How Does Art Help Us To Understand The Past?

One of my favorite courses was an Art History class I took at the University of Wisconsin. What I loved so much about the class was how art helped me rediscover and understand history.

Art can help us understand our past and give us a visual view of historical events; art allows us to understand people who lived in another time and place. Art helps us view how important religion was to the lives of the people. Art also gives us a visual view of how landscapes or cities have changed over time, and art can help us understand other cultures and countries.

Table of Contents

Art gives us a visual history of our past. Art helps us to understand our past fully.

Here Are 6 Ways Art Can Help Us Understand Our Past:

Art Helps Us Understand Historical Events

Art gives us a visual view of important historical events. Through art, we can visually view, learn and experience important historical events.

Washington Crossing the Delaware 1851 Emanuel Leutze German American (The MET, Public Domain)

A painting I remember from my time in elementary school is the classic painting of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” by Emanuel Leutze in 1851. I remember how this iconic painting brought home to life what that event of George Washington meant, for me, as an American.

I love how majestic George Washington is as he was standing in the boat, concentrating on his destination. I also love to see the ordinary soldiers desperately rowing their way through very harsh conditions.

From this one painting, we can learn so much about this event; the historical event of “Washington Crossing the Delaware” is preserved on canvas by Emanuel Leutze for us all to appreciate and enjoy.

Art Helps Us Understand People In The Past

Art helps us to understand the lives of people who lived before us. Through art and the artist’s eyes, we can get a glimpse into the lives of ordinary people.

We can see what it was like to be farm laborers or work out in the fields; we better understand life on a farm in the 19th century. Art gives us historical evidence of how people once lived. Art gives us a visual verification to understand those who have gone before us so we can discover what their lives were like.

Fish Market 1568 Joachim Beuckelaer Netherland, Antwerp, (The MET, public domain)

I really love the painting “Fish Market” by Joachim Beuckelaer of the Netherlands. This picture from 1568 shows us a lot about life in the 16th Century.

We can, first of all, see the fish, and we learn a lot about the fish markets during this time and place. We can also learn about the lives of the everyday men and women, the clothes they were wearing, how they went about the daily task to buy fish to eat.

This picture is a great example of how the past is not that much different from today. You could go to a fish market in many parts of the world and find similar scenes where people buy fish to take home and cook for their families.

Art Helps Us Understand Religion

Artwork helps us understand world religion and the importance of religions in the lives of people. Through art, we can see the importance of religion in individuals living at the time.

In many works of art, we can see the dedication and importance of religion to the people during the time or how the culture viewed religion.

Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints ca. 1504 Raphael (Raffaello Sanzio or Santi) (The MET, Public Domain)

I love the religious artwork of “Madonna And Child Enthroned with Saints” by Raphael in 1504; this painting tells us a lot about the importance of religions in people’s lives during this time.

Madonna and the Christ child is surrounded by four saints: Saint Peter, Saint Catherine, Saint Paul, and Saint Cecilia. This painting, which is filled with religious symbolism, shows how important religion was in people’s lives.

No wonder the nuns in the small Franciscan convent of Sant’ Antonio in Perugia revered having this Rapheal piece in their church. Raphael’s painting shows, like so many others, the importance that religions played in the people’s lives during the time Raphael lived. For them, art was an essential part of their religious beliefs.

Art Helps Us Understand Attitudes of The Era

Art from the past can also tell us a lot about the era in which the artist lived. We can discover so much through the clothes worn, the composition, the houses, the furniture, or even how the era viewed women or men. Art is our visual window into another time and place.

By the Seashore 1883 Auguste Renoir French, (The MET, Public Domain)

For example, the painting “By the Seashore” by Auguste Renoir, painted in 1883. Here is a woman at the seashore, but she is fully dressed and sitting in a wicker chair. She even has on a hat. In 1883 if a woman did go into the ocean or water, she would have gone in fully dressed with even a hat.

This painting “By the Seashore” tells us quite a bit about women during this time and era and how they lived and dressed.

Art Helps Us See How Landscape or Cities Changed

Art can help us see how landscapes or cities have changed with the passing of time and development. The art can give us a glimpse of what life was like before industrialization or development – or what life was like during the artist’s time.

Eaton’s Neck, Long Island 1872 John Frederick Kensett American The MET, Public Domain)

A great example of how a place once looked is shown in the 1872 painting of “Eaton’s Neck, Long Island” by the American artist John Frederick Kensett. This beautiful composition shows Long Island in the late 19th Century.

In this painting, we can glimpse the beautiful landscape, pristine waters, and how rustic New York’s Long Island once was. This painting, which almost has a photograph quality, is a beautiful work of art.

Art Helps Us Understand Other Cultures

Art can help us understand the historical and cultural views of another country. Art can help us to see how other countries and societies evolved.

I am a great fan of Japanese Woodblock prints. Japanese woodblock prints give us a view into the history and culture of Japan.

Night Rain at the Double-Shelf Stand, from the series Eight Parlor Views (Zashiki hakkei) ca. 1766 Suzuki Harunobu Japanese (The MET, Public Domain)

A woodblock print that can give us views into 18th century Japan is the “Night Rain at the Double-Shelf Stand, from the series Eight Parlor Views” by Suzuki Harunobu. This series of woodblock prints shows the interior view of the Toyko House of Pleasure (Brothel).

In this woodblock print, we can almost hear the sounds of the softly boiling pot of tea. We get a glimpse into the clothes, hairstyles, and a bit of the culture and life in Japan in 1766.

Without art, there would not be any visual representation of the past. Art helps us to be able to verify what happened in the past or what past life, religion, and culture were like.

Anita Louise Art is dedicated to art education, great artists, and inspiring others to find and create their art. We love art that uplifts and inspires. #ArtToMakeYouSmile! #ArtToMakeYouHappy!

If you are interested to see any of my art, you can find out more by clicking here. If you are interested in what inspires me and my paintings, you can discover more by clicking here.

We have a free newsletter and would love you to be part of our community; you can subscribe to the newsletter by clicking here. If you have any questions, I would be happy to talk to you. You can reach me, Anita, by clicking here.

Subscribe to our Anita Louise Art YouTube Channel with great videos and information by clicking here.

Join us for our podcast 5 Minutes With Art.” Spend just 5 minutes a week with us to discover and learn about great art and artists. You can find out more about our podcast by clicking here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How does art help us understand history?

Art can provide a visual representation of historical events, people, and cultural practices, helping us to gain a deeper understanding of the past.

What can we learn about the past from studying art from the past?

Art from the past can provide insights into the social, political, and cultural context of historical periods, as well as the values, beliefs, and attitudes of the people who lived during those times.

How does art differ from other forms of historical documentation, such as written records or artifacts?

Art offers a unique perspective on the past, as it allows us to see historical events and figures through the eyes of the artists who created them, offering a more emotional and subjective view of history

What are some examples of historical events that have been depicted in art?

Historical events such as battles, religious ceremonies, and political movements have been frequently depicted in art, providing a visual record of these events for future generations.

How has art been used to convey political messages throughout history?

Art has often been used as a means of political propaganda, as well as a way of critiquing political institutions and social structures.

What role has art played in preserving cultural traditions and practices?

Art has been used to preserve cultural practices and traditions throughout history, from religious ceremonies to folk art and crafts.

What can we learn about a historical period or culture from the art that was produced during that time?

Art from a particular historical period or culture can offer insights into the values, beliefs, and social structures of that time, as well as the artistic and technical developments of that era.

How does the study of historical art contribute to our broader understanding of history?

The study of historical art helps us to gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, social, and political context of past events, providing a more complete and nuanced understanding of history as a whole.

What are some examples of artists who have challenged traditional historical narratives through their work?

Artists such as Frida Kahlo, Kara Walker, and Ai Weiwei have used their work to challenge dominant historical narratives and offer alternative perspectives on past events and figures.

What Type Of Artist Is The Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama?

Yayoi Kusama calls herself an obsessional artist or an artist who does stereotypical repetition. Her art does not fit into one single art movement. Kusama calls herself an environmental artist as her art will encompass the entire space, including the walls, ceilings, and floors. A lot of her art is about perspective and infinity that never ends.

You can learn more by reading What Type Of Artist Is The Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama? by clicking here.

Takashi Murakami’s art successfully blurs the art lines between high and low culture. Takashi has successfully collaborated and used his art on products produced by many major brands. Today you can see the Murakami flowers on fine art, pop culture, fashion, to commercial products.

You can discover more by reading Why is Takashi Murakami So Popular? The Japanese Artist Takashi Murakami by clicking here.