Art has a very high status in modern societies: People flock to museums and art works fetch record prices. But our age is also oddly reluctant to say in clear terms what art might actually be for. An odd mystique surrounds it, epitomized by the puzzlement many of us feel as we look at yet another odd looking, modern work of art in a contemporary museum. We’re often left quietly and politely wondering what is it all meant to be about. For most of history, this kind of question didn’t arise, because it was abundantly clear what art was for. The question mark over the purpose of art is really a modern one, so let’s go back in time and find out about a wider range of options that we might be able to draw on fruitfully today. Rome, 290 AD Deep below the imperial Roman city, the faithful secretly gather in catacombs, or burial chambers, to celebrate new religious figure, Jesus Christ. Christianity, though still in its infancy and ruthlessly persecuted by the Roman authorities, is rapidly gaining ground. Like so many religions before it and since, Christianity has become involved with the making of art. Here, an unnamed and not especially talented artists represents Jesus healing of a bleeding woman, an incident recorded in the New Testament. Like all religions, Christianity is using art for a clear and understandable purpose: to make its message more resonant, emotionally attractive, and popularly appealing. Art is like a kind of advertising for
its ideas. Soon Christian artists are going to dominate
Europe. For almost a thousand years almost all art produced in Europe will
simply be Christian art. From humble beginnings in a subterranean prayer room, Christian art will go on to produce
extraordinary cathedrals, paintings sculptures and celebrating and enhancing
the prestige of its messages. Thailand, 15th century An unknown
craftsman finishes a statue of the Buddha. One of many hundreds of thousands
of such statues produced over the centuries in Southeast Asia. The purpose of such art is extremely
clear: You’re meant to look at the Buddha and take inspiration, becoming a little
more as he is. The sculpture is an invitation to calm
and contemplation. In the East as in the West arts function is evident: to support the truths set down by religions, to make ideas more easily
digestible. Paris, January 1801 The French artist Jacques-Louis David finishes “Napoleon crossing the Alps”. It commemorates a moment when a couple of years before, Napoleon still in his twenties launched a lightning raid on
the North Italian states, winning a series of astonishing victories. In the picture, Napoleon masters a white warhorse though he
actually cross the mountains on a more serviceable mule. Here, art is doing something it has done
throughout history as well: acting as propaganda for a political
cause. Napoleon is looking back to the example
of Louis XIV of France who did a lot of propagandizing with art. It was a habit he got into throughout his rule. Paris, 1833 The poet, novelist and critique Théophile Gautier publishes an essay about art, which argues that art must free itself from the poisonous agendas of religions and governments. The point of good art is always to be just for its own sake as he put it in French, “l’art pour l’art”, art for art’s sake. This doctrine of art for art’s sake
becomes the motto of the new generation of romantic artists who set themselves
against the old ideal that art should serve religion or powerful rulers or
nations. Nonsense, says Gautier, true art must serve nothing at all. it is an end in itself and doesn’t try
to change or do or speak about anything. Artists set themselves apart from the
bourgeois commercial society growing up all around, which is always trying to sell
people things. Art should try to inhabit a loftier, more abstract realm. New York, 1917 The artist Marcel Duchamp
prepares to exhibit his latest work at a show by the Society of Independent
Artists. It is surprisingly a urinal titled
simply Fountain. Duchamp is a rebellion against many notions of what
art is, that it should be easy to understand, that it should make sense,
that it should promote something. The true artist, argues Duchamp must
defend himself against any confusion with advertising, mass media, government
propaganda or religious indoctrination, that true purpose of the artist is to
stand outside the mainstream and create works that are enigmatic, mysteriously
provocative and rather silent. New York, 1949 A russian émigré artist, Marcus Ravkovic who has renamed himself Mark Rothko to escape anti-semitism exhibits a new range of works at the
Betty Parsons gallery in Manhattan. They are a revelation, in that they seem not to be about anything. They are about pure color fields and are as abstract as music. For some, they are the greatest works of the 20th century and soon fetch
enormous prices. The Museum of Modern Art acquires a
major set of Rothko’s as do other national museums around the world. Rothko becomes representative of the
more obscure direction of 20th century art, highly appealing to an elite who
will often pay enormous incomprehensible prices for works but puzzling for the
wider public. Venice, June 2005 The world’s most prestigious
art fair, The Venice Biennale opens at the newly restored spaces of the Arsenale. It has been curated for the first time
by two women, María de Corral and Rosa Martinez. 41 artist’s are shown from
all over the world. The nearby Marco Polo airport is filled
with the private jets of the world’s billionaires, many of whom profess to
love art. Elaborate cocktail parties are held late into the night. Art has become a playground for the
super rich as well as an obligatory tourist destination for weary travelers. Art is both hugely revered and yet
somehow still in question. For most of its history art has been saddled with a mission: to glorify religion or to speak well of the state. Modern art was the result of a swerve
away from these agendas for extremely understandable reasons. Yet if art is to regain its true centerality it should overcome it hesitation about
stating what it’s really for and is trying to do. It is really and has always
been a sophisticated tool, a tool that can help us to cope with things like loneliness, that can fill us with hope, that can help us to communicate our inner world, that questions power and aims to improve political systems. It is never an insult to ask art to do
things for us, to be a practical part of our daily lives. We honor art most when
we give it the highest task of all: to help us to lead better lives. If you like our films take a look at our
shop. theschooloflife.com/shop You’ll find lots of thoughtful books, games, stationery and more.

100 thoughts on “HISTORY OF IDEAS – Art

  1. did you notice that everytime de Botton says about poor or undereducated people he uses a depiction of Afroamericans? (like this pondering woman in the museum) By contrast, when he speaks about wealthy 'elite' the videos always show white people.

  2. An awsome channel! Love you guys. Keep up the good work.

    Just wondering are you by any chance cover some linquistic focused material?

    Cheers from Prague!

  3. Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Monet are some of the true modern artist. Unlike the people that makes trash bag and such and and call it art.

    Do you really think these retards can hold themselves in the same esteem as the first generation of impressionist? The standards have fallen to the point of non-existence. Where are the Rembrandts, Da Vincis, Michaelangelos, Vermeers, De Goyas? None because todays art is literally puting shit in cans and calling it art.

  4. I recognize quite a lot of quote from Gombrich "the story of art" probably the main source of this video

  5. Could you all do a video of Dada since it was indirectly touched on with Marcel Duchamp and his urinal piece?

  6. I do not understand why people find it difficult to explain what is art;it is just what it is.Use common sense more!

  7. I think the purpose of art is obvious: art should convey truth. To the degree it is random / unintentional, it is bad.

  8. I've seen these videos multiple times and am always thrown off in amazement. Thank you for such clarity and concise insight into these pillars of life.

  9. Can someone please recommend a good book, a video or an article (or any other source) on Art History?
    a source which is as clear and understandable as this channel, which can help understand the chronological order and development of styles etc. Something that helps to sort out all bits of knowledge and put all the pieces together, so to speak

  10. Honestly, I do not understand modern art, except a few pieces. I can understand a couple of colour collisions, but I think that I will maybe never understand art pieces as that urinal named "Fountain" one, nor those with three lines on a painting.
    Of course, I am very young, and still have so much to learn and will never insult someone's art because I do not understand it.

  11. You should speak more about romanticism vs impressionism. Romantics like Wagner, Dostoyevsky, or Chopin made art with meaning and purpose (whatever they chose) and did so abiding by and improving on universal standards there predecessors and contemporaries used. Impressionist invented Asthetic Relatavism or the idea that art is subjective therefore needs no standards. With any revolution, the first wave held merit; monet, debussy, etc. but in a system where you cannot improve upon your predecessors, youre doomed to spiral in quality where eventually form and meaning are completely devoid in art. This view, while pessimistic, can entirely explain modernist abstract art, minimalist film theory, and meaningless 2 minute pop music. L'art pour l'art means moreso that artists should habitually and tirelessly improve upon themselves so that they can make better art. They should serve art. In the past the artist served us, Kafka penned feelings we could not, Tchaikovsky wrote music that filled us with emotion, now; we pay musicians vast sums of money so that we can hear theyre 1 hour strut on the stage. Art should serve itself. And now, it does not

  12. Very insightful. Though you could take the history of art way back to the stone age and iron age where it was more of a form of communication. Even during the eras of ancient civilisations.

  13. As an artist, I aproove of this video, well done. To bad most of the comoners never get the point…. ever. 🙁

  14. What about the ART Code ? – That plain everyday language that expresses the amoral instinctual drives through tropes..that is pandemic today.The world of "work" and "wonder" and "weather" and "Wilde"…the world where every man and woman walks around repeating things to themselves three and four times to turn a cold morning greeting to a co-worker of "wintering it out" to a paranoid "Win to ring it out".The world is atomised and paranoid enough without this widespread phenomena – public discourse has this double life now where nothing is as it seems.It is also mandatory in the "workplace" and serves the dog eat dog competition so beloved by our masters..and for good reason – no trust or bond can be created between co-workers where everyone is so watchful and paranoid,no unity of dissent or formation of unions is possible where speech is so tightly controlled.
    I have looked around and can find no formulation for this social change.Perhaps the school of life can help ?

  15. So, is " Piss Christ" suppose to be a brilliant form of art? What about deficating on a stage and calling it art?

  16. Claiming that only the super rich enjoy contemporary art, as if it was some cocktail extravaganza, is such a b.s. stereotype! . . . if you want to enjoy art, look for yourself, it doesn't cost much, if at all.

  17. I think that art must have a purpose. Even if it's used to promote religion or ensure a status. Because these artworks that were made back then are masterpieces and easily unconquerable. I respect modern art and architecture, but it's nowhere close to the vintage one when art was used to serve these purposes. At least more beauty is produced to the world.

  18. Great video, but I'd hoped that 'art' would be taken to mean all of the arts, not just the visual arts! I'd love to see your take on music some time!

  19. I hate and love the commentators accent at the same time…

    I've watched so many videos from TSOL but I can't shake that accent

  20. Dear School of Life , can you please name the source of the background map of Europe that starts at 1:58, I find it really interesting and useful for my research. Thank you

  21. If as a society we are supposed to like works of art or culture that contain elements that we lack … Why then is that romantic works continue to have such massive success in a more romantic than classical world?
    Pd: I love your work

  22. for me, personally, art is a tool, a process, or a means to let, make, or express an idea or thought, feeling or sensation, or belief and experiences through different forms and ways of human communication like marks, forms, textures, texts, sounds, speech, patterns, visuals, images, or movements and gestures of our body that we give sense and meaning, or generate our own sense and meaning from …The visual, literary, and performing arts.

  23. You have completely disregarded central asian, middle eastern, persian, indus valley civilizations etc in terms of discussing ideas, philosophies, art, culture- everything.

  24. On first view, this presentation seems naive about the ever-presence of ideology. It takes at face value the modernist claims of "art for art's sake," without looking for the unconscious ways that all art reflects the economic structure of its time. "Freeing" art from religion or politics is utterly consistent with a rising middle class's entrepreneurial values.

  25. Beatnits rebelled against art in the 1940s and 1950s one took a canvas a bucket of tar slapped some tar on the canvas ( not even all the canvas only part of it) then stuck the brush to it.
    This is how it works in his attempt to rebell aganist art he still used the iconic language to try say something , some today are pass masters at saying nothing or got nothing to say as the point of modern art is to help the school to dumb down the sheep .
    In short it means nothing it says nothing it has nothing to say its a sham and a lie to shut off your thinking that it has any reason whatever or you might think for yourself and this art is ment to tell you your to dumb to understand .
    Conseptual art is a lie, the lie is that its art and the laugh is you believed them when they told you you were to dumb to understand high art, torn up newspaper with a see though plastic box over it.
    Give me a break whats to understand, now the piss christ also is not art is heresy but the iconic language should tell your the spiritually behind all modern art.

  26. Modern art is crap. A urinal??! Are you kidding me? Is this what art is? We came from leornado da vinci's work to a urinal. This is madness and is an offense aginst perfecting art throughout centuries and now with the 20th century came Trashy art with for example a rock in Cqlifornia and in an art museum to a urinal and to a person pooping. This is disgusting so why do we call it art, how is it that poop, urine and abstract things make it to the museum and supposedely is "art"?
    Also alongside with these, there are painting where lines are drawn and somehow revere art. This is just a kid's drawing.
    Modern art is TERRIBLE!

  27. notes for myself: so art has served many functions. because it required training and time, a specialized class, it was reserved for an elite, reserved for propaganda of religion or political. for example jesus paintings and buddhist statues to help in the veneration. with industralization, maybe that people needed to work less, and had more leisure time. so people were open to the idea that art can be enjoyed for art's sake. post-modernists questioned what art is anyways, why cant a toilet be art, or a can of soup? as long as it makes one think, reflect, maybe it's art. rich people paid a fortune for abstract art taht normal people couldnt understand, because it showed they were more sophisticated than average people.

  28. I love your take on this but isn't Art already around way before Christianity? I mean way back to Paleolithic Era, Art were used for survival purposes before it even became the kind of unexplainable art that invokes feelings we can't fully express now.

    But nonetheless, this is still an awesome review and thank you for this.

  29. Art acts as propaganda.


    Art wants to free itself from religion, etc.

    Art for art’s sakes. True art must serve itself. True artists set themselves apart. 1917.

  30. ''…to help us to lead better lives'' !!!! wait and see if the modern Art (!?) leads you to a better life!

  31. I think one of the most prominent art forms(and this will be UTTER ridicule-fuel to say.) is the creation of simple patterns, for WALLPAPER, clothes, phone wallpapers, furniture. For example I love the French Lily symbol (I think it is called.) It is beautiful, when i see it I get this sense of sophistication from it. But I’m not limiting art as it is a tool that is open to many uses, for good or evil.

    I think that a big part of it is simply that Humans like beautiful things, the mind benefits from created things, from colours and so on. It seems such a simple thing to say but maybe it is because We are used to seeing design EVERYWHERE, maybe we feel a sense of a hunger for beautiful art, for arts sake like the video says, may not be necessary enough, when I highly disagree, beauty is such a gift, the beautiful part is someone made the form of something. I also see art as a vehicle for emotions, but I find music to be great for that and I personally struggle to put emotion into drawings, not impossible though.

    But I dunno, imagine no music, no animation, no books, stories, movies. I think we would feel even more lonely. IMO.

  32. Not to be rude, but I believe modern art is stupid as all hell. Why should you have to wonder what a painting means? Why should a paint splatter make you think? It's ridiculous. A toddler can splash paint onto a canvas or arrange pennies in a specific order, (yes, that is supposed to be that specific) and they're not recognized as amazing artists. The art that is said to be 'deep' is just a thing some adult with nothing better to do put together in five minutes. I think that hard work of artists and the time they put in, the blood, sweat, and tears, like Van Gogh, Monet, Da Vinci, Picasso, and so on did.

  33. I think there is a bit of a misinterpretation of the function of religious art. It is offered as an act of devotion by the faithful …those already edified. The perspective here represents one of the post-French Revolutionary period. Art for someone prior to that point would be the flower of a belief rather than a method of imposing one. Faith in the Middle Ages was a given. Propaganda wasn't really necessary.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *