Expatriot Act

The university of these days is a collection of books.

10 July 2006

How Art Made the World

This is probably the best series on TV right now:

PBS's How Art Made the World

The first episode is all about the earliest known art made by humans, and how originally these cave paintings were believed to be depictions of daily life (hunting and such). But there were always incongruities in that theory, and it took the study of a tribal group living in South Africa who made remarkably similar images to uncover the latest prevailing theory: THEY WAS TRIPPIN. Seriously, the earliest art is said to be the exclusive providence of shaman who were on "vision quests" aided by copious amounts of tobacco, and the cave paintings were ways of capturing their hallucinations for posterity.

One of the interesting things about this painting is that it's not really all that representational. There are some other paintings out there that are just geometric shapes. These images, according to the theory, are a combination of a view of respect for animals (the concept of the "spirit animal" heavily at play here)and the extreme solitude and darkness of the cave. Early people didn't live in caves, but that's where all the paintings are. What happens when your eyes are deprived of light for some time (or you're tripping on some sort of drug)? You see things with your eyes shut, like dots or lines. Look at the dots above. Interesting.

This is one of the many examples given of the shamanistic paintings of a wounded bison. See there is a man in the painting, and he also appears wounded. That shows the shaman's communing and sympathizing with the animal.

Apparently after a few hundred years of this, normal members of society started doing the same. Pubescent girls would dig a hole together, take a shitload of tobacco, and commune with their spirit animals to find strength for the trials that would face them, like childbirth. Then they would all paint together on a rock surface, and this was their coming-of-age ritual. That's how art became something that we all could do. I don't know about you guys but I think that's astoundingly fascinating.

Well I should stop writing about this or I'll miss the rest of this amazing episode which chronicles how political imagery was created (by the Persian leader Darius) and how the principles that guide it have pretty much stayed the same ever since, with some additions, of course. The next episode is about film, and how the storytelling techniques of film were laid out in ancient times. You KNOW I'm not going to miss that one for the world.


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