-Picasso, touring Lascaux Cave
It's easy to take for granted how much information is available to a person in modern society. Even in my lifetime, I've seen an explosion of knowledge & widespread dissemination through The Internet. For a person like me who's been intensely curious since I was a child, looking back to the time before the web now seems like The Dark Ages.
Even in that span of a few decades, there's been great changes in the way people & society understands things. Of course, there are many aspects of humanity that haven't changed- even since the dawn of humanity, at least tens of thousands of years ago. One of these constants is the use of art & creative expression.
I've read alot of good articles about prehistoric art. As an artist myself , & someone who is very interested in history, it's a topic that never stops fascinating me.
Experts always try to interpret ancient art through the lens of those people who created them millenia ago. However, it's impossible to completely know the motivations & behaviors of people from such a remote time. Like anything else, the more information we get helps us form a more accurate & intricate of a picture about a particular situation or process.
When it was in IMAX, I went to see the Cave of Forgotten Dreams, a documentary about 30,000 year old cave paintings in France. It was interesting to see the prehistoric art of Chauvet Cave filmed in a way that's more visually informative than still photographs.
The French site for Lascaux Caves has an interactive virtual tour:
30,000 years is a span of time that's truly incomprehensible. Yet, individual humans survived over all that time, and the species has carried on...
Here's an article with many wonderful images of the world's oldest known works of art:
In another time, external distractions & information bombardment didn't prevent people from being directly in tune with themselves & their world. Techniques for exploring inner space were practiced intently. These techniques are keys to understanding the paintings that were created in the cavernous underworld over thousands of years, by people who had tapped into a continuity that was able to extend beyond their own lives. Members of ancient society who were able to develop creativity & healing, today generically called shamans, were the intermediaries between the human world and the invisible dimensions, inside & outside the mind. Through generations of experimentation, these highly-respected people learned how to alter their consciousness through music, psychoactive plants, ecstatic dance, creative expression, & environmental manipulation (often of an acoustical nature). Their creative vision would then be manifested to benefit others.
Recently, I watched this thought-provoking documentary that was linked on The Secret Sun blog. It looks realistically at the complex and relatively exotic methods employed by ancient shamans. These shamanic techniques of consciousness expansion are only beginning to be understood by modern researchers.
These dark cave chambers were very sacred spaces to our ancestors, but we can only speculate what kind of ritual behavior took place in the flickering firelight of these entrances to the underworld. I definitely think that there was a sophisticated understanding of natural processes, like acoustics. When I was in Chichen Itza in the Yucatan, we clapped in front of the Temple of Kukulkan to hear the echo that was engineered to sound like bird chirps. It was a pretty crazy effect. It's not hard to imagine that mid-altering acoustical properties where utilized in settings like sacred caves. Early man's mind must have been awestruck by the effect of these mysterious, extraordinary settings.
Awhile ago, I saw a link to this brilliant interactive work of art by Patrick Farley, which tries to imagine the experience of proto-humans before "The First Word". Some people might find it controversial & it's cautioned to be NSFW, but I think it's a profound & amazing visual work that's part 2001: A Space Odyssey, part Terence McKenna theory, & part Altered States.
Mankind has a deeply rich heritage, but the average person doesn't bother to connect with the vast genetic & cultural history we all carry within us. Learning about the stories of those who came before us informs us on own personal journeys & the direction of our society as a whole.
Luckily, even the most sterilizing aspects of modern society will never whitewash the creative spirit that has driven human beings to new states of mind throughout time.