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Chapter 13 Summary—English

Western Traditions in Art

Lesson 1: The Beginnings of Western Art Traditions
Greek civilization greatly influenced the culture of Western Europe. Temples such as the Parthenon were designed with harmonious proportions, and statues represented the Greek ideal of the perfect body. The Romans conquered Greece in 146 B.C. and blended Greek culture with the Etruscan culture of Italy. They used the arch and concrete to build large-scale structures. Instead of carving ideal human forms like the Greeks had done, the Romans created sculpture that was highly realistic. In A.D. 476, Rome was conquered by invaders from the north. This event began the Middle Ages, which lasted about 1,000 years. The Christian religion was the most important influence at this time, so monasteries and churches were the focus for art production. In the eastern part of the former Roman Empire, Byzantine art featured rich colors and flat, heavily outlined figures. In Western Europe, churches were first built in the Romanesque style of massive size; solid, heavy walls; wide use of the rounded Roman arches; and many sculptural decorations. Later in the Middle Ages, a new style called Gothic incorporated pointed arches and stained-glass windows into churches that seem to soar upward.

Lesson 2: The Beginnings of Modern Art Traditions
At the end of the Middle Ages in Europe, during a period called the Renaissance, artists were “re-awakened” to art forms and ideas from ancient Greece and Rome. Using linear perspective, Italian artists sought to create realistic and lifelike works. Linear perspective is a graphic system that creates the illusion of depth and volume on a flat surface. In Northern Europe, artists began to use oil paint. This allowed them to represent intricate details of clothing and the environment. During the mid-sixteenth century, an artistic style called Mannerism featured highly emotional scenes and elongated figures. This style was partly a response to the turmoil of the Protestant Reformation in Northern Europe, which led many people to leave the Catholic Church. In the seventeenth century, the Church began its own reform, known as the Counter-Reformation. In Italy this led to a new art style known as Baroque, which emphasized dramatic lighting, movement, and emotional intensity. This style is characterized by contrast and variety. In Holland, Dutch Protestants did not want to create religious artworks, so they represented ordinary people and places. At the end of the seventeenth century, France became the most powerful nation in Europe and developed its own art style, Rococo. The Rococo style featured free, graceful movement, a playful use of line, and delicate colors. English and Spanish painters modified the Rococo style to create their own statements.

Lesson 3: The Nineteenth Century
In the nineteenth century, artists abandoned Rococo and Baroque for styles that reflected contemporary concerns. Some European artists developed Neoclassicism, which borrowed themes and design qualities from Greece and Rome. Other artists created Romanticism, which depicted dramatic scenes and cultures foreign to Europe. Some artists became dissatisfied with both of these styles, feeling they should portray political, social, and moral issues without glorifying the past or present. These artists developed Realism, which presented familiar scenes as they actually appeared. The invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century introduced a new kind of realism in art. An increasing interest in the world outside the studio then led to Impressionism, which featured everyday subjects and emphasized the momentary effects of light on color. While the Impressionists broke up solid shapes and blurred lines in their work, other artists known as the Post-Impressionists took a more individual approach to painting. Some focused on representing the shapes they saw in nature, while others such as Vincent Van Gogh used twisting lines, rich colors, and complex textures to convey feelings.

Lesson 4: Early Twentieth Century
During the early twentieth century artistic influences spread quickly. Some artists changed their own styles several times during their careers. In Europe, artists generally took one of three directions: self-expression, composition, or imagination. In Germany, artists created Expressionism to communicate their feelings about terrible economic and social conditions. Expressionism is a style that emphasized the expression of innermost feelings. In France, artists developed Cubism, which emphasized structure and design. Cubism was based on the three main influences: geometric form, scientific discovery, and art from other cultures. A third group of artists took dreams, fantasy, and the subconscious as inspiration for Surrealism. In North America, artists responded to European styles and created their own ones. Early twentieth century artists in the United States depicted the harsh realism of the city. Later artists created pieces associated with modern industry and used new technology to build innovative sculptures. Mobiles are moving sculptures arranged by a wire and sheet metal into a balanced arrangement that stays in motion. Other artists, known as the Regionalists, chose to focus on strictly American themes and present them in an optimistic way. African American artists in the U.S. and artists in Mexico depicted their peoples’ struggles in bold styles.

Lesson 5: Art After 1945
New York City became the center of the art world after the end of World War II. Since then, many new artistic approaches, styles, and techniques have been developed. The first new style to arise in New York was Abstract Expressionism, which emphasized abstract elements of art along with emotions. Later artists portrayed images of popular culture in a variety of art forms, known as Pop Art, and created optical illusions in Op Art. Op Art uses scientific knowledge about vision to create optical illusions of movement. Some artists experimented with Color-Field painting, which focused on the pure sensation of color only using flat fields of color. Artists who sought absolute simplicity in their work created Minimalism. Minimalism is art that uses a minimum of art elements. While most of these movements produced abstract works, other artists returned to realism and created Super-Realism. Super-Realism is art that depicts objects as precisely and accurately as they actually appear. It can look so accurate that it can be mistaken for a photograph. In architecture, the International Style led to plain, austere buildings. Many current artists work in the style of Post-Modernism. Post-Modernism incorporates traditional elements and techniques while retaining some characteristics of modern art styles or movements. No one is sure what will happen next in the art world, but the diversity of ideas reflects the diversity of our lives.

 

 
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