If you ever want to understand the dominant worldview of a certain era, look at its art. In the art of that time we can understand government, religion, morals, and societal norms.
During the medieval times only spiritual scenes were painted due to the fact that only the church, or wealthy congregants could commission art. As the Middle Ages rebirthed itself as the renaissance, the humanistic movement become dominant in culture and artistic content shifted drastically to accommodate the worldview of a superior mankind. Art centered now on the perfection of human form and its triumph over the meager gods, or any deity, who were subordinate to humanity, placing man as the dominant species.
Obviously, art evolves generation by generation, solidifying and sometimes even over exaggerating the present culture. Which brings me to my point. The question if art imitates life or if life imitates art is one that has always been asked yet never fully answered. Every person has their own interpretation but I believe that they feed off of each other for inspiration and substance. Think about it: we as a culture take on a certain characteristic or ideal in response to a change in government, economy, technological advancements or post-war vantage point, art then takes that ideal and amplifies it through paintings, sculpture, written works, music, or film, the public then reacts by matching the the newly exaggerated ideal that’s now become an ideology through lifestyle and popular acceptance.
And the cycle continues. Culture has a small idea or feeling that suddenly becomes spotlighted by art, and in recognition of that small idea or feeling we as a culture take it on until art once again blows it up to a bigger and bigger trait that we will only match.
In theory, this process is helpful if based on self improvement, faith, honesty, loyalty, honor etc. Unfortunately, new thoughts in a culture usually stem from the younger generations response to a less than wholesome experience, such as war, government downfall, or lowered standards.
An example of this can be seen after World War I when countless men died for a seemingly worthless cause. Young men returned from war hardened, blaming the elders for their losses as individuals and as nations, assuming it was their fault for entering into a costly war. Breeding resentment and rebellion, this idea penetrated through younger generations. Not only this, but the uncertainty of life in war fueled the general feeling of “eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. Music cut itself from classic orchestration pulsing off of the upbeat jazz of speak-easies. Film depicted carefree youths with endless glamour and no responsibility, optimizing what it meant to be young. Literature also picked up of this shift. Books like “The Sun Also Rises” “The Great Gatsby”” The Beautiful and the Damned” and “The Wasteland” only fed off of the culture more, describing a hopeless, bitter
frivolous and grand ideology that now optimizes the roaring 20’s.
Art has and will always be present in society, giving beauty, depth and history to present culture. But beyond this, it refines our thoughts. Even those who dislike the classic presentation of the arts are susceptible to it through other forms; its ability to zero in on a small thought or emotion and expand it to extremes is dangerous if the origin is less than beneficial. Therefore, when taking in art, be mindful of what cultural view it’s reflecting, allowing yourself to enjoy it with a grain of salt and hopefully retaining your own worldview in the process.