Art Precedes Technology

Lattes presents an interesting sed contra to the “development” of art in history. Whereas the primitive peoples in the Paleolithic and Neolithic eras went to great lengths to create works of art, the technologically advanced city of Lattes (Lattara under Roman influence) seemed not to care so much for art. How could a civilization with better technology and more leisure time produce less art than the nomadic tribes and hunter-gatherers of the past?

The fact that a caveman some 17000 years ago took the time away from survival in the ice age in order to paint images of animals along the walls (and not shabbily but with an advanced spray technique) says a lot about his reverence for those creatures as icons. Or that a culture based on rudimentary farm techniques along the Atlantic seaboard set aside time collectively to move humongous blocks of stone hundreds of kilometers across uneven terrain to commemorate the dead, reveals that “art” for the prehistoric man was not past-time but primary concern. People probably died to construct these seemingly useless monuments. Painting animals on the wall probably didn’t make hunting them any easier. Building giant tombs and gravestones probably didn’t make dying any easier either. How many people do you know would die for art?

Art was not ‘dumber’ just because a culture was more primitive than we are today. Art is a human experience in iconographic significance that transcends technology. Technology serves art (like the Pixar model), and when it is turned around, art crumbles, literally, out of human culture. All we have of ancient Lattes, which is significantly younger than the other peoples mentioned here, are the shards of broken pottery and mosaics and a statue of Mercury.

So what happened in Lattes? Well, precisely what happens in any culture when art becomes a commodity. Pragmatism and utilitarianism leave no room for beauty, at least not for beauty that cannot exchange hands and fill purses.

Lattes was founded as an outpost of economic convenience: on a peninsula for trade. Despite its multi-cultural exposure, unity in the city was established based on similar economic interest, not shared religious devotion. For example, the Etruscan rituals of burying the dead outside the city (our significance lying beyond this world) were replaced by burying them beneath the hearth (our significance being only in this life). When a culture loses its respect for the sanctity of eternal life beyond this one, art loses its transcendent power and takes on a ‘value’ –either positively as something that might contribute to commercial profit, or negatively as something that would distract/detract from commercial success.

I suppose it is little wonder, then, that the only deity revered in public spaces in the city of Lattes was Mercury, god of trade. The art-poor legacy of Lattes challenges me to think about the legacy that our culture is leaving. As the movie WALL-E demonstrates so vividly, hundreds of years from now what will our future generations remember us for? Will it be our Wal-Marts or our McDonalds, our Carnival Cruises or our office buildings? Over history the tallest buildings have been religious, either as tombs or churches, but now our highest points are radio antennas and (if we can include outer space) satellites. For the ancients, one icon or animal depiction wasn’t much but it sure as hell said a lot to the members of that society. With today’s technology, we certainly do communicate a lot, but how much of that is really meaningful—in that same sacred way as it was to primitive man? But we can change that. No patriotism is so fierce as that which demands that one’s culture promote beauty. For what gain is it to win the whole world (and even the moon) but lose the soul?

 

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