Every Blog Has Its Day

I have been fascinated with the phenomenon of ‘cave art’ ever since prehistoric man first painted on rock walls and ceilings, nearly 40,000 years ago. But information on this mysterious art form is hard to come by. Art galleries seem to rarely exhibit cave art, and private collectors of the medium are few and far between. Even when you find someone who can offer some insight, you have to wait unbearably long for them to thaw.
So we art historians must rely on scientific methods like radiocarbon dating and skimming Wikipedia to glean any useful information on the topic.
What we do know is that evidence of rock painting has been discovered in caves all around the world, from Southeast Asia to Mexico, from Europe to France. Rock painting was also created on cliff faces, like the Astuvansalmi in Finland, but with much less frequency, as it was difficult to convince a subject to pose for these works.
In fact, no human beings ever appeared as subjects in prehistoric cave art. The odd surrealist piece would feature an odd type of monkey that walked upright and looked strangely human. But the majority of the work was realist, depicting large animals such as bison, bulls, deer and horses.
Contrary to the work, the life of a cave painter was not pretty. Ill regarded as the graffiti artist of their day, they were shunned and alienated by their peers and forced to work in dark and cave-like conditions. Support for artistic pursuit was rare in those days, with exhibited pieces registering little more than a grunt from friends and family. And more often than not, a cave artist would be eaten by a stegosaurus at the height of their career.
Plus, many of today’s modern art supplies were unavailable to the cave artist: oil paints and paintbrushes were unheard of, and good luck even trying to find an easel. Cave artists had to be industrious and imaginative in creating their art. The silhouette of a piece would have to be incised into the rock face using a handmade tool and the cave artist would have to use hematite, manganese oxide and charcoal to create the paint. Hematite is difficult to work with at the best of times; now imagine having to wash it out of your wooly beard.
So what would compel a young Neanderthal to give up a stable career as a hunter/gatherer to become a cave artist? Some historians believe the art may have provided a way to transmit information, while others suggest there was religious or ceremonial purpose behind the paintings. I choose to believe that our early ancestors shared the same passion that inspires today’s artists and excuses them from hard work: a basic need to express oneself.
Cave painting evolved over the years. More and more cave artists chose to work in other media, or simply to live in canvas caves. And by the Neolithic era, cave artists were already experimenting with postmodern art and neolithographs. But the spirit of their work lives on in all of our monkey hearts.
I end this week’s Blog with another interesting musical fact:

- The violin was invented in Frankfurt, Germany in 1449, when musician Berthold Lehmann accidentally ran his cello through the washer/dryer -


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