Art is a reflection of the times. The art of a culture tells us about the materials available, the advancement of the artist’s skills, the attitudes, problems, customs and daily life of their world and even the spirit of the people. Just as the pop art of Andy Warhol tells us about life in consumer America of the sixties, the tomb paintings of the ancients tell us about life in pre-historic France. If something winds up in a cave painting, or on the side of a vase used to convey water to a home from a well, or in a tomb, it tells us that the events depicted were significant, or that the society, at very least, put a premium on something an artist made “prettier.” This simple act, valuing artists, tells us that these people had a certain self awareness and appreciation for something other than mere survival.
Does a society that values art necessarily have a higher moral standard than one that does not? We don’t know, because we know little of societies that did not value some form or painting or sculpture. We can feel comfortable with the knowledge that a society must have been somewhat advanced if it developed architectural marvels in the form of stone temples to the Gods, or lyric poems telling the stories of the past, or even paintings depicting great victories for a hunter in the afterlife. Our understanding of history lies in the assumptions we make about the artifacts we discover, imagine how different our view of history would be if the great library in Alexandria was not destroyed by fire!
We make suppositions about morals based on the art we find, and, we make moral judgments based on our own understanding of morality. We know, through artifacts (cool word, literally, the ability to make), that Mayans sacrificed humans in an effort to please their Gods, an act we would not consider God pleasing today. We think that Egyptian royalty may have taken servants and pets to the afterlife with them, again, not something we would consider morally acceptable. But, from a wider lens, these artifacts tell us that there was a belief in a higher power and that man has never thought there was not some spiritual component to life that goes beyond our understanding.
Somewhere in history we came out of caves or down from trees. Survival and pain must have factored into every single decision made by every single person in pre-history. The bits of papyrus, or clay, or temples of stone are evidence of the fact that we evolved to a place where we had time to draw on a wall, or write down a great story, or build monuments to the great spirits. These artifacts tell us that we had time to sing songs of victory and sadness, that we had a sense of wonder, that we are wired, as a species, to love a good story. It tells us that we understood that the physical and material life that we live is not, logically, the only view of existence that explains why we are here.
So, when you have a chance to create something you should remember how important it is to all of us that you honor your inspiration. History depends on it.