Social Trends In Art Essay

Art is something which can be analyzed to give deeper insight as to the common
values and beliefs shared by the members of a certain society. Regardless of the
place of origin or the time period of a form of art, it will always be a
reflection of the social structure in which it’s creator/s lived. However, the
way the artist perceives the culture common to his time period is very relative.

People pertaining to a higher social class had different values and ideologies
than members of a lower class. This different view of life can be seen very
clearly in individual forms of art such as painting and music. These specific
forms of artistic expression required very little money, thus could be exercised
by anyone including members of a lower class. Other forms of art such as
architecture and sculpture required more money and in most cases wealthy patrons
such as kings or queens. Architecture also required large numbers of workers
which often made it hard to see any individual influence in the design, however
showed the collective ideology of all of the people involved. The cost of labor
and materials was also so great that very affluent members of society were
needed to financially support the whole process. Sculpture was also an artistry
that required great amounts of material and labor. This resulted in a more
normative form of art which portrayed societal aspects in a way that was of
interest to the financial backers. By studying both popular and normative art
together it is possible to obtain a greater perspective on a specific culture.

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Outside influences from other countries can also affect the art and the artists
of a certain society. As a country sees more and more immigrants from a certain
area, the art will begin to reflect the ideologies these outsiders bring in with
them. This same change can be seen more drastically in the case of an invasion.

The architecture would change drastically, since it is normative art and the new
rulers would enforce their own norms and rules. The painting would also change,
however less drastically than more official forms of art. This more gradual
change could be attributed to the individuals of the country who still retained
the old values and customs. These same influences on art would take place if
nobility of another country married into the royal family, and was then given
heir to the throne. The change would be just as drastic, but departure from old
ideologies would be encouraged instead of enforced. In the case of Arab
influence in Spain during the eighth century, it was not an invasion rather a
gradual settling of this other culture in Spain’s borders. The change was
brought about by the affect this outside influence had on the people of Spain.

The new ideas and forms of artistic expression were exciting and intriguing to
Spaniards, and eventually they adopted these ideas as their own. The change was
seen in all forms of art, especially in the new arches and vivid colors used in
Arabic architecture. Any time a new way of life makes itself present in a
society, it has an affect on the art. Usually this change is seen mostly in
architecture and sculpture, while painting follows behind. The two cultures can
also mix together and give rise to a new form of hybrid artistic expression.

This mixing of ideas and beliefs is usually most evident in places were the
people are trying to choose between the new popular culture, and the old beliefs
and values of the country. Painting of a certain society can be analyzed either
technically or with the purpose of discovering its meaning. It’s the second
which should be used in order to give a better idea of the philosophies of a
certain group of people. The background of the painting is always very important
when studying a painting. The landscape or buildings behind the main focus of
the painting can give an idea of where the artist is from. Many times the artist
will use a background which doesn’t pertain to the actual painting to show
loyalty to his place of birth. This occurred mostly with painters who moved from
their home country to live elsewhere and ended up painting in the same style as
the other artists in his new country. If the background is painted in a very
refined way and contains very elegant features than it can be deduced that the
society at that time gave importance to these features. If it is painted very
realistically, not showing much attention to beauty, then portraying the scene
in a sincere way is probably the author’s primary objective. The subject of a
painting is also a very important factor when examining its social influences.

In cultures where religion governs every aspect of life, the painting will
reflect these beliefs. In any society run primarily by the Roman Catholic Church
the only theme used in painting is that of Christianity. This art is known as
committed art, and the most common subjects in painting are the Virgin Mary and
Jesus. In a society where the paintings are mostly of mythological events and
people, it can be deduced that the church is not the most important part of
life. Returning to ancient Greek and Roman ideals is more important to this
culture than the Catholic Church. Many times art will show common people
participating in everyday activities. This type of painting is done by popular
artists who have more of an interest in the lower class than the higher class.

Many of the artists who depicted this lifestyle were more popular than normative
artists, however didn’t receive the same attention from the critics. By looking
at the techniques used in paintings it is evident which qualities were seen as
more important to art. If the society views color and the overall impression of
the painting as the most important aspect, than these techniques will stand out
the most. If lines and realism are more important than these aspects will be
emphasized in the painting. These trends are often parallel to the social trends
which accompany them. If a certain culture believes that reason and straight
thinking are the guidelines of life, then these qualities will be reflected in
the painting. However, if feelings and the human soul are more important, than
the paintings will be less realistic and more emotional. Likewise if a society
sees religion as something to be painted with respect, the figures are more
likely to be shown idealistically. For instance if the Virgin Mary is always
portrayed as young and beautiful, then this shows the society’s respect and
admiration for this religious figure. However a different culture could believe
in realism as more important and portray Christ on the cross in a gruesome,
instead of peaceful, manner. Architecture is the form of art most representative
of a certain cultural period. It doesn’t allow for as much individual expression
as sculpture or painting because of the number of people involved. While only
one or two people design the building, hundreds of people help make this design
reality. The designers also had to please the people who gave them the money for
supplies and manpower. This made it hard for an architect to show much
individual expression. Often times the architecture of a time period is very
similar throughout a certain area. The churches are all built in a certain
style, as are any official buildings. The architecture very rarely strays from
this style since all of it is made to please the same people. This, although
sometimes monotonous, makes architecture a unifying force for a specific
society. When people see a certain building they know what that building is used
for and what that style of architecture signifies. It is also possible to
examine architecture and find out more about the society from which it
originated. The institutions hailed as important by that society are often built
in the official style while other buildings are not. Also, these institutions
are often housed in the biggest, most elaborate buildings. Much like painting,
the social trends of the time period are often portrayed in architecture. The
period of Enlightenment where reason governed most actions, the buildings were
built rationally and ever structure served a purpose. The baroque period gave
rise to buildings which closely resembled the attitude of the people: the more
adornments, the better. Sculpture is a form of art which was often found on
buildings as a decoration, or as part of the architecture. Most of the time it
was used to portray religious figures in a narrative on the front of a church.

The altars inside the church were also made up of mostly small sculptures of
religious figures and people. Official sculpture can be found of kings and
queens and other important people of the society. Sculpture is helpful in
analyzing society partly because it shows a culture’s view of the human body. A
culture with an interest in the human body is more likely to show the person
nude, and use great detail in the artwork. Sculpture also shows what symbols or
figures were representative of a society, and how that society used this
symbolism in their art. Music is a form of art that is very individual in
nature, and because of this is very diverse. There can be many types of music in
a certain society, however, the most popular songs will be those that embody the
ideas and beliefs of the common people. Music’s availability to almost everyone
makes it a very popular art form. Someone could make an instrument out of just
about anything they could lay their hands on. Singing doesn’t even require an
instrument, just a voice and some artistic talent. Courtly forms of music show
the lifestyles of the rich, affluent members of society, while popular music
illustrated that of the common man. Since all of these forms of art are products
of society, the driving force behind them are the normative and popular views of
life at the time. Although individual expression is always important for any
artist, his art won’t appeal to the people if it isn’t representative of
society. This makes art a constant reflection of social trends, whether they be
those of common man or those of the king and queen. Studying art can prove
helpful in analyzing a specific culture or society because embodies the ideology
of the nation.


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