Primitive Urges

print by Marco Accardi (made at age 8)

I was all set to get through my history pre req this first summer session with Western Civ, but it was cancelled at the last minute. The choices were slim for the evening classes so I enrolled in Art Appreciation.

It’s an art through the ages intensive, but all in all there are worse ways to spend ones evenings than looking at beautiful works of art. In our first class we contemplated the possible reasons for Paleolithic and Neolithic cave paintings. I saw an interesting documentary years ago, (read: I cannot remember the name of it) that suggested a lot of the art was hallucinogenic-ally  generated. They went to Africa to talk to Bushmen whom at least had memories of  relatives in similar ceremonies producing very similar images: Dots, or spotting that one might experience while on drugs, grid lines, hand prints (babies and people tripping seem to love their own hands).

I read The Story of Art to my children by E.H. Grombich a couple of years back, and it is a wonderful art history book (his book A Little History of the World is also excellent for the under 10 crowd). He didn’t discuss the hallucinogens, but he had a lovely attitude concerning art’s evolution. In his interpretation art does not “improve” or get better, it simply changes and builds upon former ages and techniques. The only problem with the book was that I got it used from Amazon and its previous owner had obviously been a smoker. Now, whenever I look at art, I feel as though I ought to be holding a cigarette.

Sister Wendy also does a wonderful job of presenting art to the masses. Every time I think of her I hear her saying, “Mr. Degas, I don’t think I like you.” Oh my, she is sweet. Simon Schama is another good art/historian documentarian and writer. Last summer I read the first half of his hulking  Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (I harbor high hopes of finishing it this summer), his attention to artist Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun’s influence on the softening attitudes of the hoi polloi towards Marie Antoinette (and the emerging age of Romanticism) were very interesting (alas, poor Marie, too little too late- c’est la vie).

I did not mention the drug induced painting theory in class- don’t want to make the wrong impression; but then when I got home and read the text, there it was- already a well accepted theory. Now if I can just manage to stay alert after 8 pm I may be okay- I just have to remember to bring a supply of my drug of choice: chocolate.


17 responses to “Primitive Urges

  1. I think people who claim drugs are involved in art are generally underestimating the human imagination. Most of us are strange enough without the ilicit stuff.

    • I don’t know, I’m not so repulsed by the idea. There are strange similarities of seemingly random imagery that people do also experience under the influence of certain drugs. There is a sort of expansion of consciousness that occurs…that is not to say ALL art, or that it is even a necessary or very often interesting influence, but I think it is there.

    • It is mind boggeling to to think that ones footprints could be discovered and pondered upon so many thousands of years after our bodies return to dust. I’m not sure why we should find it so fascinating: we simply do.

      • Alex Jones

        Your blog and the picture by your eight-year-old son jogged my memory about the story of the footprints. But this is just a part of the story: the boy was aged eight; he was the last visitor to the caves before a rock fall sealed the entrance; he may have had a wolf with him because there are wolf footprints with him.

        This provoked me to do my research into this cave, and I have been blown away. If the boy’s story is impressive, then thats nothing compared to the cave itself. I am going to make a blog on this tonight. The cave paintings at Chauvet will give you a whole new dimension on cave art.

  2. I love Marco’s piece! I may just have to check some of these books that you mention out! Thanks for sharing the info and experience…

  3. Pingback: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams « The Liberated Way

  4. Art “simply changes and builds upon former ages and techniques”. That is quite a philosophy. I think most want everything dear to them to advance; children, earnings, technology, etc. The idea that art is omething that can’t or won’t advance send a shiver up my spine.

    • But it alters the way that you view art, or view the world…to omit the words “better” or “worse.” It allows you to appreciate things on their own terms, in their own time, and then decide if you like it or not.

  5. Great post Jessica. Thanks for reminding me of Sister Wendy. I used to love her when she came on TV. I think I will look her up on Youtube. Oh, and please don’t mention drugs and art. I’ve had enough of that. Creating art is better when sober.

  6. I do think it’s all too easy to overlay a modern view of the drug/art link onto this… In these times it’s more likely that drugs had a very different place, and were seen as perhaps another way to glimpse the sacred. For me the more interesting thing is that art has been linked since it’s earliest days with the sacred–with moving toward deeper understanding through a nonrational approach to reality. Then again, for all we know, we could be talking Caveman Electric Kool Aid Acid Test…

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