Art is what evolved along with the evolution of Homo sapiens.
The history of art, both in its two-dimensional form such as drawings and paintings, and three-dimensional form as carvings, sculptures, statues and similar artistic objects, is as old as the history of human beings.
In fact, art is older than writing.
The earliest forms of writings were by drawing pictures of objects like animals, plants, etc. The earliest writing system, ‘cuneiform’, which used pictorial representations, existed for more than 35 centuries, until it was eventually replaced by alphabetic writing in the Roman era.
Also, art evolved not independently but along with knowledge acquired by Homo sapiens in the process of evolution into a civilized being. No one discovered it as such, and hence, the evolution of art is consequential. It can safely be said, it evolved as a part of man’s efforts to express himself, whether it is in the form of writing, pictorial representations, three-dimensional objects created by him, including working and hunting tools, and of course, some objects he created for fun and entertainment.
Once the purpose of passing on information (communication), or recording facts (history) were achieved by developing writing, art naturally was separated from the common pool of acquired knowledge, and art developed on its own as creative arts.
On its further evolution, creative arts went through compartmentalization into specific categories. These essentially were based on the use of techniques, media, etc. The media influence the form. For instance, the form of a sculpture exists in space in three dimensions, and it is subject to gravity. The form of a painting is, generally, two-dimensional, determined by its color, brushstrokes and canvas texture. Don’t confuse it with the illusion of depth, the third dimension, created by some artists on flat surfaces like canvases which are essentially two-dimensional.
A further categorization deals with art genres within a particular medium, as we talk about portraits, landscapes, etc. It is not necessary that a painting or drawing should limit its genre to any one category. It can be even a blend of more than one genre.
Then there are art styles and art movements, as we refer to expressionism to mean something like nondescript, loose brushstrokes, or impressions created by splattered colors as in abstract paintings. Sometimes, an art style may refer to a period, new ideas and philosophies in art, art movements, etc., for instance Renaissance art.
The early humans also loved to shape or give form to most of the things they saw, a form of primitive sculpting, which still exists in African tribal arts, or Polynesian art. It is something like primitivism made popular by artists like Paul Gauguin, and further experimented and incorporated by Pablo Picasso in his works to make cubism what is today. Such art forms might have started along with the shaping of tools and weapons from stones, animal bones, etc. when the early humans lived as nomads and hunter-gatherers. Still primitive art is hugely popular even today.
Designing of tools, and weapons for hunting, self-defense, etc. were born out of necessity, and such work was essentially a form of sculpting. One of the first materials used for shaping hunting and other tools is animal bones (ivory carving, though ivory, being elephant tusk, is dental) and stones (stone carvings and granite statues). So, in a way, sculpture can easily be seen as the oldest form of art.
When art evolved itself as a separate branch from tools-making, the ‘first sculptors’ found wood, and other softer mediums like limestone rocks, soap stones, marble, etc. more suitable for creative work.
Copper, one of the earliest metals discovered and one of the few metals to occur naturally in its purest form, also found its place in carvings and sculptures, along with its other uses. For instance, a copper pendant found in the Middle East, what is now northern Iraq, dates back to 8700 BC.
Archaeological excavations in Çatal Höyük, a Neolithic and Chalcolithic settlement in Anatolia in Turkey brought out smelted lead beads and copper artifacts of the period around 6000 BC. Gold and iron were the only metals used by human beings before copper.
After copper, human beings learned to make copper alloys with zinc or tin to make brass or bronze, as indicated by copper and bronze artifacts dating back to 3000 BC found from Sumerian archeological sites, and Egyptian artifacts made of copper and copper alloys of Bronze Age (2500-600 BC).
Marble being a brittle substance, most of the marble sculptures and carvings are either lost or archeological surveys could unearth only broken pieces of seemingly great sculptures of the ancient civilizations. For instance, see the photo above featuring Aphrodite Braschi, the 1st century BC Roman copy of Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles. Another example of a broken marble sculpture by the same sculptor, but restored, can be found at Phryne as Venus made immortal by Praxiteles.
Marble, a metamorphic rock formed from limestone, is calcite or calcium carbonate (CaCO3) in its crystal form. Because of impurities and the presence of other chemically different substances, marble blocks may have lines, patches of colors, or stains. So, the finest marbles used for sculpture are selected carefully so that there are no stains, or other undesirable flaws.
Though newly quarried marble is relatively soft and easy to work on and polish, the finished marble sculpture becomes harder and more durable with age.
Marble is also one of the most beautiful mediums used for sculpture because of its slight surface translucency resembling human skin. This surface translucency gives marble sculptures visual depth and a sense of certain realism.
But marble sculptures installed in parks or outdoors are exposed to damage by reaction with acids formed when atmospheric gases such as oxides of sulphur, nitrogen, etc. react with water vapor in the atmosphere and form sulphuric acid, nitric acid, etc. Outdoor marble sculptures are especially vulnerable to weathering and deformation especially in areas where acid rains are common, as in heavily industrialized cities. For such environments, or where there is polluted atmosphere with harmful gases, granite is a more lasting material, though granite is much harder for sculptors to work on.
Sculptures and statues made of cement, steel, and other metals, glass, porcelain, etc. are also, very common, though they have their own relative merits and demerits.