Backstory: An artful history of art

Michelangelo's David is the most famous statue. He also sculpted a smaller version, called Dave.

About 15,000 years ago, a Stone Age man took up ochre and charcoal to paint bison and horses on the wall of a cave. This marked the beginning of art in the Western world (which should not be confused with Western art, which has not only bison and horses, but also cowboys).

Why did Stone Age artists paint in caves rather than outside on boulders or on rock faces? Probably because outdoor art is free, but painters who called their caves "galleries" could charge admission. Stone Age painters couldn't make money by selling their work, though, since cave paintings are not easily portable.

We remember the Greeks for their sculpture, especially statues of people who are unclothed due to the hot Grecian summers. The pinnacle of Greek architecture, the Parthenon, originally featured sculptures known as marbles. A British diplomat cut a deal and hauled some of the marbles to England, prompting Greece's neighbors to mock them by coining the phrase, "You've lost your marbles."

The Normans, known for weaving tapestries that recounted their history, were related to the French. The Cajuns, French emigrants who settled in the Mississippi delta, carried on the Norman tradition by weaving the magnificent Bayou Tapestry. The Norman influence continued into 20th century American art through the painter Norman Rockwell.

Leonardo da Vinci was called a renaissance man because he was born during the Renaissance. He often painted on wet clay, a medium known as fresco. This technique was invented by Alberto "Al" Fresco, who was also the owner of the first sidewalk cafe.

Leonardo painted the Mona Lisa, a subject known for her enigmatic smile. When I see that painting and walk around that room, no matter where I go, my eyes seem to follow hers.

Michelangelo's David is the most famous of all statues. Michelangelo also sculpted a smaller version, which he called Dave.

Michelangelo's magnificent painting on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, sad to say, has faded over the centuries because Michelangelo refused to put on a second coat.

Georges Seurat painted not with brush strokes but with tiny dots of paint in a style called pointillism. To this day, newspapers honor Seurat by printing their photographs in tiny dots.

Paul Cézanne was known for his moving still lifes of apples and other produce.

Francisco de Goya's powerful paintings inspired a group of disciples known as Goyim.

The Impressionists broke free of conventions to make their own bold aesthetic statements. But there wasn't much money in it, so the Impressionists moonlighted in night clubs, impersonating celebrities.

Andy Warhol, a leader in the Pop Art movement, made paintings of Campbell's Soup cans – an early and blatant example of product placement.

My path as an artist has been rocky. I longed to study with Cubists, but political tensions kept me from visiting Havana. My current artistic vision: I shall paint in bright colors on a surface that absorbs light like a black hole.

Dale Roberts, a college career counselor, lives in Asheville, N.C.

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