Grandmother's Story

Once more the little group was comfortably seated about the fireplace and grandmother began:

"In speaking of art, children, you must remember we always refer to painters as artists, so that when I say "I am going to tell you something about great artists and their works", I do not refer to artists in general, but to painters, men who have painted pictures that are so perfect and so beautiful that succeeding generations have protected and preserved them through the centuries, and today we find these priceless treasures in churches, art galleries, museums, and private collections. However, painting is not the only art, for there are many members of this family which have been divided into two groups.

We refer to one group as the "Useful Arts", and the other as the "Fine Arts." Paintings belong to the latter group. But before beginning the story of artists and their works, I think it would be best first to try to understand the meaning of the terms "Useful" and "Fine" as applied to the arts, and in order to do this, my dear children, we must wander back through the ages to the beginning of time.

The Beginning of Time

Now, you all know that when God created the world, he put everything necessary for the welfare of the human race into it. Then he created man to his own image and likeness and endowed him with a brain so that he could reason out ways and means for his sustenance and salvation. Art did not exist before man was created by God because everything in the world up to that time was the work of God's hands. Art is the work of man, and it was not until man began to make use of God's gifts to him that art was born.

Man's first home was a cave or opening in the rocks along a river bank or mountainside, and his earliest labor, no doubt, was an effort to make his primitive home secure against the inroads of the wild and ferocious animals that prowled around the nearby forests, and thus insure a safe retreat for himself and his family. As there were no doors available in that far off age, the best plan for accomplishing this purpose was the blocking of the entrance with a heavy barricade that could not be broken down, and the only logical materials available for this purpose were huge rocks and the limbs of trees.

Being without tools, and having only his bare hands to work with, man doubtless found this simple labor a colossal job, and so he set his brain working to figure out an easier way. As a result he learned to fashion tools, first from stone and later from metal, and it was thus that mechanical art was born.

As the years went on, man took wood or stone from the abundance with which God had provided him, and built a house that would afford better protection and comfort for himself and his loved ones. In this way the art of building was brought into being.

And after the discovery of fire, when women no longer accompanied her lord and master in his quest for food, but remained indoors to keep the home fires burning, the art of housekeeping came into existence.

Having established a home, man learned how to domesticate animals and till the soil so that grains and vegetables might be added to the family diet, and the art of agriculture had its beginning with the cultivation and planting of the first garden.

So you see children, it was in this way that necessity, one after another of the useful arts was developed for the comfort and well being of the human race.

As the centuries passed, man, having accomplished so much for the comfort and well being of himself and his family, doubtless began to look around for means of beautifying his abode, for the home of primitive man must have been a cheerless place indeed. Inside it was dark and depressing, four bare walls greeted the eye, while beyond the threshold God had provided a never ending picture that changed with the seasons. For example, let us consider the picture God presents to us in the landscape of our own locality.

In the spring nature greets us all decked out in a "mantle of green"; summer comes next with its birds, flowers, green pastures, and gorgeous sunsets, followed by autumn with its changing landscape, and then winter with pines and hemlocks against a background of white snow, while overhead at all seasons we have skies tinted with every conceivable heavenly hue.

Of course you understand that only God can produce those living beautiful pictures that He presents to us through the medium of nature with the changing seasons, for nature is the work of God's hands alone, but man can take certain materials that God has given him and by combining them reproduce copies of His wonders. It was when man first succeeded in doing this that the art of painting was born.

But man did not accomplish this at once, for the development of the art of painting was very slow. In fact it was not until several centuries after the birth of Christ that perfection in the art of painting was attained. It may seem strange to you, but the art of picture making that later developed into painting was born thousands of years before the Christian era, and the art of painting did not reach its zenith until many hundred years later.

The first pictures were very crude, and were possibly the outlines of some person, bird or animal scratched on the walls of a cave with a sharp flint or piece of charcoal. Or they may have been the outlines of a mountain or inland stream, but whatever the subject, the result was a very crude beginning of the art of painting.

Cave Hyena in the Chauvet cave in southern France
20,000 year old cave painting
Cave Painting in Lascaux, France
15,000 to 10,000 BC

Later, color was used to fill in the outlines and examples of this development may be seen today in the oldest civilized countries of the world, namely; Babylonia, Assyria, Egypt, Phoenicia, Greece, Etruria and Rome.

And now children, I think it would be a good idea to spend a little time reviewing the history of painting in these countries before taking up the story of Christian painting.

First we will visit Egypt, for although that country is not the oldest in point of time, her recorded history is of much greater antiquity than that of any other nation of the ancient world.

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