The distinction between Art and Craft is not entirely evident in traditional societies and may not have specified specialists who perform such tasks. Furthermore, art and craft are often merged with religion. In this regard, we can affirm that social context plays an important role in determining what is developed in art. Evidence from other cultures has shown that the very idea of art is dependent on culture, so that what may appears in a particular culture as a help to meditation, or an indication of ruler-ship, may appear as a museum case in another culture, (Heidegger, M., 1960). Having made this observation, I shall seek to explore into two cultures' association with art. This will be in form of the beliefs held by such cultures towards death and how these ideologies were represented in an artistic point of view, (Heidegger, M., 1960).
Painted Wooden Coffin of the Sacred Ibis of Thoth
This is a painted wooden coffin which is found at the Houston Museum of fine Arts in the lee Hage Jamail Atrium. It is dated back to the Ptolemaic Period of between 305 and 30 B.C. in Egypt. It measures 43.8 by 18.5 cm with a polychrome hue. This painted wooden coffin was purchased by Galerie L'Ibis in the early 1980's in New York.
The painted wooden coffin consists of four figures on a gray-blue background. This instills the vignette with insistent overtones of restoration. Towards the far left, rests a seated image of a falcon-headed god holding an ankh-sign, (Davies W. V., 1982). As you move further towards its rear, you could see a sun-disc with its wings taking the shape of letter "L". These wings seem to be opening up with its arms spreading as if to protect the image of the ibis whose beak rests on feather of an ostrich, symbolizing truth, Maat. There is also a figure of a man, clothed in a long, white ruched sarong, made from fine linen, and a broad collar, worshipping the ibis. Based on these decorations, one can easily infer that a mummified ibis had once been contained in this coffin.
Archaeological inquiries put forward that cemeteries created explicitly for putting mummified animals was aimed at articulating the relationship between the ba-beings of the gods, symbolized by those animals, and the king, pharaoh. In the Egyptian culture, the annual New Year Festival and during the Sed Festivals, was the period through which Pharaoh's powers were regenerated hence the ba-beings acted as cyclic transformations through which Pharaoh got his powers renewed. Consequently, through these festivals and the animal mummies, the king was symbolically unified with supreme deities of the land. Since the only representation of the deity is through this painted coffin, we can one can assume that Pharaoh being represented here symbolically refers to the occasion of his regeneration, (Baines J. and J. Malek, 1980).
The relationship between this wooden coffin and death lies in the fact that mummified animals, animals which were killed to act as sacrifices to the gods as a thanksgiving or a petition prayer, had their lives taken symbolically for the process of regeneration to be successful. Mummification, according to the Egyptians, was a form of assuring themselves of immortality and a happier afterlife. They believed in the afterlife as this was shown where they were buried together with some grave goods that they believed would be of use to them in the afterlife.
Furthermore, the inscriptions on the painted wooden coffin may have also acted as funeral literature, pyramidal texts (a list of spells), which would help them navigate in the afterlife. Having made these observations, we can infer that the relevance of the painted wooden coffin in regard to death and afterlife was not only a form of preserving mummification but also mythologically helped in the regeneration of the power of Pharaoh made possible by the mummified animals.
Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Colima, Half-Seated Dog
The Half-Seated Dog, Mexico, Proto-Classic is an earth-ware which is believed to have existed between 100 BC and AD 300 classified under Mesoamerican & South American Artifacts & Sites. It is currently found at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA and is most significant in the Colima culture. It measures about 28.6 by 26.7 by 21 centimeters in size. It resembles a half seated dog with its head inclined towards one side. Its fore legs are up straight while the hind legs are bend and its rear resting upon them. It is reddish brown in color, mainly because of the type of earth that may have been used in molding it, Susan Dearing, (2010).
The Colima Dog played an important role in the culture of the Colima people as it served as sources of food, guarded the dead, was a healer of the sick as well as a watchdog. Dogs were mostly brought up to be fattened and used as rituals, Susan Dearing, (2010). The people believed in life after death as they often left artifacts in tombs believing that these artifacts would join the dead in the sprit world. These artifacts were in form of mummified dogs through which the people believed that these dogs were guardians of the afterlife. Furthermore, the sacred mummification of the animal was believed to help the deceased in his/her journey to the afterlife. These dogs acted as companions of the dead in their journey to their ultimate destination.
Painted Wooden Coffin of the Sacred Ibis of Thoth and the Pre-Columbian, Mesoamerican, Colima, Half-Seated Dog
These two pieces of art share a number of symbolic functions in relation to the cultures through which they come. To begin with, the Egyptian culture involved mummification of animals as a complimentary process of death. This is the same case to that held by the people of Colima who believe that mummification of dogs helped in the guarding of souls to the afterlife. While this was shown through the drawings on the painted wooden coffin in regard to the Egyptian culture, the Colima people made sculptures and earthenware of these animals.
The only difference that lies between these two pieces of art, culturally, is the role they played during death, transition and in the afterlife. The Colima culture held that the xolos, dogs, guarded the dead as they made their way to the afterlife whereas in the Egyptian culture, the mummification of animals and their sacrifice in the Egyptian culture represented the process of regeneration, thanksgiving or petition. Nonetheless, they were both symbolic during death.
In conclusion, I would like to affirm that ones social context plays an important role in determining what is developed in art. In other words, culture serves as a form of inspiration to the artist. This could be based on religious or mythological grounds. Just as the above examples have shown, culture and religion is a base for art and craft hence the contribution of culture to the artistic world should not be overlooked.