Painting in history, as has been noted elsewhere on this site, has spanned the millennia. While it is true that no art has survived from the Neanderthal peoples their contemporaries, the Cro-Magnon (approx 35,000 years ago) did indeed produce art as can be seen in the cave paintings of SW France and in Spain. Painting has spanned all cultures. From Europe to Africa and Australia, paintings have been found in caves, decorating walls with hunting scenes and images of religious significance. The earliest cave paintings were discovered in what is now Namibia in SW Africa but the most know and sophisticated are from SW France and Spain. See image here.
Painting through out the ages has evinced a number of differing styles, often dependent on culture. One of the most obvious of these being the Egyptian art of about 3000 BC. The painting of the human form in this period always shows the face and feet in profile but the body arms, legs, and eye are depicted from a frontal view.
Across the Mediterranean the Greeks of about 500 BC were painting the human form with far more realism. The art usually took the form of decorative features on walls, ceramics etc. The subject matter was the heroic, the body of unusual beauty and proportion. The Greeks classed painting as highly as sculpture, in fact they also painted their sculptures in bright colours. The white marble look of today is simply a result of the colours being unstable and worn away. The pigments and dyes that were used 2000 to 3000 years ago were not as stable or long-lasting as those we employ today and the fragility of these colours has meant that very little has survived to the present day.
With the advent of Christianity came the tradition of painting of ikons (ikon from the Greek for image) in the monasteries of the eastern church where holy images were painted on boards and wooden panels.
Painting continued on walls and boards up until the Renaissance when, due to the growth of merchant shipping, the use of stretched sail canvas became popular with the portrait painters of Venice in particular. Canvas had the advantage over wood insofar as it was lighter and easier to cut to sizes required. Interestingly root of the word “canvas” is in the word “cannabis” – early sail cloth was made from hemp.
In recent years some painters have gone away from the figurative painting trying to paint dream like images of the surrealists, or the play of light and shade on objects of the impressionists, the fragmented imagery of the cubists or the mad, bold colours of fauvism. In some instances the artist paints abstraction – trying to use colour, play and interaction of shapes and textures as the subject of the painting.
Numerous examples exist – too many to list here, but should the reader want, simply check the differences between Paul Klee, Piet Mondrian, Jackson Pollock, Tom Wesselman (and to see the scale of this work click here), J. M. W. Turner or Yves Tanguy
While you are at it, look at Yves Tanguy’s hair style. The “Punk” movement was pre-empted by a painter born in 1900 and who died in 1955.
Today there exists a certain élitism, if you don’t supply your painting in an expensive frame you aren’t really an artist but an “artisan artist”. However it can be seen that painting on walls and objects considerably predates the framed picture and so we “artisan artists” are really carrying on the far older tradition. Because of this change to framed paintings it one can also see an enormous amount of mass produced drivel on sale in various home decor type shops. At least the wall painting carries on a tradition of originality and thought. This holds true even for graffiti works seen splashed around the cities of the world – Banksie has made a living out of it.
Three examples of graffiti from Barcelona