Whether created in ancient or modern times, art is created to convey a message. Images, structures, and music have been, and continue to be, produced to communicate emotion, knowledge, or any number of expressions. The type of art a civilization generates and how the medium influences society is largely influenced by its environment and the ideas of the age. With this in mind I will contrast the role of art in the present day with its function in the days of ancient civilization.
Art in the present day does not hold the weight it once did. In days past pieces of art often times held great religious or spiritual value. The tombs and pyramids of the pharaohs were seen as portals to the afterlife and emblazed with drawings and caricatures of the gods. The Greeks, and Romans after them, built immense temples and statues devoted to a number of deities which were believed to be physical manifestations of the gods themselves.
Modern day art, even that of a religious connotation, holds no actual power over people. We see this as a representation of our spirituality and not something with any inherent power literally invested in it.
In modern times creating or viewing art is seen for the most part as a pastime or occupation. This is not to say that a piece of art, finely crafted, is not appreciated today, only that the splendor of such things is diminished by the environment in which we live. In the midst of neon signs, color cell phone screens, and high definition television, something as simple a painting highlighting a rambling stream fails to elicit the same response. Long ago something as simple as a piece of finely dyed clothe was a luxury, obtainable only by a select few. Such a thing...