Type: History
Pages: 6 | Words: 1642
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The Archaic smile was employed by the Archaic sculptors of Greek in particular in sixth century BCE,second quarter, most probably make a suggestion that their subject was alive, and that it was infused with a common sense of well-being. To the viewers used to realism, the smile is quite unnatural looking and quiet, even though it could be perceived as a progress towards naturalism. One of the most famous examples of the Archaic Smile is the korai and kouroi. The Archaic Smile is an attribute that appears on Archaic Greek sculpture that was created between 650 BCE and 480 BCE. Viewers of the sculpture have for long time tried to analyze its characteristic expression in an attempt to comprehend what is the inspiration behind the sculpture. Viewers also want to understand the ramifications of the appearance of this sculpture. The Archaic Smile is a progression of the Daedalic technique. This is a formality that turns out to be a constituent of the Archaic Smile. Fowler states that “B. S. Ridgway lists as characteristic of archaic sculpture formality, symbolism, standardization, and decorativeness; decorativeness includes linearity and fractioning” (Fowler, 1983, p. 164). The style of the Archaic is observed with ease on the plentiful kouroi and korai, self-supported sculptures of completely naked young men and dressed women who were serving as grave makers or they were very much devoted to the gods. However, the Archaic Smile is not within the limits of these sculptures. The Archaic Smile also features in chryselephantine sculptures, bronze statuettes, grave steles, Hermes, art that is non-sculptural for instance the attic vase paintings, and in sculptures of architecture found in caryatids/alantes, friezes, metopes, column drum relief’s, and in Pediment sculptures.

The age of Archaic takes place after the Greece’s “Dark Age” (1100-80 B.C.E.), between 800 and 500 B.C.E. this is a pointy in time the history of Greece when Greece achieved its colonization of the Mediterranean. (McKay, 2004, p. 107). This also marks the commencement of the “birth and development of tragedy, historical writing, and philosophy” (McKay, 2004, p. 107). This comprised of the “maturation of the polis”, which “coincided with one of the most vibrant periods of Greek history, an era of extraordinary expansion geographically, artistically and politically” (McKay, 2004, p. 113). The commencement of democracy in Greece took place in Athens while under Solon 594 BCE and it became more popular with Cleisthenes in 508 BCE. (McKay, 2004, p. 115). Within this period lies the famous archaic period of the art in Greece, which afterwards relinquishes itself to the subsequent Classical period of the period 500-338 B.C.E (McKay, 2004, p. 115).

Influence Archaic Art on Greek and Roman Art

The Archaic art had immense degree of influence on being successful over art that was not Greece made, maybe most clearly upon the Roman art, which was often an imitative of the Greek art. In the same way, it is true that Archaic artists were also in one way or the other influenced by the art of the past from other places. Seventh century BCE Greece art shows signs of a clear influence of the Egyptian art. Egyptian sculptures had remarkable facial expressions with almost almond-shaped eyes, round fleshy cheek, pressed together lips. The sculptures are lightly overturned at the corners in a gaze that is silent. Appearance of the faces at first looks more or less naturalistic, but this characteristic is made more stylistic in the archaic age. However, the Egyptian influence is to be found further than the Great Sphinx aesthetics. Egyptian self-supporting sculpture provides many features to the freestanding archaic korai and kouroi sculptures. According to tanner “Iconographic content is decoded as a ‘message’ or an allegory of contemporary political ideology or philosophy, while style is interpreted iconologically as a symptom of an individual artist’s or a particular period’s mentality” (Tanner, 2001, p. 259). But the Archaic characteristic with one of its heralding features being the Smile does not appear like a sheer “symptom” of the attitude of the time. It does not emerge to be a sheer “message” but it rather appears to be a quizzical creature. The Archaic art does not formulate a “statement” per se, but it encourages contemplation and questioning within oneself.

The Archaic period was at a time when Greeks were shifting to democratic rule from a tyrannical rule. In periods of political doubt, civilizations tend to intensively turn towards gods in search of answers to some questions that are cannot be answered in context of their own realm. Thus the korai and kouroi seem to be to some extent of a mediary between the intangible world of gods and the tangible human world. Not quite godlike, not quite human, they stay close somewhere in between the two. The stylized characteristics are humanlike indeed, however there is something more significant. They are perfect, similar to nobody in particular yet similar to everyone generally. They set a human-like facade on the gods and these can then be applicable to anybody. Therefore, the Greek art is religious, although it does not resort to representation of symbols, choosing instead to make a reflection of an ideal, all-encompassing impracticality. Taylor depicts it as a “period of man’s religious development when the idea is as big and important as the forms which symbolize it.” He continues:  “Moral values and concepts had not yet become established, and confusion existed between objects of reality and the world of the spirit” (Taylor, 1952, p. 217).  The physical world was not separated from the religious world, which permeated every characteristic of the physical sphere.

Equally imperative as the creating art process of Greek was the viewing process of the art. Tanner figures it out when he makes a description of it as a ritual progression that “created in the viewer a heightened sensory awareness and religious responsiveness, an increased readiness to internalize codes objectified in the statue and to project motivational dispositions already embedded in the personality” (Tanner, 2001, p. 272). The Greek art is simple and this generally complements the harmony of civilization. This wealth of appearance allowed “the new artistic language (to give) a specific practical substance to religious codes, grounding them in the viewers’ sense of their own bodies, a corporeal sense shaped both by universal maturational processes and the particular social codification of those processes into a role system characteristic of Greek society. (Tanner, 2001, p. 272).

Interpreting Smile in Art

What is a smile? A smile is a sign that is exceptional to the human race. “Humans have the most complex facial musculature of any animal, using more than seventeen muscles to smile” (Vaizey, 2002, p.5). The smile is a sign that we “take pleasure in other people’s company and intend them no harm” (Vaizey, 2002, p.5) and as a result the smile is “the most important tool in the human gesture repertoire” (Vaizey, 2002, p.5). Although scholars would concur that a smile is a sign of happiness, an indication of enjoyment of divine or of life, the connotation of a smile can determined to a great extent by the beholder (Vaizey, 2002, p.5). there also cases where a smile is not a sign of happiness, “While the smile is universally interpreted as an expression of happiness, it also is the facial expression most easily performed voluntarily and to some extent independent of feeling state…there are additional reasons for smiling that are more communicative in nature, e.g. as a greeting, to flirt with someone, to be polite, or to diffuse a difficult situation” (Abel, 2002, p. 2). Apart from expressing an emotional state Smiling can also be used to pass information in a social context. A context is very significant in when analyzing forms of smiles (Abel, 2002, p. 3).

The Archaic Smile is not formed by a smile itself. Although the lips formation is a major characteristic, it is the expression in general that is significant. Various scholars may make a suggestion that bearers of the Archaic Smile cannot be taken as having an expression. “we would not call a face (intransitively) expressive unless it displays considerable mobility. A face that perpetually wore the same expression would not be expressive” (Tormey, 1905, p. 108). A facer is expressive only when it can display various expressions. Therefore, can we consider an archaic sculpture to have an expression? If not, then the sculptures which bear the same expression forever can never be assumed to contain an expression. Fortunately, Tormey argues that the “meaning of ‘expressive’ is not exhausted . . . through correlation with indefinitely extended sets of expressions”, thus, “a face may be expressive merely in virtue of its mobility or its range of perceptible configurations, even though it presents no recognizable expressions for which there are established names”. Therefore, even if the Archaic expression lacks potential for movement, its very indistinctness, the complicatedness in attributing a particular name for the appearance as it is not anything that comes out in the human variety of expressions, lets it to be an expression by good feature of its being un-namable.

It is quite certain that we will never get to know what was the meaning of the Archaic Smile to its Greek architects and observers with absolute certainty, but this is not completely problematic. There is a possibility that it provided for many purposes. Just like it gave life to the observer as with the korai and kouroi, it presented a glance of death gratitude to the architectural sculptures. At the danger of tripping into relativity, as with the majority art, observers will unavoidably develop their own understanding onto it and therefore come up with a meaning of their own and this is not something bad. Whether or not it was a consequence of methodological or accidental development, the truth is that thousands of years down the line viewers of the art are being inspired by its intention that is always changing yet always applicable.

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