Art Theory & Criticism: Unit 2 Activity 2

Unit 2 Activity 2: HUMANISM AND CHANGE 

Art is always created in a context. The ideas, values and culture of a particular time have a huge influence on artists and they, in turn can influence the cultural values and ways of thinking in society. Humanism began during the Renaissance, a time when philosophy, science and mathematics dramatically changed not just art but culture in Europe. In this activity you will look at the rise of Humanism and how it changed European art, culture, and society. You will need to use books and the Internet for your research. For example:

Visual Arts Cork (Links to an external site.)

Effect of Humanism on Art

In the visual arts, humanism stood for (1) The emergence of the individual figure, in place of stereotyped, or symbolic figures. (2) Greater realism and consequent attention to detail, as reflected in the development of linear perspective and the increasing realism of human faces and bodies; this new approach helps to explain why classical sculpture was so revered, and why Byzantine art fell out of fashion. (3) An emphasis on and promotion of virtuous action: an approach echoed by the leading art theorist of the Renaissance Leon Battista Alberti (1404-72) when he declared, “happiness cannot be gained without good works and just and righteous deeds”.

The promotion of virtuous action reflected the growing idea that man, not fate or God, controlled human destiny, and was a key reason why history painting (that is, pictures with uplifting ‘messages’) became regarded as the highest form of painting. Of course, the exploration of virtue in the visual arts also involved an examination of vice and human evil.

What to do

  1. In 300-500 words answer the following question: What is Humanism and how did it influence the course of art history?
  2. Use examples of art works to illustrate your findings.

What to submit

  • 300 – 500 words, including illustrations
  • Bibliography


This activity will be assessed against criteria 1, 2, 3 and 5.