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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Continued Look at Early Art

Below I have and excerpt from the series How Art Made the World, which was shown on PBS a few years ago. I use it in my class room. The episode poses the question of how, we, as human beings, began making images and uses the early image of the cave painting, found in Europe, and the Drakensberg rock paintings done by the San people of West Africa, to begin to examine that question. On their web site they have also focused on the study of the rock paintings that have been found in California. But we must also be aware that, in reality the last of the great rock painters are found in Australia, to the best of my knowledge. And we must tip our hats off to the Aborigines, for trying to maintain the traditions of their ancestors.

Aboriginal rock paintings appear earthly and innate to their surroundings, yet often mysterious and supernatural. The naturalness is partly due to its unique ragged canvas. The rock or cave wall is from nature, formed from various stones, surfaces, consistencies, heights and lengths. Wet ochres and rocks as the painting tools also signal an attachment to the tangible world(S. Haider. "Ancestral Rock Paintings The Wandjini figures." Aboriginal Culture & People Articles. .

Whether in the prehistoric caves of Europe or the Drakensberg Mountains of South Africa, artists saw visions and recreated them on rock walls. But the act of making these images seemed to be the exclusive preserve of a select few. So how did we get from there, to today's modern world where just about everyone can make a picture?
The rock art was part of a site reserved for an initiation ceremony for girls.
David Whitely, an expert on California rock art sites, became fascinated with ancient rock images painted in the heart of the Cahuilla Indian community in Riverside County. Images not hidden away, but seemingly painted for everyone to see.
The rock art was part of a site reserved for an initiation ceremony for girls. The ceremony began with the girls being placed in pits and given hallucinogenic tobacco.
"The idea being that…would ultimately cause them to have visionary images, one of which would be their spirit helper, they would obtain supernatural power that would help them not only through childbirth but throughout their lives. "
"At the termination of their puberty initiation, they would run up to these sites, these sites located centrally in their villages…and then they would paint the spirit helper that they saw during their visionary experience on the wall."
At other sites, boys went through a similar ritual at the onset of their puberty. It meant everyone had this experience. In other words, pictures had gone from being the exclusive property of a shaman/artist, to being owned by the entire tribe ( N. Spivey. "David Whitely - the Cahuilla People." How Art Made the World.
It is very interesting contemplation, from my point of view. Is this how we began to make images and the lasting beauty they have brought as we have rediscovered them.