Lebanon is known for its diverse history, with many empires influencing its culture at the time of its occupation. It’s a multicultural heritage that spans various art periods and showcases Lebanon’s complex political and historical changes.
With the Phoenicians inhabiting the coastal regions of present-day Lebanon, most of the art that dated this period consisted of sculptures, pottery, and intricate ivory carvings. Using more ceramic materials to create visual art. Sculptures often depicted godly figures and deities, mythological figures, and animals. Showcasing high levels of craftsmanship of the time. Pottery was another artistic output, with more artistic designs and geometric patterns. Ivory Cravings are the most distinctive feature of the Phoenician art period. With carvings small in size, they are highly detailed, using imagery from daily life, religious rituals, and mythological narratives.
Roman and Ottoman Period:
Spanning several centuries many influences came across this period. As part of the Roman Empire, Lebanon’s art scene incorporated mosaics, frescoes, and architectural elements found in the European region. Later, Islamic art added decorative art and calligraphy to the repertoire often documented in mosques and palaces. This was impacted by the ever-growing Ottoman Empire at the time, affecting not just the art scene itself, but architectural styles that served to be bigger monuments.
This traditional style involved a lot of discipline, one that would be considered today as “the norm” within the art world. Artists would study the anatomy of the human body to truly emulate the image of a person within the canvas. Acrylic paint was still unused, with many utilizing oil paintings, creating color pigments from scratch. To allow colors to last longer, they would create the structure of the medium.
Artists who had learned other techniques and art styles through their travels were considered eccentric or crazy for showcasing experimental forms of art.
Eventually, more modern artistic movements began to occur in Lebanon during the French Mandate, with more foreign influences entering the country through colonization. As every period came and went, more and more was the art scene only accessible and taken seriously when produced by the elite class.
Apart from the colonizers, Lebanese artists started incorporating elements of modernist aesthetics into their work. It was the first artistic movement to truly depart from the region’s traditional style. They were experimenting with new techniques, materials, and perspectives. This new style encouraged Lebanese artists to explore individual expression and personal narratives. With some art even being depicted as a documentation of the retaliation to the colonizing power.
1975- Present Period:
It’s important to also recognize the impact the Lebanese Civil War had on how art was depicted. Artists would showcase the political climate through art. Firstly, art was used as an expression of trauma, with many artists showcasing the emotional toll of the war. Paintings, photography, and sculptors are becoming more than simple art, but a means of activism. They were addressing social issues at the time that pertained to destruction, resilience, hope, and violence.
Even with the resolution of the war, the aftermath signified a new perspective revolving art. Art was now part of a larger societal movement compared to how it used to be. With the times, liberation within the art world was signified. A globalized structure that now made it easier for artists to be impacted by various forms of art. In one recent book I read, the author said: “Steal like an artist”, the author suggested that creativity and style are truly curated through other influences, such as books, research, traveling, etc. All such influences are adopted within the artist’s unconscious mind when creating their “own” art.
Art more than ever is derived from experience, with rarely any artists truly having innovative ideas. Artists are always impacted by what had come before as a way to reinvent it into a new form. With art being more saturated and repetitive than in the older periods, it also allowed almost everyone with some form of access to art, unlike those older periods that favored the 1%.
Art is an ever-evolving medium, like other things people are constantly changing and reinventing older trends to fit new periods. With the social status of individuals also becoming more and more flexible, art has now expanded to fit a greater spectrum of what is defined as “artistry”.
Mass media, mass production, and globalization have changed the way we view art and make it. With that said, it is important to recognize the truly creative minds that set about this change from one period to another. Artists who are the first to try out experimental forms of art are the ones who are first pushed aside, and deemed as “eccentric”, “crazy” or “weird”. These artists are one of the few who truly showcase their styles of art, producing it from a viewpoint that is still uncharted and foreign to the outer world.
Author: Paulette Touma Eid
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