Posted: March 18th, 2023
A great deal of individuals considers the Upper Paleolithic period to be responsible for the evolution from animal to man. Even though there is little to no evidence to determine the moments when man first used fire or when grammatical language was first used, the origins of art can be traced back in time through studying cave paintings.
Given the elaborate tests cave art was subjected to from the moment of its discovery, most scholars can presently settle on the period when particular works of art were produced, despite the fact that their radiocarbon dating method is controversial (Lyons 108).
Some of the first recognized cave paintings were created during the Aurignacian culture, which is believed to have lasted from approximately from 35,000 B.C. until 17,000 B.C. In spite of their limited technology, people from the period proved to have impressive artistic abilities through the art they produced. It was during this era that people turned their attention toward creating art that did not serve them in any way other than being pleasing to the eye (Lyons 108).
Cave art is typically believed to be the earliest form of art because it is the oldest to have survived. While cave art can presently be associated with a period in time, there is virtually no data to explain why individuals chose to paint on rock walls within caves. There are two main theories which were generated as a consequence of the dilemma related to cave art.
The first claims that cave art was simply created for the purpose of being art whereas the later attempts to identify art as something that serves a series of purposes, ranging from its capacity to be practical to its social potential. Yet another theory that can be applied to cave painting is that about how “art arose in the service of hunting magic; developed as a practical means of securing magical control over the hunted animal and thus insuring success in the hunt, art was meant deliberately to invoke” (Lyons 109). It is extremely difficult to agree on a particular theory explaining the existence of cave art. Even with that, the first theories that spring to mind can be related to it being a form of communication, or to it having spiritual or ritual functions. All things considered, cave paintings and the emergence of art denote an extreme change in the way people behaved until the period.
Some believe that cave paintings are nothing more than depictions meant to induce pleasure in those who saw them. However, most sources point to a different view on cave art, accentuating the belief that Paleolithic paintings contain a series of elements, “indicating a complex conceptual and organizational underpinning that is probably based on metaphor” (White 542). Cave painting were probably considered more important than words and actions because of their ability to become a part of history, especially given that the other two elements could not do so.
Although cave paintings from around the world differ through the painting techniques painters employed and through the aspects emphasized by this form of art, many of them have common themes. Ranging from the depiction of large wild animals to more abstract designs, cave paintings are mainly oriented at putting across parts of the culture that the painters belonged to (Mithen 671). While animals in cave paintings are painted with great detail, painters paid lesser attention in their attempts to paint humans, who were depicted through a minimal combination of lines. In addition to being painted with little care, humans were also rarely painted by these artists. Cave art was apparently an important factor in the culture of Upper Paleolithic humans, considering that most are apparently the work of trained artists who were obviously experienced at what they did (Lyons 110).
The animals people in the Upper Paleolithic used in their paintings were apparently chosen on account of the period they were living in. Animals such as red deer and reindeer were apparently predominant in colder eras whereas horses and bison were more frequently portrayed in warmer periods (Mithen 672). Art was most probably adapted to the circumstance people found themselves in at the time when they put across their artistic talents.
The Lascaux painting showing a falling man facing a wounded bison and what appears to be a dart next piercing through the bison is intriguing through the detail used in it. Although the man is poorly drawn (as most human characters in cave paintings), the audience is marked by the prehistoric episode for the great intensity that it expresses.
In spite of the fact that everyone would expect the animal to appear more interested in physically harming the human, it turns its head, seemingly indifferent to the man and to virtually everything happening around it. The bird most probably represents a totem people used during the period, making a reference to their spiritual character and to how it assisted a human being in his or her difficult moments.
The bird on the stick can also be considered to be an instrument meant to facilitate a better usage of spears, as one could use it with the purpose of throwing spears with better precision and faster. Considering that the throwing instrument was shaped like a bird, it can be associated with the efficiency the darts had, as they likely flew across the aire and met their destination with accuracy.
In spite of the fact that the bison is visibly wounded (his internal organs hang from its belly), it is not obvious that the spear had actually pierced the animal, given that it can be seen entirely, even in the places where it should have been covered by the beast’s body. There are numerous ways in which one can interpret the painting, as the organs resemble a sort of symbol or a trap that does not allow it to move further.
Although the drawing appears to be simplistic at the first glance, matters tend to change consequent to further examination. It is not even certain if the man present in the picture is an actual man, taking into account that he has a bird’s head instead of a normal one. If the man in the painting is not an actual man, it is very probable that the bison is also a mere symbol of something else.
The cave painting containing a variety of animals such as horses, bison, and what seems to be a deer, all running across a plain portrays great complexity. The horses in particular are notable because they are present in a variety of shapes and species in the drawing. One can identify ponies, equines, and even dotted horses in the painting. The ancient representation of what was probably a real-life episode can serve as guidance for scholars studying the horse and its ancestors.
1. Lyons Joseph, “Paleolithic Aesthetics: The Psychology of Cave Art,” The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 107-114, (Autumn, 1967).
2. Mithen, Steven J. “To Hunt or to Paint: Animals and Art in the Upper Palaeolithic,” Man New Series, Vol. 23, No. 4, pp. 671-695, (Dec., 1988).
3. White, Randall, “Beyond Art: Toward an Understanding of the Origins of Material Representation in Europe” Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 21, pp. 537-564, (1992).
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