Monday, September 23, 2013

Art History's Top 100 -- Ancient Art

Thank you, Mrs. McKelvin.   McKelvin was my high school humanities teacher, and it was her class that opened my eyes to the world of art.   Rosalie Mack is, I'm sure, the equivalent to many students in Charlotte County.  Until Mack retired last year, she worked as an art teacher (both studio art and art history) at Punta Gorda Middle School and then Charlotte High School.    She has now brought her skills to the Visual Arts Center, and I was the first person to sign up for her six session course entitled "Art History's Top 100."

The immediate question, of course, is how Mack could possibly choose THE top 100 works of art.  While acknowledging that the selection was arbitrary, Mack says her goal is to familiarize students with the works of art that we are most likely to come across in our lives, whether's it's in the news, in popular culture or in cocktail party conversation.   It works for me!  I am just happy to have the chance to discover (or rediscover, as the case may be) some artistic greatest hits.

Red Cow and First Chinese Horse -
Caves of Lascaux, France
The first class was a whirlwind survey of ancient art, with the focus on genres of art rather than specific artists.  In two and a half hours, we went from the cave drawings of Lascaux, France and Altimira, Spain (circa 25,000 - 15,000 BC) to the Pantheon in Rome (which, according to the internet, "opened" in 126 AD).   It is truly astonishing that the cave drawings (made from raw earth materials) have survived over the ages.  The works are thought to be tributes to the gods who were responsible for providing food to the people.  As we looked at the slides, I realized that I had actually seen the cave drawings of Lascaux on a long ago bike trip to the Dordogne Valley.  Sadly, my strongest memory is not of the drawings but of the riders on our trip who were claustrophobic and refused to enter the caves.

Stonehenge (circa 2000 BC) in England made the cut, and a visit to this mysterious site is definitely on my bucket list.   To this day, scientists and paleontologists don't know the purpose of the structure--perhaps a calendar of some sort, perhaps a place to celebrate pagan gods.  Two amazing facts:  1)  Stonehenge took over 2000 years to build, so there was a lot of buy-in to whatever was going on.  2)  Some of the enormous stones were transported from over 200 miles away.  (They know this because the type of stone used is not indigenous to the area.)  We're not talking about a time when you could just load these huge boulders up on a flatbed and haul them.  Most likely, the stones were rolled on logs from their home to the building site.  Pretty amazing stuff.

Bull-Leaping Fresco
My favorite art of the class came from the Palace of Knossos (circa 3000-1200 BC)
located  on the Greek Island of Crete.  The palace  ruins contain a number of frescoes, including this depiction of everyone's favorite athletic event--bull leaping.  There were apparently several types of bull-leaping, but what is shown here is a gymnast running full force at a bull, grabbing its horns, and catapulting himself over to the other side of the animal.  This puts some perspective on the vaulting event at the Olympics.  A form of bull-leaping (with cows instead of bulls) is still practiced today in Southwest France.  I'm generally up for new experiences, but I think I'd sit on the sidelines for this one.

By the end of the evening, we had covered 16 of Art History's Top 100, and I was already looking forward to the following week's class.   Next up: the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Anyone for an Illusion?

Hoping there will still be some activity by the time the quarantine is over. The Chalk Festival is one of my favorite events of t...