Thursday, May 21, 2015


One day, 35,000 years ago, a group of homo sapiens were hunting bison in what would become Northern Spain. It wasn’t the first time they’d hunted together and they soon made a kill. As they skinned the beast and prepared the carcass for eating, one of the more observant hunters remarked on the color of the skin and the beauty of the beast they’d killed.
    “Beauty?” said his co-hunters looking at the bloody carcass, perplexed.
    “Yes,” he said picking up a stick and drawing in the sand as the herd had run off by then. “Their back has lovely angles with a tuft of fur on it here and the horns are fine S-curves.”  When he mis-drew, he smoothed the sand and redrew the shape of the bison.
    His mates were impressed.
    “Wow, you’re good at this. That looks just like it.”
    “Did you notice its legs are darker than its body? An elegant animal.”
    “I know a deep cave where you can draw that on the walls and it will last longer than the sand.”


Is this how parietal art came to be?
However it happened or why, Paleolithic people did make many finely observed studies of the animals they hunted and of their fellow hunters and above all they selected deep caves protected from the elements to paint in. And because they did we can be moved and inspired by what those artists saw 35,000 or so years ago. One of those anonymous parietal artists could even have reached through the millennia and influenced some of Picasso’s very modern drawings.

People today arrogantly wonder how Paleolithic people could be so talented and observant 35,000 years ago. And why not? They were of the homo sapiens  persuasion, just like us, why would they not be able to observe their surroundings and record them just as skillfully as we do? Human inventions and cultures may have evolved greatly but actual humans haven't.

People also wonder why these artists made their finely observed paintings and drawings in caves where they apparently didn’t live. Perhaps as legacies to the future? Perhaps these well-protected caves were considered the museums of the time and Paleolithic people went there to marvel at the art, just as we do today and future generations will too. Ars longa, vita brevis n'est-ce pas?

     Top left: Altamira 23,000-34,000 BCE  / Top right: Picasso's "Bull - Plate 5" 1945