When prehistoric men and women first appeared on earth, their art also took form. Human beings, by their inherent nature, will turn to art to express themselves and those things that make up their way of life. In fact, those early art forms discovered in prehistoric caves and other dwellings were mostly depictions of their daily life. Subsequently, their art provided us with our primary source of information about humankind’s history, culture and civilization.
And this comprises a significant part of humanity’s cultural heritage. If one examines the spectrum of cultural heritage, it necessarily encompasses a sharing of bonds among peoples, a sense of belonging to a community (a social being), as it represents our identity as human beings, our connection to what is our past, present and future. It is also impossible to ignore an object of art especially if it evokes familiar human sentiments.
Truly so, art becomes invaluable inasmuch as it enables one to appreciate very positive human intricacies. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, a case in point, depicts a beauty that captivates not only because of the model’s physical attributes, but also and even more so because of the human emotions that she portrays. At the very least, art is a product of human endeavor expressed in a timeless form of beauty. Authentic art, therefore is timeless.
Throughout history, we can observe that once human freedom is curtailed or repressed, art diminishes only to flower again when peace and freedom are restored. In essence, there is a direct correlation between the person’s need to express oneself in artistic forms and when the right conditions for such expressions exist. Otherwise, this powerful expression is suppressed in times of war, conflagration or disaster.
Art in itself or the appreciation of art has also evolved with the passage of time. It is no longer just a passive undertaking, but instead, it has transformed into a more complex activity or mechanics with more prohibitive costs for common people. But art enables civilizations to develop as peoples must look back and retrace their steps before venturing into the uncertain future.
Today’s art is also the result of a selection process – a process of memory recalled, and another identifies each human society as constantly involved in making a choice—for both cultural and political reasons—about that which should be preserved for future generations and that which should not. This results in the formation of what we now call the prevalent culture of the world. And all peoples contribute to the culture of the world. For this reason it becomes most important to respect and safeguard art through national laws and international treaties, especially those regarding cultural heritage.
To name some threats in the preservation of art works: illicit trafficking of art objects, artifacts and cultural objects, the pillaging of archaeological sites, and the destruction of historical buildings and monuments. These activities cause irreparable damage to the cultural heritage and identity of nations. UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization), founded in 1954, has already adopted international conventions on the protection of cultural heritage, to foster intercultural understanding while stressing the importance of international cooperation.
If art were indeed a tangible manifestation of man and woman as made in the image and likeness of God, and not merely a recording of the past as history usually is, then art is elevated to a celebration of humanity’s position as a crucial centerpiece of God’s creation. Given this meaning, art should then express not only human behaviour, but should also proclaim humankind’s worth – as an image of the Living God. Thus, art becomes a medium through which humankind can communicate and around which it find a certain unity. Art would then acquire a new connotation, both sublime and noble.