review eternal egypt at the legion of honor. a collection of objects brought over from the british museum. the exhibit was packed, people milling around pretty much every box and statue, so that it was hard to sit and take stock -- but there was a lot of stuff to take in so maybe that was a good thing. I had a good time, focusing on various things and sitting back and sketching (I'll upload some pictures later). I fell in love with the big heads, and some of the detailed hieroglyphics. They all had beautiful lips, and it was nice to see them up close and feel their power -- it was also good to get different perspectives from what you might find in books. They looked as impressive from behind as up front.
The exhibit purported to show the changes in styles over the centuries of Egyptian history. This has garnered criticism that a) it ain't art, it's just craft, that's handed down from tradesman to tradesman, and b) it ain't all that different between the centuries. But I don't buy these arguments. Whether or not it was done by craftsman with no thought at the time as to Art is beside the point. We know in this century see the beauty and majesty in these figures, and take it as art, and are affected by it as art. But also the argument falls down for me because Art is an incremental thing in general. student inherits the techniques of his master and if he's a genius, adds maybe a technique or two to the canon. It is never wholesale reinvention -- usually just reinterpretation.
Now you could of course say -- yes but looking over the past 500 years has seen much more change than several thousand years of Egyptian history. This may be true, but look at the vast differences between the times. Egypt is a relatively isolated place compared to rennaissance europe and later, there is no large scale exchange of ideas, no outside source to compare oneself to, and there were fewer people in general in the world. The "progression" of human knowledge is related to the number of people out there, and how well they exchange ideas -- which is a function of geography and technology. So yes Egpytian art seems to have evolved at a glacial pace -- is this any surprise?
But were they artists? Who knows. How many painters today are Artists? Are filmakers, songwriters, writers. Much of what any one of these people do is a "craft" a study of technique. The art element comes down to the idea. The craftsmen of Egypt set out to project the power of Egyptian pharoahs -- living gods. This they did well I think, because after several thousand years something of that power is still projected. It was an Art I think. Will the art of today last as long I wonder?