Ideas about art change along with general conceptual evolutions in the history of ideas. What artists in the Renaissance focused on, such as with new discoveries around rendering the illusion of perspective, will be different from what interested Romantic artists – concerned as they are with the expression of self and human nature as could be found in classical myths. New technologies, such as photography, might free painters from the disciplines of always mirroring reality, and thus open up creative space for new approaches, such as those of Impressionism, Cubism and Expressionism. The Futurists were obsessed with war and technological change, while the Fauvists thought art had become too gloomy and was in need of a lighter, and brighter, emotional spirit. This unit spans tens of thousands of years, beginning with the cave paintings – whose original meanings we can only guess at – to today's postmodern era.
History and Geography are the human aspects of Time and Space. Many museums of the world arrange the rooms where artefacts are displayed by geography – the Art of Japan, or the Art of Sumeria, or the Art of Mexico, for instance. As we wander these museums, we come to associate art with its areas of origin. The historical progression of creative practices is less easy to build into museum design, perhaps because a timeline – which indicates the linear movement of events that progress in only one direction in time – does not translate as well into architectural form as does geographic allocations of museum collections to museum rooms. This unit will help you to form the main associations of key artworks with historical periods and the areas of the globe where the works were originated.
Viewing art historically allows you to trace ideas sometimes across even thousands of years. For instance, the Roman innovation of the arch was not just a structural invention, but also a cultural reference for architecture during the Romanesque period (6th to 11th century) when Roman forms were rediscovered in the Middle Ages. Much later still, postmodern architects would mine Roman forms for their expressive value as kitsch, or light-hearted or even frivolous and playful cultural reference.
Be sure you understand these terms as you study for the final exam. Try to think of the reason why each term is included.