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Stone Age, Bronze Age, & the Americas
A survey of the traditional art of the New World (North America, Mesoamerica, and South America) featuring the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Moche, and Inca, together with parallel art of the Bronze Age from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, and China.
The Art Department of our university has been dreaming of an art museum for many years. Teaching Art History with slides and books is good, but teaching with actual art is better. That is why our students are regularly sent to Bay Area museums. How much better it would be to have a museum on campus.
This dream of having a teaching museum of world art gathered momentum when a local charitable trust called the Institute for Aesthetic Development offered to donate its widely respected teaching collection on the condition that it be housed properly. The university has decided this would be a most welcome gift, and will soon begin to raise the needed funds.
“GLOBAL VISION, PART ONE” in the Fall of 2006 and “GLOBAL VISION, PART TWO”
in the Fall of 2008 are a pair of exhibitions that showcase the Institute’s widely respected Teaching Collection of World Art which includes museum-quality work from the major cultural and spiritual traditions of the Old World and the New World, along with replicas to stimulate discussions of aesthetics, authenticity, and comparative symbolism.
This pair of exhibitions has been designed to provide our students with overviews of major cultural traditions of the Old World and the New World, as well as to demonstrate what the galleries of an on-campus museum could look like, and how they would function in the educational life of our community. IAD’s donation could form the core of a collection to start off a center for world cultures to be used for visual education by various Departments such as Art, Anthropology, and History. However, it would just be a start. The collection would grow over the years with contributions from other donors.
The subtitle of “GLOBAL VISION, PART ONE” was “Africa, Oceania, and Modernism.” The subtitle of “GLOBAL VISION, PART TWO” is “The Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Americas.” Featured in that first exhibition were the tribal world, traditional Asia, and the modern world, Europe and the United States. At the heart of this second exhibition is the traditional art of North America, Mesoamerica, and South America, including the Olmec, the Maya, the Aztec, the Moche, and the Inca. This exhibition concludes with parallel art of the Bronze Age from Mesopotamia, Egypt, Minoan Crete, and China.
We are grateful to the Institute for Aesthetic Development in Brentwood for most of the loans to this exhibition, and to other members of our community: the C. E. Smith Museum of Anthropology on the CSUEB campus, the family collection of a CSUEB faculty mmber, and to Evelyn Hedrick, a graduate student in the CSUEB Museum Studies program, who has kindly supplemented the North American group with loans from her collection.
This exhibition is devoted to the very early art of our ancestors. The first installment of “Global Vision” in 2006 emphasized the art of the world after the time of Greece and Rome, during the so-called Common Era (CE) which started about 2000 years ago.
This second installment emphasizes the art of the world that developed before that time. That includes 90% of human history. Our survey begins with the Stone Age, when all the world was tribal.
Societies slowly became more complex. The New World saw the remarkable development of the Olmec, Maya, Aztec, Moche, and Inca who are given special emphasis in this exhibition. Their achievement is presented in a global context. The exhibition concludes with parallel art from the near-contemporary civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt, Crete, and China.
The first phase of the Stone Age is called the Old Stone Age or the Paleolithic.
Most specialists date the beginning of this period to about 100,000 years ago.
People lived in roving bands and clans of hunters and gatherers. Their spiritual entities usually had animal forms. Their most famous art is “rock art” which started to be made at least 25,000 years ago in and around caves where rituals were performed.
The typical Creation Myth of this period is of a Great Goddess who gives birth to all that is.
The next phase of the Stone Age is called the New Stone Age or the Neolithic.
This is when the agricultural revolution took place at different times in various parts of the world. Many farming societies were establishing permanent settlements by about 10,000 years ago. The typical Creation Myth is of a couple who co-create the universe, not once but regularly in harmony with the annual vegetative cycle. It might be Sister Moon & Brother Sun, but more often is Mother Earth & Father Sky.
Then came the Bronze Age when metal technology and civilization developed.
The usual definition of a “civilization” is when a society has a large population, monumental art and architecture, and the capacity to read and write. Societies of this complexity sprang up around the world between 3500 BCE and 1500 BCE (Before Common Era), some 5500 to 3500 years ago. In Mesoamerica, complex cultures start to develop around 2000 BCE and continue until the Spanish Conquest in the 16th century.
The male and female deities of this polytheistic world were often part human and part animal. It was still a semi-tribal world where the ideal psychology is oneness with nature. The typical leadership in early literate societies was a semi-shamanic theocracy headed by a god-king and goddess-queen. There was a good deal of gender balance.
The last thousand years of the ancient era, from about 600 BCE to 600 CE,
was a transitional period between the old world of tribal affilitaions and the new world of individual affiliations. This period is usually associated in the West with Greece and Rome. It was during this period that the roots of the Modern world began to grow.
There developed a new idea of a single male Creator (Goddesses start to disappear), and a priestly elite of only males (priestesses start to disappear). All forms of shamanism, including sacred totemic associations began to disappear. Individualism replaced Tribalism. Institutionalized Individualism, greatly reduced respect for women, and monotheistic theology remain the dominant social patterns in the modern Western world.
A key element in this profound cultural transformation was the change in writing systems. Until the alphabet developed during this period, all writing had been pictorial. Both the left-brain and the right-brain were engaged in reading and writing. The non-pictorial alphabet does not require the use of the right-brain. This mode of perception tends to favor the whole galaxy of left-brain values (usually male values such as analytical perception, linearity of logic and singularity of focus), and to reduce faith in intuitive values (usually female values such as emotional perception, fluidity of logic, and multiplicity of focus).
A recent study shows traditional cultures that adopt an alphabet rapidly shift from polytheism to monotheism. Respect for females shrinks. Gender balance vanishes. In short, maleness comes to dominate the heavens and the earth. Now, after centuries of patriarchy, psycho-social balance is only slowly returning.
Many of the objects on display in this exhibition are original works of art; others are museum-quality replicas. This combination hopefully will provide our students with a richly rounded view of this part of our collective cultural and spiritual heritage. We are grateful to the Institute for Aesthetic Development, Brentwood, for lending most of the works in this exhibition from its Teaching Collection of World Art.
Many other collections in our community could be the source of future loans and gifts. To suggest the range of those possibilities, this exhibition includes loans from the Smith Museum of Anthropology on the CSUEB campus, the family foundation of a CSUEB faculty member, and from Evelyn Hedrick, a graduate student in the CSUEB Museum Studies program. The future for a learming center of world culture looks bright.
Lanier Graham, Director
University Art Gallery, CSUEB
From the World Wars to Iraq
How do we measure the cost of war? Various parts of the Western world have been at war at one time or another for most of recorded history. The modern Western world has continued this bloody trend from the Renaissance into contemporary times. Historians and bureaucrats usually measure the cost of wars in terms of money. Artists examine human cost with images that speak of humanity and inhumanity. This exhibition is a survey of such images from the World Wars of the 20th century to the present.
Some historical background may be useful for thinking about what the costs of war actually are. The first great modern wars were religious, with the Protestants fighting the Catholics. That era of Reformation began with Luther in the 16th century and continued into the 17th century. The most dramatic war records of that era are the prints of Callot. The greatest artist of the early 19th century to document the cost of war was Goya. His series of etchings called The Disasters of War records in vivid detail the human horrors that all wars bring. In the middle of the 19th century Matthew Brady, during the American Civil War (1861-65), used the newly invented camera to show the world what dead soldiers on a battlefield actually look like. More Americans died in that war than in all other American wars combined: about 600,000.
World War I (1914-18) was a conflagration that convulsed the whole of Europe, and eventually brought in the United States. World-wide, the dead numbered millions. The most powerful images of death and dying during this war were rendered by German artists such as Dix. Dix spoke from the perspective of being a wounded soldier.
Death and dying in World War II (1939-45) were recorded by many visual artists, but painting and printmaking would no longer be the primary tool of communication. It was mainly photography and newsreels that brought images of the war directly to the general public. The photo-magazine, developed largely in the United States, was the primary vehicle for picturing the cost of war. At first the U.S. government withheld bloody battle images from the public, and then decided it would be better to show the truth. World-wide, about 70 million people died during World War II.
By the time of the Vietnam Conflict (1964-73), curiously never called a war, the primary media had become television. Every evening living rooms were filled with images of death and dying. The present wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also are imaged for us primarily by T.V. But the action is so far away and so heavily censored that we rarely see the dying or the dead or even their coffins. This strange non-visualizing of the core reality tends to make war seem a remote abstraction. What we see are lists of names, rows of crosses, and quantitative statistics that speak of thousands of invisible deaths and billions of dollars. Somehow those numbers do not add up to the true cost of war.