One could somehow think of visual arts as acting in a way very similar as optical devices that distribute the light of a lamp or baffles that distribute sound waves evenly in a room.
- in animist times, shamans, sorcerers or whatever they are called were the ones who shaped the worldview of the members of the group. Their vision of reality was that the sun was at the heart of life, a male (yang) power of creation to be revered. Animals and plants used as forage in everyday life were respected for their power of maintenance of human life. Art served to illustrate those ideas. We moderns have come to call this form of art "primitive arts".... it flourished for tens of thousands of years but has completely vanished lately at the contact of greed that has been unleashed on the remaining animist societies by marketization.
- in religious times, I mean the historical phase of human development that comes after animism, humans revere gods (in the 3 religions of the word a unique god). The men of knowledge, in those societies governed by religions, are the priest, the monks or whatever they are called. They study the religious creed in their teens to diffuse it to all in their adult life. Art in that period illustrates the stories of the creed and gives images of the gods and their inner circle. Religious art flourished for hundreds and in some religions for thousands of years. It is still practiced nowadays but its influence over societies has been largely marginalized by the new ideology of capital, I mean the rationality vehiculated by the logic of capital.
- starting with early capitalism in Europe around the 16th century, power in society shifted from the clergy to the new rich merchants and the entrepreneurial aristocrats. Richness in terms of gold and silver possessions are now what procures power. The search for more gold and silver gradually shapes a new worldview made of the ideas of material possessions, private property, individualism and ever increasing rationality... By the end of the 15th century, art starts to represent landscapes and portraits and by the 16th and 17th century, those subjects represent the majority of all art productions. This goes on and on and is still appreciated today by many people but something fundamentally new happened in between that relegated landscapes and portraits as art forms of a past worldview.
- After mid-nineteenth century:
- under the impact on one side of new technologies and more particularly new techniques of transportation introducing the notion of speed,
- under the impact on another side of social changes relativizing the certainties of early capitalist forms, some artists are driven into changing their style of representation of portraits and landscapes. Van Gogh, Gauguin are the best known precursors of this stylistic change. The impressionist movance, later the expressionists, the cubists, the futurists and other schools continue to depict portraits and landscapes, or to say this otherwise, they continue to depict "reality" or at least what is considered as being reality in their days, this first degree image that project on the retina.
- sometime after the 1st world war, here and there artists begin to question the wisdom of that reality, they think, they write about the need to reject that vision for something new. (Breton, Duchamp, Ernst, Miro, Masson, Chagall,...) This debate and trials at painting something different will go on from the 1930th without interruption until today.
- the approaches in creation after the 2nd world war can best be described as a search for individuality. Everyone tries something different, originality takes central stage and very fast "what has not been done before" becomes the sacred grail of artists. BUT in this process total confusion becomes pervasive. Everything has been called art, has it not, from a slashed canvas to a toilet seat.
- starting around the year 2000 (very arbitrary dating) some artists begin to express the need for a return to SENSE in visual arts. Debates are going on but no firm conclusions have been accepted yet. Those artists are laboring toward early postmodernism.