30,000 Years Of Art: The Story Of Human Creativity Across Time & Space, by Amanda Renshaw
More or less, this book accomplishes what it sets out to do. It seeks to provide a chronological view of art that recognizes classic-level art and sculpture from all around the world, and to put it in a context where one can see developments that are going on simultaneously across the entire globe, which makes for some fascinating reflecting when one sees Chinese landscape art and Persian rugs next to Renaissance European art and somewhat more primitive-looking art from Africa and the Americas. As might be expected, the author is generally modest about understanding what it is that artists in a given time and place were seeking to accomplish, and is generally desirous to celebrate the creativity of mankind wherever and whenever it was and whatever the result was, an attitude I must admit that I do not share. This sort of book seems tailor made to accompany an art appreciation class, and if you have an interest in art history, as I do, it is likely that many of these works will already be familiar from their appearance in other books or even movies and television shows, as the author does pick very familiar works to demonstrate creativity within cultures.
It must be admitted at the outset that this book is a large one. Coming in at more than 600 pages in length, the author does not divide the chronologically organized works into any sections, and so about 600 pages of artwork and accompanying text is put one after another after another. In general, this leads the reader to go back and forth between different styles and approaches and regions, breaking the flow and allowing for regional comparisons in art to be thoughtfully made from a reasonably sized sample. The art is listed on a nationalistic basis, which can be a bit confusing because Easter Island’s art is included under Chile rather than leading to thoughts about how it relates to the art of Polynesia and Oceania as a whole. These concerns aside, the book is generally very good at placing its works in a context that allows the reader to thoughtfully examine the influence that regions had on their neighbors, and how some modern art appears to have regressed to very early and primitive elements, and to ponder on some of the reasons why this may be the case.
That said, this book shares many problems that a lot of books that deal with art and creativity do, and that is the fact that a great deal of art just doesn’t have very good reasons for being. Some of the art created was done for votive purposes in heathen religion, some of it served as propaganda for corrupt rulers, some of it appears to directly desire to inspire a certain degree of sensual lust, and some of it appears due to the solipsistic desires of people to express themselves in rather banal and unimpressive ways, or to engage in deep symbolism that almost no one can be expected to understand. If the scope of creativity in this book is impressive, the larger purposes and motives for the art are less so, and there is but one solitary example of an illustrated Jewish text, leaving a great many more texts to exhibit the sort of idolatrous desire to make images out of what is in heaven and on the earth that the Bible clearly condemns. Reading this book leaves one with the melancholy thought that a great deal of the fruits of creativity are conceived in rebellion to God, sometimes consciously so and sometimes only accidentally.