First Nations people in North America did not just create the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde a thousand years ago, but more recently, Hopi kachina. The Fort Ancient culture created the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, a massive outdoor land sculpture that, hundreds of years later, in 1970, inspired the land artist Robert Smithson to build the Spiral Jetty on the shores of the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Historically, much sculpture was created for religious purposes. Some of the greatest sculptures were created to inspire religious believers, from Michelan- gelo’s Pietà to India’s Ajanta Caves and Indonesia’s sleeping Buddha statues. Some of the earliest known sculptures, the Venus figurines found in Europe’s Neolithic caves, are believed to be statues of fertility goddesses. Both the Greeks and Romans erected marble and bronze statues of gods and goddesses from Zeus to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The way people have seen the sculpture of the past has not always been the way it was viewed by the people who created it. One of the biggest changes in art history came when modern science uncovered the true appearance of an- cient Greek and Roman marble statues. Although Italian Renaissance artists like Leonardo da Vinci thought that paint should stay on canvases and marble should remain pure white, ancient people carved their statues from white stone, which was then painted in a rainbow of brilliant colors, ornamented in gold, and finished with precious stones to create flashing, glittering eyes. Even the giant ancestor statues, the moai of Easter Island, had eyes made of white coral and red or black colored stone. Sculpture differs from two-dimensional art like painting or drawing because it is usually meant to be seen from all sides. The friezes on the Parthenon atop the ancient Acropolis in Athens were more than 30 feet (9.1 m) high. Only the front of the mythological figures carved by the Athenian sculptor Phidias could be seen from the ground, but even the feet of the gods and horses, as well as their backs, were completely painted, in case someone could catch a glimpse. Today, sculpture is no longer restricted to public places, created to honor rulers and impress conquered vassals, or used for religious purposes. Sculpture can be personal and decorative and created purely for visual enjoyment. Contemporary sculptors around the world are rediscovering the cultural heri- tage of their nations as well as creating new art forms. Like Alexander Calder, the American sculptor who invented the mobile in the twentieth century, today’s sculptors on all continents are working in every type of material imaginable, from an artist who creates new sculpture out of old skateboard decks to a mixed media and fashion expert who immerses gallery viewers in an underwater world made of crocheted coral and fish.
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