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Art and Civilization I

Art and Civilization I

    Art that concerns the nature of civilization has never been more relevant, with the climate and COVID-19 crises.  I will compare in this series two works of art from two different time periods: the early nineteenth century (Thomas Cole’s 1830s series The Course of Empire), and the early twenty-first century (Chiho Aoshima in the 2010s).  Both concern the city in its rise and fall.
    Before the city was built, the landscape was lush.  Thomas Cole depicts in his painting titled The Savage State some indigenous people hunting and gathering, dwarfed by the Eden in the painting.  The people are beginning their transition to civilization, as canoes are being designed and built.  Civilized cultures, unlike hunter-gatherer cultures, enact permanent and conscious changes to the physical environment through design.  The Iroquois, for example, thought of as “noble savages” like other native Americans in Cole’s painting, were not in the end the hunter-gatherers Cole depicts.  They farmed and therefore designed government on a large scale, over modern New York State and Quebec.

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