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ART IS AS OLD AS MAN

by Shastri Maharaj
Trinidad Guardian Newspaper
20 February 1992

Art is as old as man!
A phrase which, to most people, may not make any sense.
Essentially, art is something made by man. It can be called man-made. The purpose or function to which it is intended can be debated. However, man through the ages has produced enormous volumes of art which have been and are the legacy of the human race.

It is necessary to first understand that art as is at present perceived by the public does not only deal with Painting, Drawing and Tie Dye. In a macro perspective it deals with the cultures of man. It deals with man's presence throughout the ages. It is about beliefs and customs, his way of life, his family, his politics, his art, his music, sport, dance, food economics, agriculture, religion, architecture etc.... in short, about his total being.

In fact, it is only recently that man has coined the word art to describe certain man-made things. Archeological discoveries are testament to ancient treasures that were initially not created to be seen as works of art but rather as having a particular utilitarian or spiritual function. They are what we would call artifacts or icons.

Man through the ages has therefore left us with a legacy of information about the nature of man's existence from paintings of animals on cave walls long before Christ to graffiti on washroom walls.

In a micro perspective, our present art reflects images of early man in textiles that are loaded with hieroglyphics, mythology, elementary repeat patterns and vivid bold colours.

These images of early man we associate with contemporary or abstract art (a topic which I will deal with at another time). If there were no artifacts to be found, then we would not have any tangible idea of the existence of past man.

Our present society, like past societies, reminds us of man's ingenuity and creativity. Architecture being a good example. An architecture that is reflective of its respective times in terms of individual and dynamic cultures.

It is due to this visible and silent legacy that our artisans, craftsmen, metal smiths, artistes and designers have been able to produce such diverse, controversial, refreshing and at times cheap imitations of what was once rich, pure and divine man-made images and objects....

Therefore, is art really old as man...?