We call lots of things art today. We use the term visual arts to describe the arts we can see. Painting, sculpture, and architecture have long been the major visual arts in Europe and North America. Today, we include photography, furniture, pottery, jewelry, and many other arts and crafts among the visual arts.
Sometimes we speak of the fine arts—other forms of expression that appeal to our sense of beauty and form. This broader category includes literature, music, and dance, in addition to the visual arts.
PAINTING, SCULPTURE, AND ARCHITECTURE
Painting, sculpture, and architecture have all been around for a long time. We tend to consider them the most important forms of art.
People painted and drew on the walls of caves during the Stone Age, as long as 32,000 years ago. They made pictures of animals—probably the animals they hunted for food.
Over time, artists started painting different subjects. They painted landscapes, portraits of people, religious figures, and still lifes (fruit, flowers, and other objects that don’t move).
Sculpture is as old as painting. The first sculptures we know about are small human figures. The human figure remained the most popular subject of sculpture until the 20th century. Today, sculptors are concerned more with the materials of sculpture than with subjects. They even make sculptures out of junk and other objects they find lying around.
Architecture is both an art and a science—the art and science of making buildings. Rulers and religions are responsible for putting up some of the most impressive buildings in the world. Rulers built magnificent palaces to display their wealth and power. Religions need churches, mosques, temples, and other structures as places of worship. Religious buildings also celebrate the mysteries of religion.
WHY DO WE MAKE ART?
Everybody likes to draw, swoosh paint around with their fingers or a brush, or model things out of clay. The desire to make art is universal. People make art everywhere, and they seem to have been doing it for as long as they’ve been around.
One of the main reasons for making art is pleasure. We enjoy making art and we enjoy looking at it. We find beauty in art, and that gives us pleasure. We also admire the skill and imagination that go into making art.
Art has served other purposes, too. Think about portraits—pictures of people. Before there were cameras, a portrait was how people remembered someone who wasn’t there.
Portraits of rulers made them look powerful to impress their subjects. History paintings reminded people of victories in battle and other important events. Sculptures also commemorated rulers and victories.
Before many people could read, art instructed and educated. For example, stained glass windows in churches were meant to teach people stories in the Bible. Many paintings from the past show religious scenes.