MURALS, WALL PAINTINGS, AND FRESCOES:
How wall paintings and other artistic surface treatments in buildings reflect cultural and technological developmentsBreaking away from stereotypes
It is interesting to note that people who are not inclined with a reverent passion for the arts would only think of it in superficial terms (Goodyear, 1897). They only consider arts as something lavish, interesting, and pleasing to the eye. They believe that art pieces (such as paintings, murals, mosaics, sculptures, and others) are something to be displayed on a prominent area, depending on its creator. The trend for these art pieces would be the more well-known the creator is, the better the location of the masterpiece would be. For instance, if the artist would be someone really renowned as Leonardo da Vinci, then the painting would be placed on the front room of a house.
Van Draanen Parsons mentions that people want to display old books because they believe that it gives them an aura of intelligence (1998, p. 52). It doesn't matter what the books were about, interior designers and rich people would buy them by the bulk and display them on expensive bookshelves. These books would have a worn-out, dusty feel which will make mask the owner's ignorance and play in their favor when guests come a calling. The books will be displayed without being read or understood: they would just be placed in bookshelves, looking dusty and old, being utterly ignored. The same goes for paintings and other works of art. People will buy expensive and impressive pieces with the purpose of not hailing the artist, but for boasting that they are cultured, without really understanding what the artwork is trying to say.
Behind the smooth surface of sculptures, the notable curves and lines of paintings, and the alluring colors of art pieces would be a story that is crying to be told. There is a rich history behind art, such a fine discipline, such as the struggles of ancient artists as they tried their best to create a world that would be beautiful and appealing.
Such an example of art that conveys such deep meanings would be the act of wall painting. Wall painting has been around for centuries, and were utilized before for different purposes as what they are being used for now. They were noted as pieces wherein artists could express themselves, and shout out to the world the current triumphs, fears, and dreams of a society. Indeed, there is more to wall painting than what meets the eye. As technology develops, these stories are coming out to the light.
Art: a definition
Art exists everywhere. In reality, all people have creative tendencies, though only a handful would react to this possibility. As Baldwin and Roskill (1997, p. 188) wrote, the impulse to create art is to 'realize form and order out of mere matter - to recognize order in the world or to generate it oneself - is universal and perpetual.' Art is the act of creating something from nothing of significance - such as murals and wall paintings that have served as a form of storytelling. It has served as a way for cultures from all parts of the globe in order to make their stories known - and to preserve the rich heritage of their tribe or nation.
Murals and wall paintings are also considered as the link of the past to the present, and to what the world could be in the future. Baldwin and Roskill (1997, p. 188) supported this idea when they wrote 'it is a present experience as well as a record of the past, and it is valued, preserved.' Due to this, today is a careful era wherein past artworks such as murals and frescoes are being restored, in order to bring to life once again their beauty and majesty, so that generations after this generation will be able to stand spellbound in front of them, and know the story of their forefathers.
Trigiani (2005, p. 221) once wrote about a group of people who was restoring and redecorating an old church in New Jersey. The old church was left as it was throughout hundreds of years, and when the type of restoration came, the group didn't hold back in the task. There they found one such marvel: they discovered that a fresco was actually just painting on a canvas which was placed on a wall. This is already a marvel of discovery at itself, yet when they peeled back the canvas, the painting of the Blessed Mother; there they saw that there was another canvas behind the original. And the hidden canvas portrays a naked, sexy, voluptuous woman.
Though this is but an interesting twist in a novel, this point clearly emphasizes that artists have used murals, frescoes, and wall paintings as a form of expression and of storytelling. For the artist who have hidden a picture of a beautiful woman beneath a blessed image, it is his form of acknowledging the beauty of his loved ones, as he tries to capture one moment of an important moment. And each time he glances up at the painting of the Blessed Mother, he will be able to see the woman he loves underneath her.
History of Wall Painting
The art of wall painting was only enjoyed before by governments and wealthy people (Geracismos, 2006). Though it has been around for hundreds of years, only the elite had access to wall painting.
The term "mural" comes from the Latin word "murus", which means "wall". Therefore, the literal translation of a mural painting would be wall painting. This is not surprising, since murals are often placed on walls and ceilings of private residences and other public buildings.
The first known muralists were the Egyptians, who decorated walls of tombs with scenes of war, hunting, and ceremonies during 3d millennium BC (Berman, 1997). This corresponds to the rich Egyptian culture then, as well as their technology wherein people have to rely on the spoils of war, as well on hunting for their daily food and meals. The ceremonies indicate the Egyptian culture of having intricate ceremonies to honor gods, because foregoing a ceremony could bring ill luck and might bring the wrath of the displeased god to the people. This could be one of the reasons why Egyptian painted murals on their tombs: in order to remind the souls of their departed loved ones of their rich history, and the gods they need to please in the afterlife.
From then on the art of wall painting grew and developed, with the Greeks and Italian taking advantage of the discipline and creating even more intricate and beautiful designs. During the 6th to 5th centuries BC, the Greeks created epic murals which coincide with the battles described in Greek literature (Berman, 1997). This portrays another use for murals such as keeping the story, preserving the culture, and the current status of their lives.
During the Hellenistic Period of Olynthos mosaics by Greeks, the Romans copied the prospect of murals and applied this to their homes and temples, while bordering the approach to naturalism. This started the rage fir mosaics in Europe, which was at its peak during the 4th to 13th century. The richness of color in the Early Christian Art makes it outstanding, with realistic murals of saints and angels in stationed in churches to provide a more heavenly aura for churchgoers (Bernan, 1997).
Wall painting still continues to grow and develop even in the present era. It has gone through the era of classical art, which resulted to fewer mosaics, and the art direction went from naturalism to romanticism and to revolutionary themes. Though throughout the ages, one thing remains constant: a mural conveys what message the artist wants to impart with the audience. Mexican muralists Diego River and Jse Clemente Orozco painted murals with revolutionary themes. This embodies their hopes in reforms and in the support of the people.
Perhaps one of the most talked about early murals would be the cave paintings found at Altamira Spain during 1879, and in Lascaux, France during 1940 (Berman, 1997). These paintings are unique for that particular area, so it was easy to identify when the murals were created.
These aged murals have a hunting theme, with overlapping forms which are elongate flight, and it also gives the impression of a prey cowering to death (Hiester, 1989, p. 27). This is similar to the murals of early Egyptians which portrayed on their walls how to make a living. Before men and women became intelligent and sophisticated, they were first and foremost primeval hunters who preyed on animals in order to live.
Types of wall paintings
There are many materials being used, and methods and techniques being used for wall paintings. Each method depends on the current era and culture, and the materials available as they developed by technology. The most common of them are frescoes, encaustic murals, mosaic, stained glass, baked enamels, modern synthetic materials, and photographic murals (Berman, 1997). As technology develops, more and more materials are being used for murals, such as casual paint and an ordinary brush which are painted on street walls.
The origins of frescoes are unknown are unclear, since there were only few early pieces which survived (Gealt, 1997). However, around c. 1700 BC, frescoes were discovered to be used in the Minoan Art of Crete (Berman, 1997). This perhaps would be the earliest piece of fresco during that time.
During 2008, Dietsch provided a better picture of modern murals that were found in the Pompeii Exhibit. She described how the frescoes took a turn toward naturalism, wherein every detail is exact and precise. Birds and statuary indicated that there was a garden nearby the original location of the fresco, since it was an ancient Pompeian residence which was only excavated during 1978 and 1983. In an awestruck tone, Dietsch continued to describe the beauty of the Pompeian fresco as it became a bridge between the physical objects of that era, to the objects depicted on the fresco.
Italian painter Constantino Brumidi created such a fresco filled with flowers, birds, and beasts - which is a classic grotesque painting during 1856 to 1880. This fresco was able to picture clearly the daily events of human life, such as the flowers one would see every day, and captured it in a frozen moment that will last for all time. True to the fresco's purpose, it was able to provide accurate representations of that era (Geracimos, 1997).
A fresco conservator who was restoring Brumidi's fresco noted how she was able to see how visitors are in awestruck amazement of the fresco as she is. Geracimos (1997) mentioned during the interview that the conservator was quoted to have said, 'There is a friendly, happy feeling around the frescoes. I have a sense that people see the recovery of the spirit and dignity in the original.'
Frescoes and murals alike were used to convey the story of a particular era, as well as to release emotions from those who will see them. They do not only beautify a place, but add to the atmosphere as well. An example of such fresco being able to depict feelings would be the Last Judgment in Rome's Sistine Chapel. For a church, the breathtaking and forbidding fresco on the ceiling was able to both awe the churchgoers with its beauty and majesty, yet is also able to make them feel a little daunted by their sins. The fresco clearly illustrate the thin line between heaven and hell, and for every churchgoer who would look up and glance at its beauty, they will be reminded that they will have to live in the right side in order to avoid being in hell when the last judgment comes.
Types of frescoes
The 1300s to 1800s brought with them the boom of frescoes as they were painted on walls and ceilings of public buildings, churches, and private residences (Gealt, 1997). Among the many methods of wall painting in the early days, frescoes could be said as the more popular method of wall painting.
There are two types of fresco: a buon fresco (or a true fresco) is created by applying a fresh wet layer of plaster on a wall surface, and is painted with pigments that are mixed with water (Gealt, 1997). This is the most utilized form of fresco, as the output would be very impressive and beautiful.
Then there is the other type of fresco which is referred to as a secco fresco (or dry fresco). This is used by painting a dry surface with adhesive binder flakes (Gealt, 1997). Unlike buon fresco, this type of fresco is not permanent, and could be removed once the owner has used it to his or her preference.
Wall Painting now
Though a lot about wall painting has changed, there are some things that remain constant. Though there are more materials, and more purposes of murals and wall paintings, such as beautifying a home, or covering an ugly street, they still provide a sense of culture during the present time. What began as symbolic wall paintings that were sacred in caves, churches, and other early dwellings, became common and usual household paintings. Murals, frescoes, and other forms of wall painting are even see in government buildings, schools, and subway stations throughout the country (Hiester, 1989).
Wall painting changed depending on culture, from the Roman and Greek warfare, to the epics of the Greek and the early Christian charges, to the Renaissance and revolutionary murals depicted to show life as it progresses.
Heister (1989) continues with the changes in the mural setting, as she and her colleagues in the Education department team up with students to paint a mural for their school. They used everyday materials, such as Latex wall paint and foam brushes.
The technology provides more uses for murals and frescoes than never before. An example would be Heister building a paneled mural for the school, as well as it being utilized in interior decoration by middle-class families. What used to be a declaration of wealth before is now something casual and usual, thanks to technology which enabled middle-class people to have access to frescoes (Geracimos, 2006).
Murals and frescoes are now being used in interior designing. An interior decorator could also paint on a canvas as thin as wallpaper, so that the home owners will be able to take the canvas with them if they decide to move homes. It is also very mobile, such as what Hiester (1989) did with their mural, wherein the panels could be removed to accommodate new murals of future students that are more fitting for the time.
In a way, murals are still used to beautify homes. Geracimos (2006) says that "the trend is part of a larger pattern around the country that has people investing heavily in their domestic environment," the trend being the personalized murals in each home. There are many ways of taking advantage of murals in a home, such as painting a fairytale theme in a child's room, or something that might be able to ignite a child's imagination. Main rooms are also given the impression that they are bigger, thanks to murals.
The materials being used are not as restricted as well. Nowadays interior decorators could create walls to look like limestone, burlap, or linen only by using paint. Such technology was unavailable before, but nowadays people can take advantage of this wonder (Geracimos, 2006).
What is disheartening is that despite the boom of wall painting in the present era, there is a sad price that artists have to pay. Nowadays people do not see frescoes and murals as what they really are (which are pictures that have captured life and is a way of bringing into the present some of the past, which provides continuity); instead what people see is a mural's shallow beauty.
To illustrate better this point, Lothar (2007) writes about Lavaudieu village in France, describing the place as "unspoiled stone village, no shops, no bars, no nightlife, just a restaurant or two." This quiet is supplemented with Lothar's next words which are, "what makes the village worth a visit are the exquisite 11th-century Benedictine abbey... the refectory is a glow with Byzantine-influenced murals."
With that simple sentence, Lothar was able to depict the murals in the area as something that was supposed to be appealing and peaceful. Never mind if, say for example, the murals painted on the abbey is filled with demons and angels fighting for the Lord. The people stopped caring about things that really matter, such as what a piece means, and instead preferred to think about just how shallow a mural's image is.
From sacred images, graffiti, and interior decoration
It is clearly emphasized in the paper that the previous purpose of murals would be to beautify homes and to preserve the culture of one society. It has evolved to the purpose of beautifying homes, to draw epic tales and to encourage beautiful stories throughout history.
With each technological advancement and marvel come different application of murals and frescoes. The Egyptians used murals to show their rich history in terms of their celebrations, deaths, and other important occasions, while there are those that showed war, revolution, and hunger on the walls.
Now everywhere one looks, there are murals and paintings on the streets and walls. Politicians use walls as another way of campaigning, teenagers and gang members would put graffiti in the blank and clean walls.
Did it grow or diminish over the years? From the sacred images in churches that were able to raise fear and astonishment to those who see it, to the common graffiti that are being splattered on blank walls in the neighborhoods. Thanks to the developments of today's technology, murals are accessible to everybody. Yet this accessibility could also wreck the beauty of murals, as they could be taken for granted.
- Baldwin, R. & Roskill, M., 1997. Art. Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Inc., 2, p.188.
- Berman, G., 1997. Mural painting. Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Inc., 13, pp.645-646.
- Dietsch, D.K., 2008. Ancient luxuries; home decor focus on Pompeii exhibit. The Washington Times, 19 Oct. p. M22.
- Gealt, A., 1997. Fresco painting. Academic American Encyclopedia, Grolier Inc., 8, pp.327-328.
- Geracimos, A., 1997. Fresh look for frescoes. The Washington Times, 12 Oct. p.1.
- Geracimos, A., 2006. The worlds inside the walls; textiles, nature imitated in murals. The Washington Times, 1 March. p. B01.
- Goodyear, W.H., 1897. Roman and medieval art. New York: Grosset & Dunlap.
- Hiester, S.M., 1989. Artwall. School Arts, January, 88(5), p.27.
- Lothar, C., 2007. Auvergne; rambles, no rumblings, volcanic landscapes towns from Romans, Middle Ages invite strolling and exploring, The Washington Times, 20 Jan. p. D01.
- Trigiani, A., 2005. Rococo. USA: Random House.
- Van Draanen Parsons, W., 1998. Sammy Keyes and the skeleton man. New York: