School in a Book: Basic Fine Arts

You’ve heard the term “art appreciation.” While appreciation classes vary widely, they usually cover a historical overview of the subject, a sampling of the art in question, plus a smattering of basic terms and technical knowledge–exactly the sort of overview this book seeks to offer.

Basic Fine Arts

Basic Art History


Stone Age: froom 40,000BCE: Simple carvings on shells, bone, rocks, cave walls. Some ochre painting. Then stone, wood and bone tools, human figurines and other obects. Later, precious stones like amber, crystal and jasper began to be used. Pottery.

Shell engraving, cave painting, cave carving, bone carving, stone carving, pottery, clay sculptures, ivory sculptures (often of human figures).

During the metal age, from 1400BCE: copper, bronze and iron sculptures, plus decorated tools and weapons, were made. Sculputures of gods and goddesses. Then, megaliths–large stone building-like sructures such as Stonehenge and Newgrange–were made. So were temple complexes, burial chambers and other monuments. Also, shields and other armor.

Ancient Times

In Mesopotamia and nearby: statues, writing using pictures (hierogyphs and cuneiform), ziggurats and pyramids, gardens, relief sculpture in wood and stone depicting religious, military and hunting scenes. In Egypt, statues, great architecture including monuments with solid columns, tombs, underground tombs, smooth-sided and step pyramids, temples, sphinxes, obelisks and shrines.

The seven wonders of the ancient world: The Great Pyramid of Giza (the oldest and the only one that remaiins somewhat intact), the Colossus of Rhodes, the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Temple of Artemis and the Statue of Zeus, and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon

In Ancient China: ritual vessels of bronze; jade and gold statues; the Terracotta Army, a large collection of larger-than-life clay warriors from the time of QinShiHuang, the first emperor of China; the Sanxingdui excavation: Great bronze human figure decorated with elephant heads, plus about 50 bronze heads.

Ancient Greece: Further developments in sculpture, painting, architecture and ceramics. Bronze, terracotta influenced by Egyptian art; sculpture, painting, architecture, ceramics – early sculpture very simple, few facial features…later had life-sized statues–ex:s: a snake goddess, a bull’shead.

Etruscan vase painting, jewelry, engraved gems, bronze sculpture

Tombs crammed with sarcophagi,narrative mythological subjects

Early medieval art of Britain and Ireland: something called Celtic Art, but technically Celtic art encompassess art from around 1000 BCE onward, not just from people who spoke Celtic languages but from ancient through modern times and including peoples whose language is uncertan but have cultural similarities with the Celts. Notable: Book of Kells.

Roman art: concrete architecture, round arch and dome

Medieval Art

In Europe, reflected the dominance of the Catholic Church. Paintings with gold leaf; religious icons; beautifully illustrated sacred books copied by hand; jewelry; stained glass; sculpture, detailed architecture, particularly seen in churches.

Byzantine art: Icons, sacred books, gold leaf on glass, illuminated manuscripts, mosaics, holy vessels.

Anglo-Saxon art: illuminated manuscripts, Romanesque style metalwork including metal armor.

Viking/Norse art inc. animal heads and plain large stone structures.

Romanesque (950-1200 CE): Monumental stone structures, austere churcehes enlivened by small decorative sculptures. Most church interior were painted with frescoes.

Many more illuminated books.

In Russia, Christian icons started being made after the state’s acceptance of Orthodox Christianity. Religious paintings as well plus Saint Basil’s Cathedral was built–onion-shaped domes in bright colors.

Renaissance Art (15th & 16th centuries)

Characterized by lifelikeness and reality; valuation of the material world; corporeality of the human body; 3D realistic landscapes; landscape painting; baroque architecture with extravagant details like iron heads, baby angels, leaves and columns; neoclassical art that drew inspiration from the “classical” art and culture of classical antiquity.

MonaLisa by Leonardo da Vinci; The Birth of Venus by Sandro Botticelli; David by Michaelangelo; The Palace of Versailles, the most iconic baroque building, in France. Baroqueart appeared toward end of Renaissance. Started in Italy. Highly ornate, extravagant, affected all types of art, including lion heads, baby angels, horns of abundance, etc.

Neoclassicism: 17th century

Inspired by ancient art. Followed Renaissance art. Marble statues.

Romanticism and realism: 18th and 19th centuries.

Human figure–strong, square shapes

Native American art in mesoamerica: Zapotec masks; ornate Aztec clothing; delicate gold statues, some for personal adornment; massive Olmec heads; jade statues; Mayan illuminated manuscripts on tree bark; Mayan jade sculptures; pottery painting; Colombian gold statues; Aztec calendar in stone.

Native American art elsewhere in America: totem poles; masks; quillwork; beadwork; ceramics; burial mounds.

Islamic pottery influenced by Chinese ceramics.

Overlap between art of Siberia and Inuit since people used land bridge between two areas. Walrus ivory sculpture.

Chinese pottery and golden jewelry calligraphy and delicate ink handscroll with gold for embellishment.

Tibetan and Indian Buddhist icons.

African masks in buffalo hide; brass statues; gold jewelry and sculpture (especially in Zimbabwe); brass sculpture; brass heads; palaces

Aboriginal art in Australia including monolithic human figures on Easter Island (1250-1500); rock engravings and paintings from 50,000 years ago; treasure chests; masks; battle shields; paining; more.

Modern and Contemporary Art (Late 1800s to the present)

Late 1800s:Henri Matisse: Impressionism: relatively small thin strokes, importance of light; importance of movement; somewhat abstract (Vincent van Gogh, Edgar Degas, Pierre-Auguste Renoir).

Arts and crafts movement: John Ruskin, William Morris: handmade furniture making to protest mass production.

1900s: Art Nouveau, Expressionism; cubism (Pablo Picasso); abstract art; dadaism; surrealism (Salvador Dali); pop art ();

Japanese art covers a wide range of art styles and media, including ancient pottery, sculpture, ink painting and calligraphy on silk and paper, ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints, ceramics, origami, and more recently manga—modern Japanese cartooning and comics—along with a myriad of other types.

Korean arts include traditions in calligraphy, music, painting and pottery, often marked by the use of natural forms, surface decoration and bold colors or sounds.

Many traditional African art forms are created as conduits to the spirit world and change appearance as materials are added to enhance their beauty and potency.

Basic Music History:

Prehistorical music consisted of singing, humming, whistling and more. In Germany, a bone flute was found dating to approximately 35,000 years ago. Six wooden pipes were found in Ireland that dated to ancient times, and a bear bone pipe was found that could have dated to Neanderthal times.

Later, folk, indigenous and traditional music developed.

The oldest known song was written in cuneiform in Syria. Soon after that, the first known musical notation was made.

The ancient Greeks used double pipes. The bagpipes and a seven-holed flute was used elsewhere. The first bowed fiddle was discovered in India. The ancient Persians had an elaborate music culture.

In ancient Greece, mixed-gender choruses performed for entertainment, celebration and spiritual reasons. Instruments included the double-reed aulos and the plucked string instument, the lyre, and others. Boys were taught music starting at age six. The biblical Old Testament mentions the use of harps and lyres.

In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholic music obtained the highest degree of complexity yet known. Baroque music began when the first operas (solo singers accompanied by orchestras) were written. During the Baroque era, multiple, simultaneous independent melody lines were used. Songswere richly ornamented. Baroque music was performed all over Europe by small ensembles including strings, brass, and woodwinds as well as for choirs and keyboard instruments (pipe organs, harpsichords, and clavichords). Opera was only sung in Italian.

Baroque era composers: Johann Sebastian Bach, George Frederic Handel, and Antonio Vivaldi.

The classical period followed the baroque period. Classical music was more voice-like, singable, more melodious and less contrasting. Opera began to be written in other languages. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Followed by the Romantic period, in which music became more expressivveand emotional. Schumann, Chopin, Mendelssohn, Bellini and, later in the period, Johann Strauss II, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Wagner.

[when were the piano, guitar and other instruments invented?]

Basic Art and Music Terminology:

Art tips: simple shapes; few colors; not perfectly straight lines (scribbled, curved, suggested, simple outlines not neatly drawn); copy an artist you love (like a children’s book artist, other) then add own flair and ideas; symmetry; filling white space or not; basic layout design (magazine with dominant, people looking in not to outside of page; website creation; use of public domain materials; copyright laws

Add dance styles and history to below

Add stories of nutcracker, swan lake, other operas

square dancing, line dancing, ballet, jazz, tap, hip hop, etc

Mid ages: cathedrals (Notre Dame), stained glass, books of silver and gold; Book of Kells; tapestries; Taj Mahal; Dome of the Rock; paintings on silk (China); porcelain; American portraiture

Include architecture

Include basic film studies terms here or elsewhere? – terms for analyzing and appreciating film like ‘cinematography’; recommend save the cat and talk about plot structure; important directors

Types of instruments in an orchestra–wind, percussion, stringed,brass

Electric instruments

Sound synthesizer


Amps and bass




Speaker quality determined by?

Other beloved instruments

How instrument types work:


How to tell whether a song is great, skillful

Accent: Emphasis

Acoustic: Produced by instruments rather than by electric or electronic means

Adagio: At ease; play slowly

Aria: Self-contained piece for one voice, usually with orchestral accompaniment

The four voice ranges: Lowest to highest: bass, tenor, alto, soprano

Beat: The musical rhythm

Canto: Chrous; choral; chant

Coda: A tail or closing section appended to the piece


Crescendo: Growing; getting progressively louder

Encore: Again; a performer returning to the stage for an additional, unlisted piece

Flat: A lowering of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Sharp: A raising of a note’s pitch by a semitone

Forte: Strong; to be played loudly

Fugue: Literally, “flight”; a complex and highly regimental contrapuntal form in music; a piece is introduced in one voice, then in others, with imitation and characteristic development as it progresses

Mezzo: half; used in combinations such as mezzo forte (half loud) and mezzo soprano

Octave: Interval between one musical pitch and another with half or double its frequency

Overture: An orchestral composition forming the prelude or introduction to an opera, oratorio, etc.

Reprise: Repeat a phrase or verse; return to the original theme

Staccato: Making each note brief and detached; opposite of legato

Legato: Drawing out each note

Tempo: Time; the overall speed of a piece of music

Timbre: The quality of a musical tone that distinguishes voices and instruments

Virtuoso: Someone who performs with exceptional ability, technique, or artistry


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