costumes for rituals. Large family groups also carved totem poles to show their association with mythic animal ancestors. Totem poles are tall posts carved and painted with a series of animal symbols associated with a particular family or clan. In the Southwest Region, Pueblo people were skilled at creating painted pottery. The Navajo became experts at weaving blankets with rich colors and bold designs. Peoples of the Great Plains, including Blackfeet, Crow, Cheyenne, and Sioux, prepared skins to make various objects, which they painted or embroidered.


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