Considering the backdrop of politics and war is an important part of understanding ancient and contemporary art (Stockstad, 2003, p. 468). Historians can tell a lot about the actual events and feelings that occurred during wartime by looking at the rat of the time.
As the twentieth century dawned, many European and Americans had an optimistic outlook on life, believing that human society would advance through the spread of democracy, capitalism and technological change. Thus, during this time, artwork was relatively positive and upbeat. However, the competitive nature of both colonialism and capitalism created greater instability in Europe, and countries banded together in rival political alliances.
World War I started in 1914, pitting Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austria. War imagery was created by many artists and often was used as propaganda. The United States entered in 1917 and contributed to an Allied victory in 1918. WWI transformed European politics and economics, particularly in Russia, which became the world's first Communist nation. In 1922, the Soviet Union was created.
American and Western European economies soon recovered from the war but the 1929 stock market crash in New York caused the Great Depression, which devastated the world economy (Stockstad, 2003). In 1939, German aggression caused World War II, the most destructive war in history.
Still, many technological and scientific revolutions occurred during these years. As a result, many artists, like scientists and inventors, engaged in a process of experimentation and discovery, seeking to explore new worlds of creativity and expression in a rapidly changing world.
After 1900, the pace of artistic innovation increased, producing a succession of movement, including Cubism, Futurism and Surrealism. However, during wartime, realism was prevalent, as artist depicted war images in their work.
Realism dominated American art in the period between WWI and WWII (Stockstad, 2003, p. 500). Still, some artists maintained an interest in the nonrepresentational styles of European art. In the 1930's, new exhibits at New York's Museum of Modern Art promoted European avant-garde art and paved the way for Abstract Expressionism, the dominant style of the late 1940s and1950s in the U.S.
After WWII, when the U.S. And Soviet Union emerged from the war as the world's most powerful nations, American artists took the lead in the arts. Soon, American artists were viewed as world leaders in innovation. This dominance lasted until about 1970, when belief in a dominant line of artistic development waned.
In both ancient art and modern art, war images concentrate on the aesthetic qualities of these images, focusing on the composition of forms and color balance, rather than the harsh realities of war (Quddus, 2002).
The ancient specimens of artwork depicting battle scenes are gone, just like the reasons for those battles (Quddus, 2002). However, there are numerous art pieces, in which fights between various tribes, regions and kingdoms are depicted. Some of the earliest samples are the relief sculptures made in Mesopotamia (which is now known as Iraq). In one of sculptures, titled "Victory Stele of Naram-Sin," which dates back to 2500 B.C., the king and soldiers are killing and subjugating their enemies.
Since then, the fascination with war imagery has been seen in many art forms, and can be seen in the Greek reliefs belonging to 5th century BC, in early Christian art, 15th century Italian paintings till the age of Romanticism (Quddus, 2002). In many cases, these pieces were based on mythological and religious themes or were created to mark the victory of the rulers.
The parallel between ancient art and modern day depiction of war can be seen in many areas (Quddus, 2002). As many as 15,000 years ago, the caves of Spain and France were decorated with paintings of animals, which were intended to capture the soul of the prey before actually hunting it down. The modern technique of treating war as a subject follows the same prehistoric notion that if you can control the image of a person or an animal, you can gain the power to destroy him. For this reason, many media outlets destroy the enemy on screen or through art long before the actual act is accomplished.
Throughout history, there have been many changes in artists' approach towards war. In the early 1800's, artists were still engaged with the depiction of war in their works. But then, rather than praising a conqueror or nation, they focused on other ideas, such as freedom, liberation and humanity (Quddus, 2002). Perhaps these concepts were dormant in the earlier works of art that indicated the rulers' triumphs in war. However, in the later periods many artists sided with the oppressed and victims.
This shift in the point-of-view occurred when artists began to assumed personal freedom as free individuals. In modern art, artists take various stances on the issue of war, either showing patriotism or opposition to war. For instance, "The Third of May" by Fancisco Goya, which was painted in 1814, conveys the atrocities of war, rather than supporting leaders (Quddus, 2002).
In addition, several paintings by Picasso show the reaction of a painter against the brutalities of war (Quddus, 2002). After World War II, Picasso painted many pieces on the theme, with a few recurring symbols. Picasso's "Guernica," which was painted in 1937, shows how fascist forces destroyed a village during the Spanish Civil War. Picasso, with the help of metaphors and references from mythology and art of the past, made paintings that transformed actual events into visual statements.
Picasso was not the only artist to emerge in the modernist era tackling the issues of war. Following WWI, poets, writers, photographers, and artists tried to make images "to end all wars (Pollack, 2003)." Kathe Kollwitz, who lost her son to war in 1914 and her grandson in the next war in 1944, produced images of the ravaging effects of war on the mothers and widows who survived. Movements, including Dadaism, surrealism, futurism, and constructivism, all were rooted in the values of post-war times.
Throughout history, many artists have focused on war. However, many others refused to adopt it as their subject (Quddus, 2002). For example, Shakir Ali, during the 1965 War, was asked why does he not paint the war between India and Pakistan. He stated that he would prefer to paint moon that shines on the two sides of the border and draw flowers that blossom in both countries. This decision was the artist's choice and is one that many modern artists today are exercising. Many modern artists have become indifferent in regards to the act of depicting war or expressing their opinions about war, possibly due to all of the media coverage of war.
The idea of divine war, in which ancient deities were believed to be a large part of war, is found in ancient Near Eastern art (Quddus, 2002). The deities are depicted as preparing the king for battle by teaching him to fight and giving him symbols of victory (like swords and bows). The deities are shown protecting the kings in battle and influencing the outcome. In addition, some artists show them as taking part actively in the battle. There is a difference in the way in which the idea of divine war is depicted in art forms in Egypt and Mesopotamia, reflecting different worldviews, especially with regard to the concept of kingship.
Ancient battle scenes can be interpreted in many ways (Robins, 2000, p. 178-179). In some artists' creations, they are depicted as preserving the inner purity of the temple by keeping out impure, malign influences. They may also display to the viewer a sense of who the king was and what position he played in the central world.
In addition, battle images account actual events and victories of a king, preserving his memory. While only a…
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