Every ancient civilization has utilized the artistic medium of sculpture and stonework. It became a common form of expression and imagery which allows modern scholars to learn about ways of life and cultural values. As civilizations developed, the preferences or styles changed in accordance with influences, but often underlying concepts and values remained embedded in the artistic expression. The sculptures of Ancient India and Ancient Greece differ significantly in their depiction of humans and deities, which suggests that despite similar religious and decorative purposes, there was a distinction between Indian religious collectivism and Greek individualism.
Ancient Greece underwent several periods of transition and development in its culture. During the Archaic period, sculptures had human features but were often rigid and used geometric shapes with abrasive edges for stylization. By the early 5th century BC, known as the Classical period, artists began to create realistic and lifelike sizes and forms in sculptures. The style shifted to making sculptures more fluid, often showing a body in motion. The Greeks embraced all aspects of human anatomy, seeking to represent it as authentically as possible. In addition to idolizing the human body, sculptures of the period began to show daily aspects of life, various types of clothing, and emotion. Realism was combined with imperfection to depict humans in their true form (the University of Oxford, n.d.). Greek religion was based on anthropomorphic concepts, which called for gods to be portrayed in the human form. In fact, it is difficult for a non-expert to distinguish between a sculpture of a deity or a human. However, the sculptures of gods were more often idolized, portraying forms that were aesthetically pleasing. Female sculptures were meant to invoke eroticism and gentleness, while male counterparts displayed strength and athleticism (Destrée & Murray, 2015).
Similar to the Greeks, Ancient Indian sculptures portraying humans attempted to present realism by celebrating natural forms. There was exceptional attention to detail and evidence of significant craftsmanship that has been formed over centuries. The sculptures showed the depth of volume and mass that allows us to visualize depth from a variety of angles. Ancient Indian culture had its foundational roots long before Ancient Greece. However, in comparison, the Classical period of Ancient Greece came simultaneously with the rise of Buddhism in India, which critically defined all aspects of art.
Humans were portrayed in their natural beauty, particularly female figures. Indian sculptors attempted to emphasize smoothness and curvatures of shapes. However, regular humans were rarely the central subject of the sculptures since the gods became the focus of Ancient Indian art. Deities were usually portrayed in a human or semi-human form with additional characteristics. That includes additional body parts, contorted motions, and extensive decorations or jewelry. However, some sculptures of Buddha found in India were mimicking traditional Greek styles. It is thought to be the influence of the Hellenistic period after Alexander the Great conquered vast expanses of Asia, leading to the spread of Greek culture (Chandra, 1985). This was meant to represent the mystical and dynamic nature of deities that were meant to offer tribute to the supernatural.
Cultural Values and Ideas
The Greek culture celebrated the human form and body as the central subject of the arts. The body was considered an important aspect that should be cared for but also depicted for its beauty. The open level of realism and naturalism in the sculptures suggests that there was the acceptance of the body as well as people in their daily activities as a whole. It becomes closely correlated with Democratic societies of Ancient Greece that perpetuated individualism. The depiction of deities as humans along with other evidence suggests that religion and secularism in the society were closely intertwined. Statues of regular people were used for decoration along with images of the gods, even in temples. That is an indicator that humans were considered an image of gods and counter-wise, presenting idealism of the human spirit (Destrée & Murray, 2015).
Most of the sculptures from Ancient India are of a religious theme. They were placed in homes and temples for inciting religious worship. For many groups, it was critical to achieving a mystical connection or unity with their deity. Religion was the center of society, used in education and governance. The designs were aesthetically beautiful in order to inspire awe and inspire worship. Sculptures served as symbols which were reflective of the collective thinking that sought to promote religion and eliminate individuality.
One form of modern expression is known as contemporary art which can be portrayed through various mediums. It takes influence from many schools and is commonly associated with the concept of abstract expressionism. Contemporary art is part of the postmodern movement which attempts to step outside of mainstream and traditional boundaries and expectations. It often leaves the subject matter to interpretation or emphasizes a multidimensional approach that can be culturally diverse or highly technological. Contemporary artists attempt to comment on the realities and events of modern society (The J. Paul Getty Museum, n.d.). This concept of expression strongly reflects modern cultural values. The freedom of expression beyond traditional boundaries or control is one of the primary socio-political issues of the 21st century. Furthermore, the ideal for individuality and popularity through attention-grabbing techniques is evident in many contemporary art projects.
Ancient Indian and Greek sculptures are renowned for their cultural uniqueness, technique, and beauty which highlight natural human forms and their deity counterparts. However, the style and representation suggest a distinct difference in cultural values. While Ancient India strongly focused on collective religion and mysticism in their sculptures, the Greeks emphasized the realism of human individualism.
Chandra, P. (1985). The sculpture of India, 3000 B.C. to 1300 A.D. Washington, DC: National Gallery of Art.
Destrée, P., & Murray, P. (2015). A companion to ancient aesthetics. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
The J. Paul Getty Museum. (n.d.). About contemporary art. Web.
University of Oxford. (N.d.). The Classical period. Web.