Friday, November 13, 2009

Let the Lascaux cave paintings be your reminder.

Cave Paitings in Lascaux, France
Paleolithic Era, Approx. 17,000 BCE

So I thought, "I don't escape out of the 1800 and 1900's often." So tada! I give you a very old piece of cave for your viewing pleasure. This little beauty is old old old, I mean this is the essential starting point of any art history class (if it's not on a specific time period that is). You get your art textbook, turn to page one and you will find cave paintings. Okay, here's where the debate for the bulk of entry will center, but first let me just talk about the history behind the piece.

The cave paintings were discovered on September 12th, 1940 by a group of teenagers searching for their dog "Robot." I know, great beginning to any story. First of all, what 1940's teen names their dog robot? Second of all, why would they think "Robot" esapced into some hard to reach cave? Anyways, they stumpled upon the caves, however it wasn't an easy task. It involved prying open small entires to the cave, slipping through narrow crevices, tumbling on rocks, and using rope to find even more entries. I can't imagine what these boys thought when they saw these insanely prehistoric images on the walls of cave. I am sure they were thinking something along the lines of, "Cool, adventure!" Little did they know their discovery was going to be the biggest archeological find of the century. I wonder when the significance of the find hit them. Was it when they were slipping through narrow crevices? Or when they were running home to grab some rope?

Nevertheless, these boys discovered something insanely monumental. They single handily discovered a cave, that some people 16,000 years or so go decorated. The cave contains some 2,000 images ranging from human figures to horses, bulls, bison, and aurochs (a type of ox, that is extinct now).

Okay here's where the debate begins. WHY are the Lascaux cave paintings regarded as art? Sure, I understand that they are marvelous to look at and illustrate something- but why did everyone consider them art? In my modern art class last year, a huge portion was dedicated to trying to figure out just what makes art-art. This would be a huge deal in a modern art class because we are studying art form like splattered paint and urinals turned upside down, but it can also be viewed in terms of the cave paintings. It kind of drives me crazy that people talk about the Lascaux cave work as the 'prehistoric Sistine Chapel", using terms like triptych, perspective, and overlapping figures to described it. Why can't people just see these images and for once not attribute art history-ish terms! I mean, they definitely didn't paint these in hopes that one day someone would notice how they created a "triptych."

I guess my main beef comes from the idea that "art" wasn't even a word in prehistoric times. These images were most likely a guide to depict a means of survival. I mean, they did not create these images thinking, "Oh this will go great in the living room-" they did it so that their children would know the proper way to kill for survival!

So what am I am trying to get at? I guess I am trying to bring to your attention the whole idea of my blog title being "Inadvertently Art," making the Lascaux images my example. To us, art is something we like to look at- something that perhaps inspires us, something that gives someone a visual voice. While the Lascaux paintings can essentially be thought of as a visual voice, the motives were entirely different. However, the images present a new form of art and a form much more thought provoking. "Art" as a means of survival. Art does not have to be cut and paste or black and white, art can be as simple as a prehistoric cave filled with finger painted drawings of animals. Let's just leave it at that, please! Art can and should be flexible and most importantly, it should be thought of in a greater historical context.

Let the Lascaux cave paintings be your reminder.

P.S. This website takes you on this crazy virtual tour of the caves.  But beware, creepy music plays, so make sure your speakers are down. I, was not so fortunate and almost screamed when the music came on.


  1. I recently heard that these caves were closed to the public now for conservation purposes. Which really stinks, as they're one of the things I most want to see before I die.

  2. Yeah, they have been closed since like the late 1960's. The carbon dioxide was causing fungus and mold so they shut it down and now only one scientist can go in for 20 minutes a week to monitor the bacteria and condition. Also like idiots, they installed air conditioners and bright lighting so that added to the erosion.

    Good news though, though there are 6 original caves, they replicated two of them about 200 meters from the original. So you can see that! Not as good, but better than nothing : )

  3. Very informative post. The complex painted caves of Lascaux are located in the Dordogne region. The awe-inspiring paintings are also described as ‘the antediluvian Sistine Chapel’.1200 visitors daily visit the cave. The initial climatic situation had been re-build and maintained with the assistance of a fully-automated system. The original caves were made in 1980 called as Lascaux II. For more details refer Caves Of Lascaux

  4. Ricky, thanks for all the additional facts! I appreciate your comment.