Ancient satisfaction

Nice article by Judith Thurman in The New Yorker (6/23) about ancient cave paintings (excerpt here). I try to imagine the first artists, crushing charcoal and colored minerals to create the beautiful images that have endured 32,000 years.

What must it have felt like to have been the very first artist, discovering that you could re-create the fantastic life forms you saw out there in the terrifying world? They invented “the very concept of an image. A true artist reimagines that concept with every blank canvas – but not from a void.”

Striking is the discovery that the earliest known cave paintings are just as sophisticated as those created 25,000 years later. These artists “transmitted their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millenia with almost no innovation or revolt,” which leads one student of these paintings to surmise that “for the conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served…must have been ‘deeply satisfying’–and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.”

That was us, passing knowledge and technique down, adult to child, for 25 thousand years, without significantly changing it. Now we laugh at what our parents wore in the 70’s, and wonder always how we’re going to “make our mark” by doing things differently, which of course begs the question, “Are we satisfied?”

“Pride of Lions”

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