If you've just stumbled onto this blog, please forgive the appearance; it's still under construction. If I've used one of your photos (found on Google) in a lecture and you don't approve, please write a comment and I'll remove it.

The purpose of this blog is to explain the basics of art and culture to English language learners in secondary school in Slovakia. This is not for profit. If you look to your right, you'll see a long list of topics that I plan to cover. This is a large project that will most likely take years to complete, covering some topics I know little about (like dance), so I will be borrowing heavily from other experts, with their permission, giving credit wherever possible. Please be patient, and, of course, all advice is greatly appreciated.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Video: The Parthenon

The following two videos are about the Parthenon, an ancient Greek temple in Athens. The first was produced by PBS, a state TV channel in America:

This video has sound, but it's very soft. Turn up your volume.
This next video is from the Discovery Channel:

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ancient Architecture

Ø      Architecture is both the process and the product of planning, designing, and constructing buildings and other structures.
Ø      Architectural projects are a collaborative process, with many people working together, facing challenges such as aesthetics, structural integrity, social function, light & shadow, and costs.
Ø      Our greatest buildings are often perceived as cultural symbols and works of art.
Ø      The first book on architecture was written by the Roman Vitruvius in the 1st century AD. According to Vitruvius, a good building should satisfy three core principles: durability, utility, and beauty.
Mesopotamian architects, including Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, developed the first urban planning, with markets, temples, canals, and gardens.

Artist Rendering of the ancient city of Uruk, which flourished from 4000-700 BC

Residential areas were grouped by profession. They built forts, towers, and palaces.

Ruined palace of Uruk

They designed the first known courtyard houses, and large temples called ziggurats.

Ziggurat of Ur, build around 2100 BC

They developed buttresses and columns to support their walls. Windows and doors were supported using a post and lintel system:

Stonehenge in Britain is an example of the post & lintel system

They also created pilasters, enameled tiles, mosaics, bas-relief, and frescoes to decorate them. They made doors with hinges, locks, and keys. Their houses had no windows facing the street, strictly separating public and private life. Their materials were mostly mudbrick and wood, although the Assyrians also used stone.
Egyptian architects are most famous for the pyramids, the Sphinx,

The Sphynx, 2558-2532 BC

 the Necropolis in the Valley of the Dead, the temple complex at Karnak, and for burial tombs called mastabas.

an Egyptian mastaba - burial tomb

Egyptians also designed the world’s first palaces, at Thebes. Many towns from ancient Egypt were washed away by Nile floods, so most of what’s left are their temples and monuments. They used mudbrick, but their most ambitious projects used limestone, sandstone, and granite. Like Mesopotamia, all of their monuments were post and lintel constructions, with many interior columns. All exterior and interior walls and columns were painted with hieroglyphic frescoes.
Egypt is famous for having one of the earliest known architects, Imhotep, who designed Djoser’s step pyramid, and was one of the only Egyptian commoners to earn divine status. He may have been the first architect to use columns.

statue of Imhotep, from around 2,650 BC
Greek architects are famous for temples, open-air amphitheatres, gateways, squares, town council buildings, mausoleums, and stadiums. Greek towns had paved streets with gutters, public fountains, and markets surrounded by a colonnade with shops. They also had gymnasiums (fitness centers, not schools) for men to exercise. Temples were post & lintel designs, like the Egyptians, and were more like treasuries, holding all the gifts that people offered to the Gods. Greeks were also famous for the acropolis, a defensive citadel on a hill with cliffs on most sides.

The Acropolis in Athens, with the Parthenon on top

The most famous is in Athens where the Parthenon sits, but there are others in Assos, Pergamon, Argos, Greek Thebes, and Corinth. Greek architecture can be divided into three orders of design: Doric, Iambic, and Corinthian, which you can identify most by the capitals of the columns.

The three Greek Orders: Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian

Major building materials were limestone, marble, and clay. What makes Greek architecture so special is their obsession with proportions. The lines of their buildings are rarely straight. Every line is slightly curved to make it look better, like the columns that swell in the middle, like muscular arms. Greek architecture has been extremely influential in later periods, up to the present.
Roman architects learned from the Greeks and from the Etruscans, a civilization that had lived in Italy before them. So, Roman architecture looks very similar. The Empire lasted from about 500 BC to 500 AD. In this time, they developed arches, which are superior to the post & lintel system, because they bear the weight evenly.

This shows the limitations of post & lintel construction

Arches can hold heavier loads

By joining two arches together, the Romans developed vaults.
Putting vaults together (ribbed vaults) created large, open, interior spaces, an innovation used for thousand of years in cathedrals and palaces. 
Arches allowed the Romans to design vaulted ceilings, domes, arched bridges, and aquaducts that carried water for hundreds of miles to their cities.

Pont du Gard, the aquaduct of Nîmes, France, 40-60 AD

Famous buildings include the Colloseum, the Pantheon,

The Pantheon in Rome, 126 AD

the Baths of Diocletian and of Caracalla, the aquaducts of Rome, and many basilicas - public court buildings. Romans developed ways to improve their homes and hygiene, with baths, latrines, heated floors, and hot & cold running water. They also developed concrete, a strong, new building material.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

High & Low Art

Art can be put into two categories: high and low. Civilization is most proud of its high art. It’s a product of genius. It’s so great that it’s iconic––countries use it as a way to promote themselves. Italy has Leonardo Da Vinci, Raphael, and Michelangelo. Austria has Mozart and Beethoven. England has Shakespeare. America has Hemingway and Mark Twain.

Low art can be beautiful, charming, skillfully made, and intelligent. But it’s still not so impressive (pôsobivý) as high art. High art is more profound (hlbšie). It’s more complex, and philosophical. It requires more concentration and sensitivity to make and to appreciate (ceniť). Higher art is harder to understand. Lower art is easier––like art for children. People who make low art can be popular and loved, like J.K. Rowling, but they’re not as highly respected as people who make high art, like Shakespeare.

It’s good to know what these words mean, but it’s not very important in judging art. It doesn’t refer to the quality of the art so much as the quality of the ideas behind them. Some people don’t like to distinguish (rozoznávať) between high and low art. They think it’s snobbish and insulting (urážlivý). Many people prefer “low” art, and they don’t like to feel embarrassed about it.

Sometimes it’s hard to say if an art form is high or low. It’s in-between. Some jazz music is very complex, having more to do with classical music theory than with pop. But, then some jazz music is very simple, like pop. Some films combine elements of high and low art, like Being John Malkovich, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. And, some artists devote their lives to making one-of-a-kind toys, selling them at high prices. So the line between high and low art is blurry (rozdiel je nejasný).

High & Low Art Examples:                 High Art                                                        Low Art

Painting:                     Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Picasso                 Book Illustration, Comics, Cartoons, Advertisements

Sculpture:             Ancient Greek & Roman Sculpture,              Children’s Toys, Furniture & Electronics Design
                                Michelangelo, Rodin                               Crafts like Ceramics, Weaving, Fashion Design,
                                                                                              Jewellery Design

Architecture:            Cathedrals, Palaces, Parks                        Typical Family Homes, Apartments, & Shops

Music:                    Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms,      - Jazz -     Pop Music, The Blues, The Beatles, Britney Spears,
                              Debussy, Chopin                                           R&B, Hip Hop

Theatre:                 Shakespeare, Oscar Wilde,                            Children’s Theatre, Sketch Comedy, Improv,
                              George Bernard Shaw                                   Ventriloquists (bruchomvravce), Puppet Shows

Opera:                   Mozart, Verdi, Puccini                                  Light Opera (Gilbert & Sullivan),
                                                                             Broadway Musicals

Film:                     Avante Garde Film:                                                     Hollywood Blockbusters, Action Films, Children’s

                           Ballet Mécanique, Un chien andalou                              Films, Comedies, Hangover

Dance:                    Ballet, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker                           Hip Hop, Club Dancing, Folk Dancing

Literature:               Shakespeare, William Faulkner,                             Pop Fiction, Pulp Fiction – J.K. Rowling, Collins
                                Hemingway, Fitzgerald                                       (Hunger Games), Mayer (Twilight), Stephen King
                                                                                                            Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park)