Page 1 of 1 [ 7 posts ] 

Grebels
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 80
Gender: Male
Posts: 545

25 Mar 2012, 10:16 am

This is part one, but relax there are only three parts.

Our search into the meaning and importance of imagery begins with drawings in a cave from some 31,000 years ago at Chauvet. Clearly these are not graffiti or random daubings to pass time, they are indeed skilled representations of dangerous animals with the odd human figure. Various dots and animal figures at Lascaux have been said by some, including an astronomer, to represent constellations and stars. Perhaps partly in order to investigate the authenticity of this find, people from various disciplines were invited to view the cave paintings including anthropologists, artists and scientists. One sculptor notes how carefully the surface was prepared and how a particular cave was used, whilst another in the same complex might have been equally suitable contained no such paintings at all. It all points to a great deal of organisation. Whatever we might think the artists who produced this work were not primitive, they were intelligent people with vision who could see ahead in their efforts to overcome problems. They would certainly have had a far different mind set to our own and for that reason alone the problems of discovering the purpose of these paintings are considerable. For example the extender for the pigments in these works was not water but baryte and potassium feldspar. How else would they still be fresh to the eye even today. The great problem of conserving the cave paintings at Lascaux has been the ingress of people wanting to look.

Commonly held wisdom has long suggested that these paintings were nothing other than shamanistic efforts for attracting good hunting. That does seem have its problems though. For one the animals depicted for the most part were not part of the local diet and deer which was, is not shown at all. If such paintings were the work of a shaman then wouldn't you expect to see them in various locations demanded by the hunt? There is of course another considerable problem arising from the Chauvet discovery. Modern man is thought to have found his way into what we now call Europe around 30,000 or so years ago and these paintings are of the same period. There is no discovery to suggest a necessary building up of skills, just the evidence to suggest that an organised society quite suddenly appeared on the scene.

We could spend a great deal of time discussing what these paintings might not be and never arrive at the important conclusion as to what they really were. It is apparent that they were not the effort of some local artist, either passing time, finding self expression or making a living from them. They were part of a much greater scheme of things.

All good academics like to have solid evidence on which to build a hypothesis but there is very little of use in this part of France. The one significant thing we do know is that this time was the end of an ice age. Temperatures were rising and this location was becoming inhabitable by people from farther south. Another bit of commonly held wisdom says these people would have been hunter gatherers with no agricultural knowledge.

So here we are trying to decide why image making should be so important to these people with scarcely a shred of evidence. Neither do we have a hope of entering their mind set to truly understand their thinking. Conjecture may be the best thing on offer. True we can examine what seem to be similar societies of the present time, but I wouldn't want to bet on that for any sound conclusion. The caves at Chauvet and Lascaux were surely on such a scale to suggest a cathedral like importance. Whether for mobile hunter gatherers or an agricultural people they had to be centres of considerable importance.

A rather negative piece of evidence is that they didn't have writing so would want to record events. But these paintings are not apparently of specific events. They might have wanted to record hunting kills for the time of year but it would be rather a grand gesture for such a simple purpose. Most historical records would be held by tribes in memory and passed on verbally.

If we can now think in terms of logic and what we do know the image is powerful because it does not require the same thinking as spoken or written language. There need not be the same filters which prevent direct communication with the emotions. The response is often instant and instinctive. As Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message.

Now I'm going off to have another think about this and you might want to join me.



ruveyn
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 21 Sep 2008
Age: 84
Gender: Male
Posts: 31,502
Location: New Jersey

25 Mar 2012, 11:27 am

Grebels wrote:

If we can now think in terms of logic and what we do know the image is powerful because it does not require the same thinking as spoken or written language. There need not be the same filters which prevent direct communication with the emotions. The response is often instant and instinctive. As Marshall McLuhan said the medium is the message.

Now I'm going off to have another think about this and you might want to join me.


The medium is NOT the message. It carries the message and its nature constrains the kind of message it can carry.

McLuhan overstated his case grossly.

ruveyn



Grebels
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 80
Gender: Male
Posts: 545

25 Mar 2012, 11:58 am

No doubt McLuhan was making a point. We also heard stuff like TV Producers were the new priesthood.

It may be that McLuhan wanted to say something striking, that would be remembered by many people, not just a few academics. I think he did that. But doesn't it mean we should be careful to define our terms. What do we mean by the medium. Say my medium is the printed page, in fact an advert. But will you allow that the chosen type face is part of the medium, as are the colours. These give the message: a black Futura italic is sporting, racy but you would not be likely to invest your savings on it. Times, however, is classical and safe. Or perhaps McLuhan was thinking towards Post Modernism: an earthenware urinal is the message. What was the medium in that case. We also had Abex painters who on being asked what is it? indignantly replied it is a painting. OK Futura italic carries the message, but I'm inclined to think the answer depends on the individual mindset.



Grebels
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 80
Gender: Male
Posts: 545

25 Mar 2012, 12:04 pm

Here's the official website for the caves at Chauvet.

Caves at Chauvet

The cave paintings at Cheveaux are possibly the only way we have of understanding the mindset of those people over 30,000 years ago. Yet also we need to understand their mindsets in order to fully understand the significance of the work. In this essay I am trying to plumb those depths.

The first thing the enormity of these caves tell us is that these people were a successful population. They enjoyed a surplus enabling certain workers such a artists to devote most of their time to painting. The implication is of a society which was fairly well organised with the knowledge and tools to build load bearing structures. Unfortunately there seems to be very little in the way of survivng artifacts to tell us much more.

The local environmental conditions can tell us so much. The land was probably steppe tundra and was at a maximum by 22,000BC according to Wikipedia. That is ideal hunting territory for a fairly mobile population. Yet at Chauvet there is a cave which suggests anything but. So were there perhaps pockets of warmth where agriculture might flourish? At least we can be sure that food was plentiful.

So what might we reasonably assume the mindset of those times to be like. First of all they didn't have the memories of present day mankind. In a sense they had an innocence due to there being little in the way of a collective memory. The Great War which brought about the Existentialist Philosophy of writers such as Camus was not somewhere at the back of their minds, neither did they have great cities to contend with their equilibrium. There would very likely be a stillness and peace about the environment.

We might also conclude they were a peaceable people: they gave their surplus too art rather than the things of war. Perhaps they had not yet been threatened by other tribes wishing to enjoy the benefits of that land. Possibly there was still room for population growth. It is thought that the desire for dominance was a much later more northern concept.

The immense scale of these cave paintings at Chevaux suggest a great vision, or desire to find expression for a less tangible experience, awareness or feeling. It could well have been religious. It is very notable that for the most part the paintings do not include human beings. Possibly there was a taboo against such depiction, but I suggest even more likely in that state of innocence they didn't have the self awareness which is very much a part of modern life.

If we consider these cave painters with our own understanding of the creative process then we might assume that this work was part of their searching. They had not entirely seen the end before they began the work. The creative process brings change to most of our well laid plans as we work. The artist will work in order to bring about their own sense of wholeness and hope thereby the bring this to others also.

So why were depictions of these magnificent beasts so important to these people? It has been said they thought these animals to be their Gods. Other trains of thought suggest these early humans thought in terms of the Sky God. However, I don't think it is good to make assumptions. It is possible to think of these animals as having some qualities of a God. They had massive strength but also the freedom to move about that tundra as they wished, to be self supporting and at one with their environment. Is it possible that these people considered those animals to have a secret which they did not. Would they not wish to know what manner of thing that was.



Grebels
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 80
Gender: Male
Posts: 545

26 Mar 2012, 8:59 am

The buffalo with a vengeance is a powerful enemy. It can toss a lion high and easily kill it. Yet they are peaceful grazing animals who prefer to find safety and speed in the herd. And it was herd animals such as bison and horses those cave artists mostly chose to paint.

We can observe two kinds of consciousness in the beast of the herd. When they graze and move the animals are peaceable and in the presence of a predator will only know to escape. If a calf is taken down, however, that may change. Another mindset can kick in as they protect the ongoing reproduction of the herd.

We can find similarities to herd behaviour in humans. Take Raves as an example. I have been told a great attraction of the Rave is the oneness, "everybody thinking the same thing", a sense of belonging as they move into the state of altered consciousness.

Would those early cave painters not have been aware of the awesome power of a moving herd of gigantic bison. And to what would they attribute that power. We can think of these beasts moving in an unconscious kind of way and it is undoubtedly a particular ability of animals to do so. Perhaps the artists desire was to tap into that power. No, the animals were not Gods, but might the Chauvet cave people have considered them to be moving in that power of creation we call God.

Many creative people and some sportsmen will tell us that the 'flow' is being in that place where the unconscious works for us with ease. It is the place of greatest human effectiveness where instinct can be trusted. There is no need for thinking problems through. Creativity comes in a stream, we can know exactly which colours to use for a particular passage of paint and produce the finest brushwork at surprising speed.

We can understand humans as having deductive reasoning with an ability to solve problems. Yet it is usually necessary to find ways of getting into the flow, something which is quite natural for animals. The buffalo whose calf is taken may at times come to another kind of mental state which is not normal for them. We may also observe a change in thought pattern in domestic animals as they interact with human kind.

In these cave paintings we can see the deep feeling of reverence for these wild animals who moved so naturally in the unconscious state, just knowing which way to travel, having no question in their minds where a destination lay. They had the power of an absolute complete security in that knowing.

Present day mankind may well question the use of animals as helpers to find spiritual power and effectiveness, but they were very much an everyday part of those ancient peoples lives.



ruveyn
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 21 Sep 2008
Age: 84
Gender: Male
Posts: 31,502
Location: New Jersey

26 Mar 2012, 9:00 am

Grebels wrote:
The buffalo with a vengeance is a powerful enemy. It can toss a lion high and easily kill it. Yet they are peaceful grazing animals who prefer to find safety and speed in the herd. And it was herd animals such as bison and horses those cave artists mostly chose to paint.



That is because they were dumb brutes who were fairly easy to hunt or to tame.

ruveyn



Grebels
Veteran
Veteran

User avatar

Joined: 5 Mar 2012
Age: 80
Gender: Male
Posts: 545

27 Mar 2012, 1:23 am

And I forgot to say what you maybe knew anyway: the urinal is a reference to Duchamp's seminal work The Fountain.