Today science discovered that the first known artist in the world was right handed. They found some zig-zags on a shell made half a million years ago and concluded that Homo erectus was more creative that they thought. It’s profound and a bit scary to think of your life in geologic time, epochs and eras. And that our caveman cousins felt the urge to express themselves, same as us. Finger painting their way into immortality.
Warner Herzog, lover of abysses, eater of shoes, and Tom Cruise movie villain, explored the Chauvet Cave in southern France for his documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams. The cave boasts some of the oldest cave art, untouched for thousands of years. In the film, Herzog ponders how the walls of the cave speak by telling stories of our distant ancestors’ dreams. The paintings are fascinating not only in their importance to art history, but also in their execution. The most striking work depicts horses rising as if in mid-charge. Some of the figures were painted thousands of years apart. The artists’ personalities reveal themselves, too. Herzog is able to follow one artist’s journey throughout the cave due to a broken pinky finger.
For centuries we’ve been making art of the same things: animals, people and shadows on walls. Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious says that we all have images imprinted in our unconscious that manifests itself through our actions and art. The Aborigines created art using Dreamtime, a place beyond time and space. This ancient practice always reminds me of Jackson Pollock’s maximum statement on art: “I am nature.” His paintings have a lot in common with cave painting, too. David Lynch’s creative meditation techniques attempt to do the same thing I think, searching for the “big fish” i.e. the largest ideas are deeper in our subconscious. Of course physics is giving all this lofty art talk a run for its money. Parallel dimensions, multiverses, supersymmetry are no longer in the realm of dorm room stoner talk. Some in science think humans may never be smart enough to understand the universe, but art seems to have been dreaming about everything in the universe for 500,000 years. Heady stuff, man. Puff puff, give.
Of course, some of the most interesting prehistoric art is sexual. The Venus of Willendorf is a sculpture of a woman carved around 30,000 BCE. She’s a voluptuous gal and bears a striking resemblance to the pose of Kim Kardashian in Paper Magazine. When the Venus of Willendorf was discovered, science thought she was a depiction of the goddess Venus but the sculpture predated mentions of Venus. Science has no idea what she’s supposed to represent. Does she symbolize fertility or femininity? A goddess to pray to? A woman the artist saw in a dream? The mother of all things? Or was she the prehistoric equivalent of a nude Kardashian? I like to think it was some young caveman or cavewoman artist’s sexual talisman. Something they carved to remember a lost lover. Or maybe just get off to.
And I like to think they were a Southpaw.