Home > Art History, Sculpture, Uncategorized > Smiling Figurine, Earthenware, Jomon Period 1000/300 BC

Smiling Figurine, Earthenware, Jomon Period 1000/300 BC

June 4, 2011


Smiling Figurine, Earthenware, Jomon Period 1000/300 BC Present-day Japan, on display at the Museum of the Art Institute Chicago

I love ancient art, and I feel there is a lot of similarity in the works of our earliest human ancestors.  I could have stated this small statue was from any number of places, maybe Central America or Northern Africa, and you might never question that assertion.  Early humans liked to make human figurines, animals and all sorts of imaginary critters.  The further back you go in the human time line, the more items we call “art” have in common with one another, even though they are from diverse geographical locations.  People used what was available in their environment to make what was on their minds at the time.

Civilizations came out of cultures and art diversified with more elaborate divine beings and symbols, then human expression became more elaborate bodies of knowledge and moved into various formal styles.  People came up with better tools and processes, sought out more desirable materials.  We see this earthenware work unfairly through eyes that have considered Greek Hellenic statues, Auguste Rodin and countless other works.

I have a soft spot for the oldest of artifacts and find it condescending when they are called “rough”, “crude”, “simple” or any other demeaning adjective.  I love them and I think they’re cool.  It’s also a bit amazing that we have them, a physical connection to the people of the past.  I think art from our earliest era of evolution is brilliant.  The people that can’t think of better adjectives to describe ancient art are making unfair comparisons of it to work of later centuries up to our time.  Maybe the Smiling Figurine is amused by the pretentious people of our own time.  The joke is on us.

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