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Sid Tafler

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What does cave art mean to you?

Stone Age art has fascinated people around the world since some of the first discoveries of cave paintings in France and Spain in the 19th century.
The recent Werner Herzog film "Cave of Forgotten Dreams," showcasing the spectacular panels of lions and horses at Chauvet, brought new attention to Paleolithic art.
If you haven't gazed into the deep past recently, do a web search for Lascaux, Chauvet or Altamira cave.

What do these arts forms mean to you?
Do you find them beautiful, primitive, artistically inspired, or something less?
Are these drawings art for art sake, an attempt by Paleolithic people to reproduce the world they experienced?
Or do they have some deep cosmic or spiritual significance?
Why did these people of 15,000 to 30,000 years ago often create these works in places that were difficult to access?
Were they trying to communicate with each other, access worlds beyond their own, or engage in hunting magic?
Or were they just enjoying themselves scratching and drawing on cave walls?


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    May 15 2012: Having spent most of my childhood summers 20 miles from Lascaux, and having thought about what makes the human kind special (apart from wars, genocides and exploiting the earth until the very end) I have come to an optimistic vision:
    ART is the most beautiful trait of human kind.
    The will to express oneself through Art (whether it is painting, writing, sculpting, dancing, etc.) is unique.
    Art is at the forefront of every era. I look at art pieces to understand the world.

    Art is beautiful because it is useless in our everyday lives. Think of a "cave man" who painted the horses in Lascaux some 10000 or 20000 years ago. Life expectancy was about 25 years, finding food was a daily struggle and the only concern of these men. But one man (or woman!) f-e-l-t like it wasn't enough, and decided not to go hunting on a particular day and decided instead to go finding some flowers, minerals or whatever to fabricate chromatic pigments to paint and went deep in a cave and spent hours (days?) to draw his/her life, surroundings just for the sake of it.

    How could we call that? I call that spirituality.

    PS: to answer your question about the places difficult to access: Topography changed over thousands of years. Today it is hard to determine whether the caves -paintings- were 'accessible' or not, it remains an open debate. One thing is sure though: "cave men" didn't live in caves, they lived in the outdoors. Caves (at least all the caves I visited in Southwest France) are very cold and humid, nobody in his right mind would live inside caves, not even "cave men".
    • May 15 2012: A cave might not be the best place to live although there is some evidence that there was habitation near and in the entranceway if I remember correctly. However the cave depths would make the perfect place to go into for some sort of torch/lamp lit ritual. Or some theatre/dance/storytelling lit by the same method. Or maybe it was the the equivalent of an art gallery meant to be appreciated by the variety of lighting available in those conditions?
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      May 15 2012: Bruno,
      Merci pour vos reflections.
      It seems to me these works at Lascaux took many months or years to learn the technique, master the craft and days to create.
      I think you're right about caves, they probably lived in rock shelters, open air spaces, covered by a roof of rock in the side of a mountain. Perhaps at the back of the rock shelter was a cave, that's how I present it in the book I am writing.
      I have visited caves in the Lot, but not the Vezere. I look forward to visiting the area in the future.

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