Ancient Art, Cave paintings and what Art is for…

September 29, 2008

I take this month’s anniversary of the discovery of the cave paintings in Lascaux as a cause to discuss more about art and it’s potential purpose.

I often read and hear the statement that true art may not be beautiful and that it is an absolute no-go to affiliate art with beauty or rather aesthetics. Many so-called art professionals react in dismay when they realize that art students apparently misunderstand the true essence of art, being convinced that art has something to do with perfection, mastership, technical brilliance, aesthetics and beauty.

While I would never state that art consists solely of the aforementioned skills and characteristics I would also refuse to state that art could exist without the aforementioned skills and characteristics. I rather consider them as the basics to be able to break all rules in order to create real art (there might be quite a few exceptions though). Which means that you need to know what you are doing before you deliberately choose not to play with the rules. Coincidentally Robert Genn wrote an article about this very subject this week: Back to the Basics

To completely demoralize a student, mocking him/her in front of fellow aspirants is not the right way to teach. In no way. Teachers such as these, no matter in which category they work, fail the purpose of their profession and are an abomination. Yes, an abomination and a complete failure. They are the ones who should be pilloried – not the poor student who failed the interpretation of what his future profession should be. Same applies for fellow students who use opportunities such as these for making fun of other colleagues,  mobbing and excluding those who are different. What a world are we living in?

Thoughts about this subject of art never leaves me. Too often I watch in dismay how potential talents are demounted and destroyed to a fatal end, which means the complete destruction of self respect and motivation. This is truly sad.

On my way to dig deeper into the true essence of what art may be, I realize that the world is full of bullshitters, arrogant and ignorant fellows. Not every aspiring artist is strong enough to pursuit a path that is full of obstacles, requiring a lot of stamina and perseverance and stubbornness. But while this may be part of the requirement to become a true professional artist it should not be a requirement for basic survival.  There are better ways to look for support if talent does not pay off.  Dreams can come true but not with the investment of your physical and mental health.

So I dare to break down the subject of ART into a few categories and it is up to you what you are going to do with it i.e. whether you risk your life for it:

Art can be divided mainly into following 3 categories:

  • Art that belongs into a museum or other public places, that is not bought by private persons, that is not going to hang in someone’s living room above the sofa (sacred art belongs to that category as well)
  • Investment art – I mean real BIG ART – that is bought by people as pure investment – not because they like it – which is then closed away in a high security basement or safe with proper air-conditioning and all that stuff in order to keep it fresh and clean, being an object of speculation that may not loose its value. In my opinion this is the worst thing you can do to art because this art is not available to the public any more for whom it was made originally. People who buy this kind of art then hang the copies on the wall for every party guest to see, admire and envy, very well boasting about that they own the real “thing”,  hidden behind the safety bars.
  • the third kind of art is the real “usable” art, the one which is bought as a match to the sofa, because the buyer just loves it, or because one feels simply comfortable in its presence. Or you belong to those who need the kick – the kick of shock and provocation, the kick of the ugly and disgusting, the extreme, the visual challenge of a nightmare. Well – there are people who hang pictures of war on the wall, or paintings of dead people or animals. But in the end it is the same: you buy art for emotion, for the feeling, for well being, or being cool.

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So what do ancient art and images reveal to us? Are these only diaries, sacred images, used for rituals or do they also have a kind of entertainment function? We do not know. There are plethora of theories and speculations about their meanings. In my eyes these partially more than 30000 years old paintings on cave walls are simply beautiful (aaargh – there is that word again) – elegant and fascinating. Some of them reveal such perfect skills of perspective and realistic presentation that it is hardly to believe that they are that old. For many years such skills have been denied to the humans of that ancient era, assuming that they were primitive, clumsy. But what was discovered in the last two decades or so, breathtaking paintings, intricate jewellery made from bones, pearls cut out of ivory and other materials tell us a different story. So scientists can be wrong and need to review their theories.

Although it is definitely interesting to speculate about the deeper meaning of these paintings and other objects, there is no doubt that they are a joy for our eyes. So art may be delightful and enjoyable and no-one would deny this? So why not with contemporary art? We should leave the ivory tower entirely and talk about art as something that can be part of our daily life and not something that belongs into the glass box.

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So should “real” art be ugly only and repelling, provoking and totally over-exaggerated? May it only be grotesque or completely abstract? Is art only art when you read books about the work in order to be able to understand what the artist wanted to present if s/he knows this by her/himself at all?

Who on the other hand may judge about art and what art is? The critics, the academic teachers? And can someone who has never touched a brush or pencil or a chisel judge about art? Can s/he feel and understand what someone, who does, feels inside? And why s/he does it, if s/he knows it herself? Many artists cannot answer these questions…

My observations in Germany are, that only art that no-one would hang on the wall is accepted by competitions and art unions. Generalized – I admit it – but the main tendency. Everything that has the slightest touch of being salable is generally rejected and certainly not supported.

Additionally only young people seem to be worth while to be supported which is a paradoxon in my eyes. Isn’t life experience the nutrition and pre-requisite for doing art with depth and meaning? How can this happen with a young person who hasn’t had a life yet?

This is really puzzling. No wonder that many people here are afraid of really confronting themselves with art, especially when buying it. They rely on galleries, art dealers and don’t dare to make their own decisions. Art is a decision of your heart not of your art dealer! Or is it rather that potential customers do not want to reveal that they like something that could be outside the trend for the pure joy of it? Very strange.

Art is not a holy cow in my opinion. Art is not something that is worth risking a life for it – not even for the most expensive piece. Art is only an object, made by man. Art is a potential “must-have”, something that can influence your emotions but still only material. Why then always that evaluation whether a piece is kitsch, true art or – well – what? Leave people alone who love Kincaide. It’s their decision. Don’t wrinkle your nose about someone who loves kitsch and stuff that makes her/him happy. It’s their life and fun. No-one is going to be hurt because of it…

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(paintings Tassili I and II, on silk, 40″ x 13″)

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One Response to “Ancient Art, Cave paintings and what Art is for…”

  1. Alfred Wang Says:

    Cave painting is popular in ancient. Art is always beautiful especially when time passed by.


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