First published: Fall 1998
Whatever you invent is true, even though you may not understand what the truth of it is.' Gustave Flaubert
It was recently my good fortune to spend five weeks in France visiting prehistoric sites and artifacts; exploring palaeolithic caves adorned with paintings and engravings which appear as fresh today as on the day they were made; studying rock shelters, some with engravings and reliefs cut in stone; and visiting museums of prehistory housing magnificent assemblages of stone tools (worked flint) and portable works of sculpture executed in various materials. While the majority of such sites are wisely closed to the public, a sufficient number remain open to enable the zealous visitor to obtain an accurate and detailed picture of the beginning of art, as well as its evolution over the course of some 25,000 years. (c.35,000 BC – c.10,000 BC)
If one took seriously the notion that Art Brut or Outsider Art is essentially defined by its lack of cultural references, or by the existence of untrained artists unencumbered by pictorial traditions, then palaeolithic art might seem an ideal example of an art uninfluenced by history, free of any inherited cultural component simply because it stands at the beginning. Surely this rawness is part of what we are seeking in an encounter with art's beginnings. This is, of course, an illusion. No art is more clearly dominated by inherited traditions, forms, subject matter, and technique than the art of the Ice Age. So strictly enforced were the rules governing cave art that it is no exaggeration to describe the images and the styles as Academic, reflecting the existence of a number of 'schools' and certainly of images and methods handed down from generation to generation. Nevertheless, the tenuous images of animals and, more rarely of men and women, seen in the depths of dark, oddly fluid, and organic caves, are profoundly moving.
This is an article extract; read the full article in Raw Vision #24