Art done by my five-year-old granddaughter definitely matters! I have a proudly framed mountain landscape she painted. I encourage her, but Daddy wants her to be a doctor.
Some readers will remember gender-specific high school courses when the consensus of academic opinion was that boys excelled in Math and Economics, while girls belonged in English and Home Ec. And there was a Big Stir when a football player was put in the cooking class! That was a long time before child development and hairstyling were part of the curriculum in my school.
In those ancient times, art class was a popular elective, jokingly considered advanced doodling. It is a fact that some people can doodle better than others, but parents lose patience before perseverance and practice produces marketable talent. With good reason. Van Gogh wandered the streets even when he had two ears. (But that’s another story.) He would have prospered in Miami at Wynwood Walls, a 2009 project for graffiti artists transforming exterior walls with color and imagination.
I am in sympathy with those who shelved an artistic talent because they did not have the funds to pursue it. I have always loved to write. Mama said No.Girls like me, who listened to Mama, grew up to get “a real job” and didn’t follow “foolish” dreams until retirement. I also shelved the regret of following the wrong trail because I have learned patience and perseverance and experienced thousands of relationships I would have otherwise missed. Now I awake every morning eager to assemble meaningful words. Is this my art? Sometimes it is advanced doodling.
In an excellent National Geographic January 2015 article “The First Artists” by Chip Walter, the reader is escorted with precise WORDS creating an artistic visual to share Walter’s experience of witnessing the depiction of more than 400 animals on the limestone walls of Cave of Chauvet-Point-d’Arc, discovered in 1994 by three spelunkers sliding down a crevice and dropping into an entry to a 400,000 square foot room.
They saw profiles of lions, herds of rhinos, bison, owls, bears, mammoths, horses, ibex. (BTW What is an auroch? A European bison often 72″ at the shoulder!)
Walter said, “The age of these drawings makes youngsters of Egypt’s storied pyramids, yet every charcoal stroke, every splash of ocher looks as fresh as yesterday. Their beauty whipsaws your sense of time.” A fine artistic sentence.
Since archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers are now usually funded to shine a bright light on prehistoric studies, they do not wander the streets looking for sponsors, and mankind has benefitted from much of the information they have unearthed. This light is more powerful than the flickering firelight that illuminated the Neanderthal artwork Walter described.
An interesting theory by Joseph Henrich of the University of British Columbia suggests that “as populations shrink they have an increasingly difficult time holding on to the innovations they invented.” His example: “When sea levels rose 10,000 years ago and isolated Tasmania from the rest of the world, the indigenous population of perhaps 4,000” was not large enough to keep cultural traditions alive.
This relates to the Lapita people I mentioned in the last post: WORDS Matter. As this group of explorers moved east to settle islands that would be known as Polynesia, their pottery lost the original design and was dubbed “plainware.” They had no written history.
I have seen a profile image drawn on a Vatulele cave wall recently photographed that is remarkably like a vision I had three years ago launching the creative project Rampart of the Phoenix. (See my separate page.) In this yet unpublished novel, I show the struggle to preserve an artistic legacy. But I was not aware of Henrich’s theory. I was going on the limited research done on Vatulele petroglyphs which seem modern compared to Chauvet. (I read about them in “Proto-Polynesian Art?” an article by Rod Ewins of the University of Tasmania and published in the Journal of the Polynesian Society, Vol. 104 No. 1 March 1995.)
It was with great interest that I read an article in the January/Feb 2016 issue of Archaeology. Under a familiar title “The First Artists,” Daniel Weiss describes the process of determining the age of cave art found in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. (This island was formerly named Celebes and possibly part of a land bridge between Asia and Australia, perhaps aiding in the settlement of New Guinea, influencing the Lapita people.) A photograph shows a hand stencil created at least 39,000 years ago.
In the comparison of handprints, those made in Sulawesi or those made 37,000 years ago in a cave in France or those made 4,000 years ago in Fiji, there is a familiar refrain of a human voice: I lived, I was here, and I want to be remembered.
I hear Words plus Art=communication of distant souls through the ages.
Post Script: It is a sad day when cultures are diminished whether through natural devastation like the artwork destroyed by a 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the common collateral damage of war or wanton destruction by philistines. (See Antiquites Lost, Casualties of War in Syria, and Iraq, Trying to Protect a Heritage at Risk by Graham Bowley, Oct. 3, 2014.) http://nytimes.com/2014/05/arts
In December of 2015, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) held a two-day conference for representatives from 19 international groups involved in protecting the cultural heritage of Syria and other conflict zones. They are looking for sponsors.
I have to end on the happy reminder that there will be a celebration of Native American art at the Grand Canyon September 10-18, 2016. Make plans now! Celebrate our artists!
Copyright 2016 Georgia Ruth Wilson