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Art History 101 - A Brisk Walk Through the Eras

32,000 Years in 16,000 Characters or Less


Put on your sensible shoes as we embark on an extremely abbreviated tour of art through the ages. The purpose of this piece is to hit the highlights and provide you with the barest of basics on the different eras in Art History.

Art From the Stone Age to the Fall of Rome - 30,000 BC - 400 AD

Prehistoric Eras

    30,000-10,000 BC - Paleolithic peoples were strictly hunter-gatherers, and life was tough. Humans made a gigantic leap in abstract thinking and began creating art. Subject matter concentrated on two things: food, as seen in Cave Art, and the necessity to create more humans.

    10,000-8000 BC - The ice began retreating and life got a little easier. The Mesolithic period (which lasted longer in northern Europe than it did in the Middle East) saw painting move out of the caves and onto the rocks. Painting also became more symbolic and abstract.

    8000-3000 BC - Fast forward to the Neolithic age, complete with agriculture and domesticated animals. Now that food was more plentiful, people had time to invent useful tools like writing and measuring. The measuring part must have come in handy for the megalith builders.

    Ethnographic Art - It should be noted that "stone age" art continued to flourish around the world for a number of cultures, right up to the present. "Ethnographic" is a handy term that here means: "Not going the way of Western art."

Ancient Civilizations

    3500-331 BC - Mesopotamia - The "land between the rivers" saw an amazing number of cultures rise to - and fall from - power. The Sumerians gave us ziggurats, temples and lots of sculptures of gods. More importantly, they unified natural and formal elements in art. The Akkadians introduced the victory stele, whose carvings forever remind us of their prowess in battle. The Babylonians improved upon the stele, using it to record the first uniform code of law. The Assyrians ran wild with architecture and sculpture, both in relief and in-the-round. Eventually, it was the Persians who put the whole area - and its art - on the map, as they conquered adjacent lands.

    3200-1340 BC - Egypt - Art in ancient Egypt was art for the dead. The Egyptians built tombs, pyramids (elaborate tombs), the Sphinx (a tomb) and decorated tombs with colorful pictures of the gods they believed ruled in the afterlife.

    3000-1100 BC - The Aegean - The Minoan culture, on Crete, and the Mycenaeans in Greece brought us frescos, open and airy architecture, and marble idols.

Classical Civilizations

    800-323 BC - Greece - The Greeks introduced humanistic education, which is reflected in their art. Ceramics, painting, architecture and sculpture evolved into elaborate, highly crafted and decorated objects which glorified the greatest creation of all: humans.

    6th-5th centuries BC - The Etruscans - On the Italian peninsula, the Etruscans embraced the Bronze Age in a big way, producing sculptures notable for being stylized, ornamental and full of implied motion. They were also enthusiastic producers of tombs and sarcophagi, not unlike the Egyptians.

    509 BC-337 AD - The Romans - As they rose to prominence, the Romans first attempted to wipe out Etruscan art, followed by numerous attacks on Greek art. Borrowing freely from these two conquered cultures, the Romans created their own style, one which increasingly stood for power. Architecture became monumental, sculptures depicted re-named gods, goddesses and prominent Citizens and, in painting, the landscape was introduced and frescos became enormous.

Next: The Middle Ages

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