Ice Age art: like a foal that can walk straight away

7 thoughts on “Ice Age art: like a foal that can walk straight away”

  1. ‘Animals first entered the imagination as messengers and promises.’ I love this quote, it sets my imagination on fire. What a wonderful post, full of wonder, and the Siberian Swans are incredible…I want one to wear…but then I Have a special fondness for swans and the messages they carry into my imagination :-)

  2. From what little I know and understand, our ‘ancestors’ had very different ‘minds’ from us and how to interpret the world around them. Obvious I guess. If you get chance to listen or view Bill Moyers series of programmes with the comparative mythologist Joseph Campbell, first broadcast in 1988, Campbell talks of them having to conjure up an invisible world which supported the world around them and gave them some explanation of those things that they had no rational explanation for as we do with our rational and science based abilities. though Campbell was very cautious about trying to conclude what these very early people meant and in fact he was even more cautious about placing a literal meaning on anything from those times and since then.
    We are ‘metaphorically challenged’ and need literal meanings and explanations to understand much and therefore we often interpret much wrongly and literally.
    As someone interested in ‘storytelling’ I suppose these figures are the earliest versions of perhaps the remnants of stories told in some form or other. It is and was known that our brains have increased in size over the past few million years and we have developed abilities and ways of thinking that our ancestors did not possess, so how we can interpret this stuff i don’t know. A case in point is the discovery I made last year, a book called ‘The origin of consciousness in the breakdown of the bicameral mind’ by Julian Jaynes, published in 1976. I could not sum up his book, (though I have a copy, I have yet to read it and fear I could not!) but it is worth exploring those who have read it and examined it, including Richard Dawkins who apparently said its either rubbish or a work of complete genius. Many esteemed people put much credence by it.
    It talks of the right hand portion of the brain communicating with the left as if it were the voice of personal gods talking and people interpreted it thus and obeyed these voices. a condition one may say was almost schizophrenic, the remains of which stays with us in those that develop this ‘unfortunate’ condition They had no introspection and consciousness as we know it and huge economic, physical and environmental changes forced the brain to become more flexible and creative. This all happening as recently as 3000 years ago, way sooner than anyone understood previously, claiming that until The Iliad was written, ‘humans did not have the self-awareness characteristic of consciousness as most people experience it today’. They were ‘guided by Gods’.These in turn became myths, legends and historical accounts and hence our religions. Apparently the areas of the brains these voices arose from lie largely dormant now, but that auditory hallucinations show increased activity in those areas.
    It makes our interpretation of anything quite tricky to say the least, except as Campbell noted, by anything other than by metaphorical means.
    We still do this everyday, we read books, watch films and listen to the radio and each other. We tell stories to interpret the world in an effort to understand it, it being so very confusing. Films particularly ground us in ways perhaps that other forms cannot, being so powerfully visual and immediate, especially when constructed with music and dialogue, though dialogue overdone can take away much impact.
    According to Jaynes ‘ consciousness emerged as a neurological adaptation to social complexity in a changing world’ and as we emerged from the bi cameral mind we appointed bicameral operative individuals to maintain ‘contact’ with these Gods. Leftovers of this condition include religion, hypnosis, and the general need for external authority in decision making.’
    So maybe when it come to interpreting ‘art’ from long ago….well…God knows!

    1. Indeed, who knows? As always, Les, a thoughtful response with much to ponder. I like the concept of these people having to ‘conjure up an invisible world which supported the world around them and gave them some explanation of those things that they had no rational explanation for’. I tried to evoke a sense of that when I discussed how their art responded to the mystery of pregnancy and birth. It’s all speculation but those religious intermediaries may have been there already – shamans.

  3. Campbell said this, ‘However, we do know that burials always involve the idea of the continued life beyond the visible one, of a plane of being that is behind the visible plane, and that is somehow supportive of the visible one to which we have to relate. I would say that is the basic theme of all mythology – that there is an invisible plane supporting the visible one.
    And this idea of invisible support is connected with one’s society too. Society was there before you, it is there after you are gone, and you are a member of it. The myths that link you to your social group, the tribal myths, affirm that you are an organ of the larger organism. Society itself is an organ of a larger organism, the landscape, the world in which the tribe moves. The main theme in ritual is the linking of the individual to a larger morphological structure than that of his own physical body’
    I have been wondering how much our current minds still live in and out of these visible/invisible worlds and whether our ‘thinking’ such as it is, is at odds with the reality of our situation.
    I revisited Liverpool in October for one day, 3 weeks after I met friends from the USA, there for a ‘Beatles’ day. On the invisible plane, as it were, I planned the little myth in my head, using a myth maker device – a computer, where the myths hang in some kind of disconnected space, I used a recording device that memorised the visions of the day, I recorded all my experiences in my own mind and then transferred them back to my computer and distributed them all over the world, to hang there in all their disembodied glory. That was all done on the ‘invisible’ plane, save for the printed versions on paper.
    But, what did I ‘actually do’ according to reality? The visible world.
    I used a certain amount of energy from various sources and on various devices, electrical and mechanical, energy which came from underground, having been stored there for billions of years and is irreplaceable. I infinitesimally wore out various parts of a road system, a car and anything else I came into contact with, a little hint towards the direction of Newtons second law of thermodynamics, everything move towards entropy, and that’s pretty much it. I took a load of energy from off the Earth and fused it all into……into what? Thoughts, words, images, ideas. It was kind of swap-shop, a trade off. All I did was transfer the visible world to the invisible, oil/gas to memories and I’m not sure how on earth that is progress and where it gets us? Except that our very ideas seem to lift directly off the Earth courtesy of billions and trillions of synapses and such. It lead to a ‘better’ understanding of something, as my friends would testify when reading my ‘myth’. In some way my adventure ‘supported’ the visible world, if only in some infinitesimally small way, not unlike Shakespeare, though he was a smidgen better at it than I was, and used far less energy doing so! I suppose when all said and done, it, me and Shakespeare, just lead us towards a better understanding of ourselves. Its just that we are taking a hell of a diversion and a long time to realise who and what we are and perhaps its just a matter of whether our resources will last out in the ‘visible’ world in order for our invisible world to finally come to its senses and be in accord with the visible.
    I think!

  4. I really like Campbell’s idea of ‘an invisible plane supporting the visible one’. As you suggest, we can deduce that those who created these artworks, 20,000 to 40,000 years ago sensed it strongly. As we have explained the reasons behind just about everything around us, the sense has withered. If you haven’t yet tuned into it, listen to ‘Noise: a Human History’ on BBC Radio 4, notably episode 5 about shamans, those receivers of messages from the invisible plane (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01rdzx0): still on iPlayer. Thanks, once again, Les, for a thoughtful response.

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