Difference between ancient and modern art essay

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at 2016.05.14
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Historically art has been always been perceived by different cultures and traditions as an avenue in which a people can depict the society as it is. However, the boldness in which people have been able to use art to discourse various aspects of the society has developed progressively over the centuries. During the romantic era art depicted the society in a way that appealed to the senses of human beings regardless of whether that is the way things were.  After that art increasingly acquired boldness during the renaissance, modernism and post-modernism era.  A comparison of ancient sculptors with modern paintings and sculptors depicts that the society is continuously becoming bold in addressing the social problems that threaten the well-being of the body.

difference between ancient modern art

Femininity: The simplistic depiction of the feminine form and role in ancient societies by sculptors illustrates the assumptive beliefs that the societies had towards femininity.   According to Kleiner, ancient carvings of women emphasized in the reproductive aspects of women leaving other important aspects such as beauty, feelings and perception. Kleiner points out that the carving of Venus of Willendorf (30,000-25,000 BCE) placed little emphasis on beauty or the perception of the woman towards her social surrounding. The head is haphazardly carved with no face and the woman has exceptionally big breasts and stomach. The fertility aspect is brought out by the carving of the pubic area an aspect that was very rare for art depicting the female body (3). The carving totally left out the social role of femininity. Henry Moore’s recumbent figure of 1938 depicts an image that is in sync with the natural settings. The head and the breasts are curved neatly and the rest of the figure has a rolling form that depicts the universality. Instead of using fertility Moore depicts the female as representing continuity and unity in the way the parts of the body are interconnected (Janson 438).

Masculinity: The statue of the Kuoros (590 BCE) depicts a masculine youth with confidence and giving the impression of being composure. Ancient masculinity was closely associated with the physical strength rather than aspects such as the strength of the character. The nude depiction of the masculine and handsome Kuoros implies that masculinity is about physical strength which is closely associated with physical strength.  Emphasis on masculinity was therefore placed on aspects such as physical strength and sexual vigor rather than roles and responsibilities in the society (Edwards 118). The depiction of Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in 1907 by Picasso however depicts a rather weak aspect of masculinity that ancient artists were not bold enough to address. According to Edwards some feminist even interpreted the photo as depicting the feminine side of men (32). The painting also brings into perspective the fact that physical strength is not the only measure of masculinity but other aspects such as strength of character and self-control.

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Gender Issues: Ancient sculptors while depicting the female body usually made carvings of goddesses. The carvings were carved beautifully to act as aesthetic divergence from the real issues affecting women. The general belief was that only goddesses could have such beauty and display confidence as depicted in the sculptor of Aphrodite in 350 BC by Praxiteles. Artists shied away from depicting the issues affecting women for fear of upsetting the society (Nelson 13). A look at the Broken Column by Frida Khalo reveals an aspect of boldness more so because she painted herself and the perception she had on herself. The nails on her flesh depict societal inflictions upon her. Such an extent of sincerity and revelation illustrates boldness.


The comparison of ancient and modern art reveals a close association between art and knowledge and understanding. As the knowledge and understanding of societal issues and human nature progressed so did the boldness with which artists portrayed their art. Ancient understanding of the human body and the society was abstract and full of assumptions. However, modern artists were able to synchronize with developments in other fields of knowledge by depicting the world as it is. The result has been that contemporary art has taken an active role in addressing issues that affect the human body.


Works Cited

Edwards, Tim. Cultures of Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 2006. Print.

Janson, Horst Woldemar. History of Art: The Western Tradition. New York: Pearson Education, 2004. Print.

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s Art Through the Ages: The Western Perspective. New York: Wadworth Cengage, 2010. Print.

Nelson, Sarah M. Women in Antiquity: Theoretical Approaches to Gender and Archaeology. London: Rowman Altamira, 2007. Print.


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