Stylistic Analysis (Olmec head people and Olmec stone head)

The Olmec Head is immediately striking in its demonstration of the world-view of a people, how it approached its aesthetics, and furthermore, its own technological capabilities. Normally, technological capabilities could potentially be isolated from style, but it appears relevant to consider technology in regards to style in this case, in so far as the Olmec Head’s mammoth size clearly indicates a technological advancement that can perhaps let us understand what the Olmec’s valued in terms of style: grandiose representations of the forms they considered important in their culture. If the Olmecs did not consider the construction of the Olmec Head significant, it would hardly be worth the effort to construct this technically complex monument.

Therefore, Olmec style in regards to the Olmec head may be primarily conceived in terms of an ambitious style, trying to stretch the capabilities of the artistic medium itself to its limit. Scale is used as perhaps the defining feature of this object, as it communicates a grandiose subject matter through a utilization of the artistic medium to overwhelm the viewer. Furthermore, the use of heavy volcanic basalt stone as medium suggests that the engineering and aesthetic aspects of Olmec culture were seamlessly intertwined, as there were no technological limitations present that prevented them using this most difficult material to form and mould their creations. Whereas the appearance of the head itself is closely tied to Olmec culture, and therefore requires an understanding of Olmec symbolism and what they valued as human beauty, even without this background it becomes clear that the defining aspect of Olmec culture in the form of the head is a fearlessness in regards to bold and massive projects. Scale and medium thus become the crucial features of Olmec art from this perspective.

The Olmec Head becomes stylistically significant, therefore, in the ambitious quality of the work, which reflects both a sophisticated culture and a culture that placed a great importance to its aesthetic accomplishments. By dedicating this statue to the beings in question, largely now understood to be representations of Olmec rulters, the Olmecs demonstrate a commitment to religious reverence that shows a deeply sacral aspect of their cultural existence. In other words, kings possessed an almost divine status in this culture, as evidenced by the massive monuments established in their honor. At the same time, the effort involved in portraying these massive aesthetic representations suggests that the Olmecs were a culture in which the artistic life was of the highest importance, judging by the aforementioned resources needed to realize this great work of art.

Certainly, it could be argued from a contrasting perspective, that if the interpretations of the Olmec heads as representations of rulers are correct, then their existence could be attributed to the megalomaniacal world-view on the part of the king, who thereby channels labor power, resources and artistic and engineering minds into this project, which is essentially an exaltation of his own glory. However, this perhaps overlooks the cultural specificity of the Olmec cultures and ancient cultures in general, wherein societies were highly structured in a hierarchical order, and many artistic objects throughout the world were dedicated to representing monarchs in a grandiose fashion.

Accordingly, the Olmec Head demonstrates an ambitious and creative culture, whose aesthetics were not limited by conventional mediums, but rather tried to use normally unwieldy materials, such as the heavy rock, to form their creations. This indicates their technological capabilities, as well as their aesthetic dedication to wildly challenging works of art, that pushed the abilities of their creators to the limit.