Portal:Arts

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The arts is a vast subdivision of culture, composed of many creative endeavors and disciplines. It is a broader term than "art", which, as a description of a field, usually means only the visual arts. The arts encompass the visual arts, the literary arts and the performing artsmusic, theatre, dance and film, among others. This list is by no means comprehensive, but only meant to introduce the concept of the arts. For all intents and purposes, the history of the arts begins with the history of art. The arts might have origins in early human evolutionary prehistory.

Ancient Greek art saw the veneration of the animal form and the development of equivalent skills to show musculature, poise, beauty and anatomically correct proportions. Ancient Roman art depicted gods as idealized humans, shown with characteristic distinguishing features (e.g. Jupiter's thunderbolt). In Byzantine and Gothic art of the Middle Ages, the dominance of the church insisted on the expression of biblical and not material truths. Eastern art has generally worked in a style akin to Western medieval art, namely a concentration on surface patterning and local colour (meaning the plain colour of an object, such as basic red for a red robe, rather than the modulations of that colour brought about by light, shade and reflection). A characteristic of this style is that the local colour is often defined by an outline (a contemporary equivalent is the cartoon). This is evident in, for example, the art of India, Tibet and Japan. Religious Islamic art forbids iconography, and expresses religious ideas through geometry instead. The physical and rational certainties depicted by the 19th-century Enlightenment were shattered not only by new discoveries of relativity by Einstein and of unseen psychology by Freud, but also by unprecedented technological development. Paradoxically the expressions of new technologies were greatly influenced by the ancient tribal arts of Africa and Oceania, through the works of Paul Gauguin and the Post-Impressionists, Pablo Picasso and the Cubists, as well as the Futurists and others.

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Featured article

The Magdalen Reading
The Magdalen Reading is one of three surviving fragments of a large mid-15th century oil-on-oak altarpiece by the early Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden. Completed some time between 1435 and 1438, it has been in the National Gallery, London since 1860. It shows a woman with the pale skin, high cheek bones and oval eyebrows typical of the idealised portraits of noble women of the period. The woman is identifiable as the Magdalen from the jar of ointment placed in the foreground, which, according to the Gospels, she used to clean Christ's feet. The background of the painting had been overpainted with a thick layer of brown paint. A cleaning between 1955 and 1956 revealed the figure standing behind the Magdalen and the kneeling figure with bare feet protruding in front of her, with a landscape visible through a window. The original altarpiece was a sacra conversazione known only through a drawing, Virgin and Child with Saints. The panel was purchased by the National Gallery from a collector in Paris. It is described by art historian Lorne Campbell as "one of the great masterpieces of 15th-century art and among van der Weyden's most important early works."

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The Ugly Duchess
Credit: Quentin Matsys

A 1513 portrait of an unknown Duchess, possibly Margaret, Countess of Tyrol, by Flemish painter Quentin Matsys. She holds a red flower in her right hand, at the time a symbol of engagement, indicating that she is trying to attract a suitor. This portrait inspired the appearance of the Duchess in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. The portrait is Matsys' best-known work, and formed half of a diptych. The painting is in the National Gallery in London.

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Roman Vishniac, c. 1981
Roman Vishniac was a renowned Russian-American photographer, best known for capturing on film the culture of Jews in Eastern Europe before the Holocaust. He was, however, an extremely diverse photographer, an accomplished biologist and a knowledgeable student and teacher of art history. Throughout his life, he made significant scientific contributions to the fields of photomicroscopy and time-lapse photography. He later became a teacher and collector of historic art and artifacts. Vishniac was very interested in history, especially that of his ancestors. In turn, he was strongly tied to his Jewish roots and was a Zionist later in life. Roman Vishniac won international acclaim for his photography: his pictures from the shtetlach and Jewish ghettos, celebrity portraits, and images of microscopic biology. He is known for his book A Vanished World, published in 1947, which was one of the first such pictorial documentations of Jewish culture in Eastern Europe from that period. He is known also for his extreme humanism and respect and awe for life, sentiments that can be seen in all aspects of his work.

Featured audio

A la Nanita Nana, a Spanish Christmas carol, performed by the U.S. Army Band Chorus in Spanish and English.

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Adam Smith

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