Monday, November 14, 2011

Guy who had a weird dream

I’ve been tapping various sources to try to learn why – aside from its formal attributes - ancient art is so enticing.

The least interesting vein of information has been my high school art history textbook. There, writers make up a narrative to fit their own idea about what art is. And it seems that for them, art is about the artist and his supreme will. For example, with regard to a figurine from 2100 BC (like this one above), it reads, “The sculptor [worked the hard stone] with consummate skill, making an opportunity out of difficulty.” But the concept of skill and of opportunity, and also of sculptor, is entirely modern. These were societies that didn’t make images consciously, as an esthetic or cultural exercise, but because they were powerful, because they served a purpose.

And I’m not really interested in what that purpose was; who the king was, what he wanted, what was happening around him. I’m not interested in specifics. I like generalities. That’s why I find Joseph Campbell’s conversations with Bill Moyers about myth more interesting. For the former, myths are the ground of humanness throughout the ages. Because, when you boil it down, when you generalize, there aren’t that many themes to develop. So, ancient art might be interesting to me in part because I see a humanness boiled down. Guy praying for direction. Guy walking with animals. Guy who had a weird dream.

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