Art can be many things -- joyful, transcendental, incisive, political, personal, or Sonic The Hedgehog erotica. Those are all of them. Those are all of the things art can be. Well, we suppose it can also be weird and stupid. After all, history is fraught with inexplicable artistic trends which seem silly to modern-day people. But if you look into it, sometimes there's a very good explanation for ...
4Dismembered Roman Sculptures (Were Really Roman Legos)
Why are so many Ancient Roman sculptures headless? Was it a tragic byproduct of time -- the neck is kind of a weak point, so the head usually falls off? Or was it a copout -- were all Roman artists pulling a Rob Liefield, stopping at the neck because heads are hard to sculpt? That can't be the case. We have plenty of surviving Roman busts with great detail. Bodies without heads, heads without bodies -- was it simply a super fucked-up time for art?
Wolfgang Sauber/Wiki Commons
"You don't want to know what they stuck in my hand hole."
None of the above! Though we suspect at least a few sculptors breathed a sigh of relief when they first found out they didn't have to carve hair.
The dismembered statues are the result of a surprisingly practical move by the Romans. They were meant to be taken apart and put back together again in different configurations, like ghostly Cronenbergian Legos. The bodies were purposely generic, so detachable heads could be paired with the torso of your liking. Say, for example, you needed to whip up a cool new goddess on the spot.
Luis Garcia/Wiki Commons
Also great for sticking your head on, theme-park-cutout style.
This was most handy in the political realm. Whenever a new ruler came to the throne, the Senate could decree a damnatio memoriae. This meant that the old emperor's memory had to be erased from history. They'd remove his likeness from everything they saw, the same way you delete old Facebook photos of your ex. The old heads would be thrown away or recycled. Then, when the new emperor began his reign, a fresh batch o' noggins was sculpted and mounted to the franken-leader statues. And if the new emperor ever got too cocky, the Senate could clear their throats and point to the throat seam. He'd get the message.
3The Kooky Japanese Fart Warriors (Were Blatant Political Dissent)
The classic art of ancient Japan. Those beautiful lines, that simple iconography. It's no wonder that girls who ride scooters tattoo it on their thighs. Why, let's take a look at one of those classy, timeless pieces ...
Alright, so has Japan just always been weird? Was anime culture an inevitability, rather than an unfortunate side effect?
Hishikawa-Moronobu (Again, Mildly NSFW)
(This is how every anime character levitates.)
Possibly! But despite the prevalence of these noble fart warriors on the internet -- you've seen them star in poorly assembled memes and as the "funny" guy's Twitter avatar -- this wasn't a trend, per se. All of the many fartblasting images, done up in their different fartistic styles by a litany of fartists, trace back to one piece: a massive, 34-foot scroll featuring some of the most vile acts the world could imagine before 2 Girls 1 Cup:
Hishikawa-Moronobu (Less NSFW Than The First Two But You Get The Point)
Now you know where Rule 34 got its name.
This scroll was an anthology work, with esteemed artists all across Japan coming together to contribute their individual pieces to one greater whole. You owe it to yourself to visit this site and browse the scroll in its windswept entirety, in glorious high definition.
This is why Japan invented ultra-wide monitors.
No, Japanese artists didn't weren't writing Dumb & Dumber fanfiction centuries before the movie. The whole ode to bodily functions was meant as political satire. In the Edo period, European influence in Japan was increasing. After 700 years, the rule of the shoguns had ended, and foreign bastards were rolling in with a vengeance. The Japanese hadn't asked for a Western trade invasion, and they weren't super stoked at the sudden influx of honkies. To spite the Westerners in the least subtle, most easily understood fashion, they gathered famous artists together to work on an epic mural devoted to Europeans and their collaborators (mostly wealthy merchants) being blasted away by Japanese farts. The foreigners saw this clear and unmistakable message of dissent and went, "Haha, Japan, you so crazy!"
And we've stood by that interpretation ever since.
Also explained: humanity's cat obsession.