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ART AND POWER (Part one) by Guifré Pastó

March 11, 2014

One of the main features of art is the fact that it is the reflection of the innermost aspects of man; the artist, based on the more emotional side of man, creates a reflection of the world, a sensible interpretation, a work that, in turn, is capable of generating an emotional response in others. Not only the beauty, taste, composition, or contrast of the work are responsible for generating such a response, but also the fact that art has the ability of playing with psychology and symbolism through shape and colour (the image). These categories (taste, beauty, symbolism, colour… and many others) are responsible for that charm and magic that give art a special and unique power before all that is human. This power and attractiveness of art, this unique character, has been used throughout history by the highest members of the social hierarchies both for projecting themselves as for increasing their influence on society. No wonder that the world’s greatest works of art have been commissioned by the most powerful individuals or groups so as to leave a trace of their presumed magnanimity among their people:


Abu simbel

Ancient Egypt, thirteenth century BC

In a society dedicated to worshipping the gods, art is aimed at the exaltation of the divine figure, embodied by the Pharaoh, the (god-man). His power can be seen in the collosalism of his temples and in the rich and sumptuous decoration with which he embellishes them.

 Sala Hipóstila de Karnak

For his own splendour and also for the splendour of his people, Ramses the Second built the following monuments: Abu Simbel, commemorating the victory in the Battle of Qadesh, and the Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak, as an analogy of creation in the temple dedicated to the god Amun.

Sin título

Virtual representation of the Karnak Hypostyle Hall

Ancient Greece, fifteenth century BC

 During one of the periods of greatest splendour in Greece, “the century of Pericles”, art was used to visually enhance the power of Athens; For this purpose, Pericles would surround himself by the most important artists and poets, including Phidias (sculptor of the Frieze of the Parthenon in Athens, of the monumental Athena Parthenon or the statue of Zeus in Olympia).


Panoramic view of the Greek Acropolis with

Moreover, it was Greece that, in the age of Pericles and with the help of Polykleitos, established the standards of classic beauty that have been followed throughout the centuries. 


Laoconte and his sons (Hellenistic sculpture made according to all Greek canons)

Moreover, it was Greece that, in the age of Pericles and with the help of Polykleitos, established the standards of classic beauty that have been followed throughout the centuries. Art also fed from philosophy, as this described beauty as being the result of harmony. - Measure and proportions are in all cases a representation of beauty and virtue (Plato) What is more, Greeks put man in the centre of the world, seeking the relationship between him and all other things – this was the transition from myth to logos. - Man is the measure of all things. (Protagoras) And taking these proportions of man they measured everything in the search for perfect harmony in all of the arts. Greece is a clear example of the mixture between art, knowledge and power.

Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, art and appearances were resources of propaganda used by the emperors to conquer the people


The busts and statues of the emperors, often dressed in war clothes or portrayed in victorious positions, were spread throughout the empire so that people could pay homage to them in an attempt to be omnipresent and gain an almost divine power. But the most impressive labour of Rome was the great amount of work performed in architecture and urban planning, such as the extensive network of roads, aqueducts, circuses, theatres, arenas, forums…; these can be found throughout the entire Roman Empire and are witness to the true power of its government and its leaders who left evidence of their great d

11-                                                                                                                                                     Trajan’s Column                                                       Column detail

Trajan’s column displays the chronicles of this emperor’s campaign against the Dacians by means of a bas-relief in spiral which grants the work with great artistic beauty and dramatic expression, in an attempt to use art for the glorification of power. Winning and convincing by using images and words instead of violence, acting on people’s minds and souls in a subliminal way in order to gain their recognition and support – these are the purposes for which great powers needed to promote and surround themselves with musicians, painters, sculptors, poets… and entrust them with the creation of an ideological and cultural discourse that would convince people of the benevolence of their ruler. The power of the creative group is as important as the power of the military corps, and artists’ creative power has always been the object of desire of powerful men who aimed to extend their influence beyond their current limits. Great empires were not the only ones that knew how to use this power – the Catholic Church also took advantage of the magic of the art, representing a paradigm of the manipulation of art for self-promotion and expansion.

Middle Ages

In the Middle Ages, art ceases to have an aesthetic character and becomes an instrument for the moral education of society and the dissemination of the word of God; this is the ultimate goal of the church and, in order to accomplish it, the church puts the artists under the guardianship, order and monitoring of the theologians who control the distribution of its message. Even if this art has to be considered in the context of the fall of the Roman Empire and of a great cultural decline, medieval art loses the entire humanistic character of the Greek culture and becomes more ethereal. This gives it a more spiritual character, emphasizing that the soul us more important than the body.

                                                                                                                                                                          Crucified Christ (Olot)  Catalunya
8                                                                                                                                                                                 Pantocrator (St Climent de Taüll)( Catalunya)
Even if nobility competes with the church in sponsoring artistic works, the centres of medieval art and culture are actually set within monasteries and churches. Some of the highest expressions of the power of the church are the cathedrals. With the help of the new Gothic architectural techniques that allow for building higher and larger walls (with stained-glass windows) which let more light enter the church, cathedrals become an allegory of God’s power and of man’s passage on earth, their greatness contrasting with the misery of the people. Believers are therefore overwhelmed and they fall hopelessly under the influence of religion, just like in the case of the Egyptian temples.

Cathedral of León (above) and the church of Santa María del Mar, Barcelona - Catalunya

We have seen how the great powers took advantage of the value of art to promote themselves and we could say that it was already clear from prehistoric times that the manipulation of natural elements and their transformation into creative objects that acquire some sort of value – sometimes great economic, symbolic or spiritual value – would end up being exploited not only by the government or aristocratic powers but also by the financial, economic or commercial powers… and therefore art never ceases to be a source of wealth.

This facet of art as economic benefit begins to develop more clearly in the Renaissance period, facet that I will continue discussing in the following article.

Guifé Pastó  Cortina
Guifré Pastó Cortina, nace en la ciudad de Barcelona el 23 de Septiembre de 1968. Habiendo mostrado desde siempre un carácter creativo aprende sus primeras técnicas de pintura a los 12 años junto a su padre en una academia particular.
En el año 1988 ingresa en la Escola d´arts Aplicadas i Oficis Artistics Llotja hasta el año 1992 en la modalidad de ilustración a partir del cual sigue ampliando su formación de forma autodidacta en diversas escuelas profesionales de pintura, dibujo y diseño.
Durante años trabaja en diferentes campos de la ilustración:
-En el mundo editorial trabaja para “Grupo Z” con la ilustración de portadas de libros como la del best seller Forrest Gump.
-En la animación colabora en la creación de los episodios piloto de la serie infantil de éxito mundial “Las tres Mellizas”
-Trabaja en el mundo de la publicidad y el cine junto a Hipolito FX empresa colaboradora en la creacion de efectos especiales de la pelicula “Alien”
A partir del año 2002 se centra en un trabajo mas personal e introspectivo y a través de la pintura al oleo intenta plasmar su concepción del mundo.

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