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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 22 2012: I think most of it was useful information on how or where to hunt, but it isn't hard to imagine that some artists took joy in their efforts and were creative about it. After going to all the effort to manufacture paint and having vital information to impart, it would be silly to put your work in a place where erosion would erode or wash it away.
    My most intimate experience with cave art was in Baja South where I discovered some simple shapes in a place that my instinct told me would be a great place to catch deer. Sure enough, 5 minutes of searching revealed the glyphs! It is interesting to me that most cave art is focussed on animals (food) rather than supernatural beings (gods). This suggests to me that the pragmatics of survival trumped religious or spiritual worship or exploration. It is only after we domesticated plants and animals that we had the time for theological musings.
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      May 22 2012: Animal art was a spiritual exercise as well. In fact gods/God only became human progressively in the last 6,000 years during the rise of civilization. I think spirituality is a human adaptive trait. It comes with the developed pre-frontal cortex.
      • May 22 2012: It is hard to know for certain isn't it? I consider spirituality to be the sense of wonder and awe we (and quite probably other animals) feel towards the world, or universe. By your definition we would have to include toothed whales, porpoises and dolphins as they have developed pre-frontal cortexes. Adaptive? Perhaps, but spirituality could just be a side effect of conscious awareness, and may turn out to be maladaptive in the long run. The jury is out on that one I think. It is also quite probable that different cultures had different perspectives on spirituality, with some valuing it more than others. And there may be a correlation between the physical success of a tribe with level of spirituality in that a tribe living in territories that had bountiful resources would find the leisure time for spiritual reflection.
        We humans spend so much time emphasizing our differences from other animals that we often overlook our commonalities. As Tim Minchin likes to say, "we're just effing monkeys in shoes!"
      • May 23 2012: Good question! I reckon I would define it as, "the ability to think about our own thinking processes", but I suppose I would include in that the ability to think in about the past, present and future. Some theorist call it metacognition. I believe animals "think" but I suspect most don't analyze their thinking process and make choices based on their conclusions. That said, most humans don't think about thinking either; they simply react.

        It seems to me that a creature capable of metacognition would naturally arrive at questions about their origin and place within their observable universe.

        Someone once described humans as "meaning making machines" We want answers to everything and if verifiable conclusions can't be obtained we will make something up to fit our wants, needs and desires. They went on to say that, "There is life, and we give it meaning, but there may be no inherent meaning to anything." That seems to be a very difficult idea for humans to accept or even entertain. What do you think?
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          May 23 2012: con·scious/ˈkänCHəs/
          Aware of and responding to one's surroundings; awake.
          Having knowledge of something; aware.

          can one ever be unconsciously aware? when you are not conscious, you are not aware.
          So conscious awareness means consciously conscious, or aware of awareness.

          The "ability to think about our own thinking process" is called introspection. I think I've badgered you enough Mike. I'm sorry, I can't help it. lol
      • Jun 3 2012: Don't stop. I love a good badgering! My use of language has failed me again it seems...
        We certainly can be subconsciously aware, and even an unconscious person responds physically to certain stimuli, so they are aware on some level.
        I am a little confused about the second definition "Having knowledge of something; aware" as it implies that awareness is knowledge. Perhaps awareness is information. Insects are aware, but may not have knowledge..... etc.
        What thinkest thou on the "adaptive unconscious"?
        And how do you know animal art was a spiritual exercise? Is that a hunch your subconscious mind tells you, or is it a conscious deliberation, and if so how did you arrive at it?
        Thanks you for the provocation Cecilia.

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