Understanding Material Culture with Visual Art

Art has been an integral part of society since prehistoric times until today. The artifacts that are found from old times help us to understand the way of life, economy and religious practices humans had during those times. Archaeologists study the material cultures to explore new forms of art and many of the techniques used in the past have helped us to pave a better path for the future. One of these methods is the “lost wax” or “cire perdue” technique which is still followed to make bronze castings from wax molds. Today we will learn how the techniques and art forms enable us to explore our culture. 

When we study different artifacts from all over the world, we are actually observing how different cultures lived thousands of years ago, how they sustained with the available materials and created their own marks. The cave paintings tell us a lot about hunting scenes, jewelleries they wore and rituals they had. Every tribe or clan had their own choice of materials depending on the geographical area, weather/climate of that region. For example we study Mother Goddess popularly known as Venus of Willendorf carved from stone. This small sculpture found from lower Austria, dates back to prehistoric times. Similarly if we consider Indus valley civilization, we find a number of clay toys both fired and unfired. Apart from clay they were also using bricks to make the grand structures like the Great Bath and they were quite skilled in the techniques of casting bronze like the Dancing Girl — highly ornamented and standing in a contrapposto. Studying different forms and mediums of art help students to understand the nature of the materials and its limitations. It also aids children to keep track of our current cultural trends and learn from past societal challenges. They can draw inspiration from artifacts that have been created and in turn, create new forms of art. When we learn about any artwork or an era we understand how religion influences art, how people depict their life, their rituals, celebrations by drawing on their house walls. Man has always tried to document his way of living by using different forms of art. The medium and technique he used to create different styles inspire us till date to innovate and improvise. 

Art communicates important ideas about a culture, whether about its politics, religion and philosophy, or contemporary life. Art goes beyond politics, language, and cultural boundaries. It can be a way to communicate without saying a word, bringing people from all walks of life together. So when your child is learning about art, he is not only looking at the style but also exploring the mediums and other cultural significance.



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