Art movements. Egyptian art: freedom or death? We cannot understand old Egyptian art as “art for art’s sake”. In fact, Egyptian art always had a religious objective and this objective was much more important than whatever other consideration.
Maybe, it was the permanent presence of the river Nile, with its beneficial floods in spring (it flooded slowly covering of good limos the agricultural lands on both banks), and the return to the riverbed in summer, which gave Egyptian people that idea of eternal Return, of a constant reborn.
Egyptian people believed in an immortal soul (Ka), much more important than people’s legs or eyes, because it would give them the immortality (this life was only a valley of tears). But to reach the immortality has never been easy and according to Egyptian ideas, they would need a physical support on this Earth to maintain alive your Ka in the hereafter.
Then, the first support was their mummy, and difficult rituals accompanied its preparation and the preparation of the
sarcophagus and the canopic jars. Afterwards, they had to look for a secure place to guard the holly mummy during the next thousands and thousands of years. Egypt is a place of graves (mastabas, pyramids or hypogea), always made of stone or rock-cut (stone was the hardest material they knew, the material which guaranteed better the permanence).
Believing in these ideas, it’s normal to seek for more physical supports. Thus, they established that if the mummy were destroyed, the soul could still live with the help of a sculpture or a painting which represented the defunct.
Cube-sculptures: nor legs nor arms could risk to be broken. Quite sculptures, hieratic, looking always at the face of the divinity.
Same happened with their colorful paintings. Repeated models during thousands of years. Symbolic topics, perspective and meanings. Perfect proportion that we still admire.
But what happened with ordinary people?
Rulers of every time know they have to give some hope to their subjects.
Ordinary people did not have money to pay a pyramid, great frescoes or even a mummy. Well, didn’t matter, their Ka could live in little sculptures of clay (oushebti). Scenes of sailors, farmers, soldiers, fishermen, children… We find much more freedom and realism in them, although their objective was also mortician.
Definitely, it seems Egypt was a land which lived for death.
However, how is it possible we admire them so much? Of course, death is attractive and death (= time) has been the main topic of arts and writing forever. But there is another interesting point does not properly study. Old Egyptian people had not a collective resurrection, they have an individual beyond. This appreciation of a person it’s the first seed of posterior societies that have believed in people as an entity able of walking alone (without permission of their tribe or state -in the end it’s the same-) and to think by themselves: rebellion and creativity often go together and paradoxically, death frees us from the chains of time and for the strict rules of mummified pharaoh… Perhaps, we admire Egypt for the freedom hidden in their immobile artworks.
You can also see the artworks of a current artist, Richard Deurer, who is inspired by old Egyptian art: