Whereas today the price of digital cameras makes creativity affordable for many, in the past, only the wealthiest people had access to art. Royalty, nobility or members of the court who commissioned an artist to paint their portrait could do the equivalent of modern ‘airbrushing’ by instructing the artist to hide their less attractive features or to change their appearance completely. Kings and queens in particular would be very exacting about how they were represented: control of their image was as important then as it is to modern high-profile celebrities. In general, access to culture and education was limited to the richest and most influential portion of society.
These restrictions also extended to the written word. The development of the first European printing presses in the fifteenth century made it easier to create multiple copies of written texts: a great leap forward for the spread of culture and ideas. In England, the monarchy didn’t want the wrong sorts of texts to be printed and so established control over all the printing presses – a control that was maintained for nearly two hundred years. The King or Queen had the right to say what could and couldn’t be printed (copied), and who was allowed to do the copying. By controlling the press the ruling monarch hoped to keep control over the information available to their subjects.
Can you think of any parallels in the modern age where what people see and hear is controlled by certain individuals or groups?
Who would you say has the most control – Multinational companies, Governments, Internet providers or individuals themselves?
Would you say social class is more or less important today in terms of people’s access to and understanding of the world at large?