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What Purpose Does Art Serve Continued

The next purposes of art will be explored by studying the Egyptian pyramids of Giza made during the Old Kingdom.  Politics, social status, and daily life are predominant themes of Egyptian art as well as themes found in many other cultures and artists’ work.  While almost all Egyptian art was made for the purpose of the afterlife, the pyramids were what housed this art as well as the body of the dead pharaoh and all of the things he would need for the afterlife.   The pharaoh was very important to the Egyptians.  Besides being the earthly ruler of the Egyptian kingdom, the pharaoh was considered a junior god while alive.  After the pharaoh’s death, he rejoined the other Egyptian gods and was worshipped as fully divine.  The riches that have been found buried with pharaohs attest to the great position that the pharaoh held in society.  While many of the Egyptian pyramids were robbed very soon after the pharaoh was buried, a few were not.  One of these is the grave of King Tutankhamen.  King Tut, as many know him, was not a major ruler in Egyptian history much to the surprise of most people.  He is probably the best known pharaoh simply because his tomb was never robbed.  Some of the sculptures found demonstrate the Egyptian belief that the afterlife was just like life on Earth except that it had no end;  therefore   many Egyptian works show simple scenes from daily life.  The subjects of art do not always need to have complex symbolism and deep meaning.   Many artists throughout history have depicted what was happening in the daily lives of ordinary people. 

Besides using daily life for a subject for art, many artists choose to depict the beauty of nature and their surroundings in their work.  College art students often experience plein air drawing, French for open air drawing.  This means the artists sit outside and draw or paint what they see around them.  The impressionists, one of the most popular groups of artists, did this in the 19th century.  With the invention of tubes of paint they no longer were required to spend hours grinding pigments and mixing paint.  Taking the tubes of paint outdoors became very easy. The popularity of plein air painting continues today.

Sandy Skoglund: American

While the everyday things that an artist observes are often the subjects for art,  artists also use their imagination to invent worlds that are purely fantasy.  One artist who does this is Sandy Skoglund.  While her work is primarily seen through large scale photographs, she uses many other skills to create the sets for these photographs.   As in Radioactive Cats, she sculpts and paints the cats and arranges the entire scene before ever picking up her camera.  The world of glowing radioactive cats is one that the world hopes to never see, yet it is also one that Skoglund has imagined with the danger of nuclear weapons in mind.

Here it is evident that the realities of a culture such as the one of the world today are reflected in the work of artists.  By learning to appreciate art, one can gain a deeper understanding of the world that one lives in and the variety of people who inhabit it.

Finally,  art is not always created for one of the purposes previously mentioned.  It is often created simply to advance the idea of “what is art?”  When art from the twentieth century is explored in depth it will be clearer why artists choose this as a theme.  In the Western world,  artists have been making advancements since the Renaissance.  By the time the twentieth century arrived artists began to push the limits of what art really was.  Cubism, installation art, and many other art forms are a result of artists such as Picasso creating new approaches to what they had been taught.   

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