The stylized elements that define the physical characteristics inherent in a work of art, such as a sculpture, are often the result of aesthetic and cultural influences from the society that the sculptor is a part of (Sayre, 2015). Evidence of this can be seen in the sheer variety of sculpture styles present in the world today, ranging from the almost abstract nature of Aztec stone works to the lifelike creations of Greek sculptures from 400 BCE onwards.
In this report, an analysis will be conducted comparing the sculptures from Ancient India and Greece. This comparison will focus on the stylistic elements inherent in either piece, the cultural influences/values that created the “format” so to speak that resulted in the stylistic choices made, and lastly, will focus on a modern situation of artistic expression that either reflects or counters prevailing cultural values (Sayre, 2015). It is the assumption of this paper that the differences between the two sculptural styles are due to the inherent cultural, religious, and social divergence between Greek and Indian culture, which manifested in the creation of distinct artistic styles.
The portrayal of Gods and People
Ancient Greek sculptures such as Dionysus from the Parthenon, the sculpture of Nike of Panionios (the discus throwing statue), and the statue of Poseidon of Artemisium all have one thing in common; they glorify and exalt the human form. This can be seen in the way in which the statues depict fluidity of movement, proper muscular definition as well as attempt to showcase the beauty of the nude male form by showing neither blemish nor deformity; instead, the sculptures can truly be called magnificent works of near-perfect art (Osborne, 2008).
One common theme among many Greek statues of Gods, Goddesses, or people is their state of partial or complete nudity, which is apparently meant to ensure a focus is placed on appreciating qualities related to poise and grace, which is further extenuated by the sculptures partial or full state of undress. After examining the ancient Greek statues, one observation that can be derived is that the artists attempted to get as close as possible to the natural human form as they could (Osborne, 2008).
However, they did place a particular emphasis on simplicity wherein the aesthetic quality of the sculptures was based on their accuracy to the human form and not through any overt placement of decorations (i.e., jewels, extensive backgrounds, etc.). On the other end of the spectrum, when examining the portrayal of Gods and people in ancient Indian sculptures, the portrayal is actually far from the aesthetics that the Greeks utilized. Whereas the Greeks attempted to get as close as possible to proper human dimensions in work, ancient Indian statues often had disproportionate arm and leg lengths, with the statues often being draped by an assortment of jewel-like necklaces, bangles, and other types of body decoration.
Aside from this, the faces of the ancient Indian statues lacked the same level of expressiveness and often had either the same smiling expression or were relatively expressionless and just stared out at people. Examples of this can be seen in the Taj Mahal as well as sculptures of Shiva, Ganesh, Vishnu, and other Gods within the Hindu religion. It should also be noted that one unique characteristic of several God statues from ancient India was the presence of multiple arms and even animal characteristics in the case of Ganesh. These aspects are likely due to stylistic choices brought about through religious influence.
Cultural Values and Ideals that these Statues Reflect
In the case of ancient Greek statues, it is important to note that the emphasis placed on creating an idealized human form has its roots in the Greek Olympics and even well before that when competitors often fought and competed with each other in the nude. This created a cultural fascination with the naked human form, which does have similarities in present day popular culture wherein people are often fascinated by actors, actresses, singers, and even athletes.
This same level of fascination can be seen in the works of various ancient Greek artists who built upon this fascination with the human form and focused on making sure their work was as lifelike as possible. The concept behind the creation of many ancient Greek sculptures that are famous today (from 400 BCE onwards) was heavily influenced by the desire to depict, in the artist’s opinion, the ideal form of the human body as expressed by the athletes that were celebrities in their respective city-states. In the case of the ancient Indian statues, their creation is heavily influenced by the Hindu religion, which focuses on four goals that each person should aspire to.
These consist of dharma (righteous living), Artha (wealth acquired from a profession) or kama (which focuses on sexual love), and moksha (refers to spiritual salvation). These elements are the cornerstones of the Indian religion, which Singh (2013) states is reflected in various ancient Indian statues. Singh (2013) goes further with this explanation by showing that the concept of creation behind various ancient Indian statues are firmly embedded in dharma, artha, kama and moksha by explaining that the position of the statues hands, the relatively happy or blank expressions on their faces, the position of the body as well as the presence of beads and other forms of wealth on the statues themselves are a reflection of the embodiment of the aforementioned principles into a single example (Singh, 2013).
Modern Situation of Artistic Expression
One particularly noteworthy modern situation of artistic expression can be seen in the work of the artist Banksy (a pseudonym), who utilized street walls as his canvas. One common theme in his work is that it depicts some form of social injustice that is occurring in that particular region and is normally placed in an area near where it is occurring. This, of course, draws significant amounts of attention, which was the point of the artist in the first place when it came to his creations. These were meant to showcase a problem that people were ignoring in favor of maintaining the status quo when they should have done something to address it.
In this paper, it has been shown that the differences between the two sculptural styles are due to the inherent cultural, religious, and social divergence between Greek and Indian culture, which manifested in the creation of distinct artistic styles. What this report has shown is that culture and religion often have a significant influence in the creation of a variety of art forms and, as such, when examining any piece of art, it is important to note the religious influences that went into the concept of its creation in order to better understand the message that it is attempting to impart.
Osborne, R. (2008). Introduction: for tradition as an analytical category. World Archaeology, 40(3), 281-294.
Sayre, H.M. (2015). The humanities: Culture, continuity & change, Volume 1 (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.
Singh, D. (2013). Indian Nationalist Art History and the Writing and Exhibiting of Mughal Art, 1910-48. Art History, 36(5), 1042-1069.