The inner-expressive stage

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The first stage featured folk tales, ballads, and myths as the main forms of expression. The urge to preserve memories of events and relationships experienced by large groups of people, as well as needs for individuals to communicate their inner experience of the world, led thousands to anonymously develop these cultural artifacts. The invention of writing and printing helped to spread this narrative form and to develop the first stage further with such innovations as the sonnet and the novel, and to elevate the specific contribution of each author, now individually named. (This is a good time to apologize for the Western-centric examples; the history of other cultures may suggest that different rules apply in other parts of the world.)

Graphic arts and architecture also expressed the spirit of the age, but were more localized. Thousands of people on multiple continents could pass around a myth, but only the people living in the immediate vicinity could appreciate a picture or building. Printing allowed graphic art to be shared more widely, but disseminated it as part of a new medium that did not reproduce the richness of the original paint or other medium.

These media promoted a sense of individuality, being the fruits of long periods of solitary contemplation. Viewing, listening to, or reading the works also helped to develop individuality, along with a power of concentration and a consequent ability to analyze and reason. The invention of printing sped up the urge to individuate.

This doesn't mean that the age dominated by printing was free of mob behavior and demagoguery. Certainly, some of the most scurrilous attempts to sway people through emotion date from that period, but these examples don't weaken the power of the medium to promote reflection and individualism.

The kind of individualism promoted by art and text does not involve the pursuit of money and material power in society, the struggles with which we associate individualism in a free market economy. Rather, it is the individualism of viewpoint, which pushes toward bringing others over to the author's ideas and gaining social power through persuasion.

However, there may be a deep and subtle relationship between the growth of individual self-expression and capitalist economic development. Perhaps it is no coincidence that so many "self-made men" who become famous for their business success feel compelled to write books.

In addition to helping people develop individual identities, the arts and culture of this period led to religious, national, and universal identities--in other words, identification with various groups of humans or with higher causes.

The traditional media are also noteworthy because they are essentially open to all. Physical barriers have made it hard to share them through most of history, but there were no artificial restrictions on sharing. In fact, people tended to alter them more often than not and pass along the altered versions. Toward the end of this period, copyright was invented, but it was weakly enforced and lapsed quickly on each individual work.


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