From a very young age, I have always had a fascination with ancient civilizations, and aspired to become an archaeologist. I can recall my childhood days sitting in front of the television to watch National Geographic documentaries or exploring the backyard with my trusty shovel and sun hat, looking for signs of past life. The farthest I could get, however, was the occasional bone; certainly not buried by my dog, I was sure they were the remains of a Native American warrior who had died honorably in battle, or a Spaniard who had battled starvation while exploring the intolerable American southwest. By day, I was an adventurer, looking into bygone eras; by night, I was a Roman gladiator fighting in the coliseum, a Greek hero traveling on a quest from the gods, even an Egyptian pharaoh overseeing the construction of the Pyramids. In essence, each and every civilization played a significant role in history, and I wished to play a part in uncovering it.
Ancient Egypt in particular piqued my interest, and I had a great appreciation for Egyptian culture and art. I remember reading stories before bed about King Tut and the “Curse of the Pharaoh,” under my blankets with a flashlight, only to dream about exploring lost tombs and pyramids or traveling back in time to become Queen Cleopatra. In elementary school, we built mini replicas of the Pyramids of Giza and wrote our names in hieroglyphics. The devotion held towards the Egyptian gods, now considered myths, was a preoccupation of mine in seeing how it controlled the behavior of the Egyptian people. Each aspect of life was controlled by some higher power, whether it concerned Egyptian rulers, agriculture, traditions, even the weather was a result of some god’s bidding.
One such way in which the gods influenced Egyptian culture was through art and decoration. In fact, decoration was one way of representing the culture itself. Everything was created to serve a purpose, whether it was for honoring the living and the deceased, or simply for practicality. Pottery and ceramics, for example, was used for eating, cooking, etc. Statues were meant to contain the souls of the dead or please the gods. Figurines of divine powers warded off evil, whereas jewelry such as amulets and charms offered protection. Tombs were made to remember the living and and guide the dead on their way to the afterlife. Despite the fact that each object was designed for a simple task, artisans were given the liberty to decorate each piece however they wished. Much of this art described lavish lives of the upper class as well as the grueling work of the lower class. This would come to influence Greek, Roman, and other future civilizations, even modern art and architecture.
However, many of these artists were never credited for their work, nor did they wish to be credited. This is what I admire the most about early Egyptian art. All pieces focused first on function, and then on creativity, and artists readily accepted this fact, as it made them satisfied knowing they did what they did best. Artists took personal pride in their work, but did not feel the need to glorify this to the world. This is a lesson that I feel transcribes to society today, in the sense that everyone should strive to do something for the good of others. Whether it’s walking an elderly person across the street, or paying for the person behind you in line, small and anonymous acts of kindness can go a long way. The fact that art from such a long time ago has the ability to inspire people to act is why I wished to go into such a field.