How Art Made the World: The Day Pictures Were Born

It seems hard to answer when people actually started making art. We all know that it was a long time ago, and we all saw reproductions of paintings in caves made by prehistoric people. Nevertheless, it is still difficult to say what the exact time was. My point of view is that it was about 50,000 years ago. If the timeline starts about 150,000 years ago, 100,000 years seems enough to understand how to produce at least the simplest pieces of art.

After watching the video, I understood that I was almost right. The reason is that the first pieces of art were produced more than 40,000 years ago. These were the cave paintings. The time is not surprising because people at that time were already known as Homo sapiens. What is surprising is that they actually started producing such fine pieces of art!

Many scientist and researches were puzzled over their ability to produce the images of animals in two-dimensional paintings. Even the great Picasso after seeing these paintings said that: “We have learnt nothing.” He meant that after such a long period of time nothing has changed. Consequently, the works of prehistoric artists can be compared even to those of modern artists.

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Two main versions about why people had started producing those paintings

The first theory was based on the belief that they had drawn to represent the world around them, especially animals. Nevertheless, the strange patterns of grids and spots could have never be seen in their world, so the theory failed. There was another theory. It was based on the idea that prehistoric people had painted animals because they had believed it would have increased their chances of a successful hunt. However, recent findings of animal bones around the caves proved this theory false. There was a little correlation between animals which were depicted in prehistoric cave paintings and those whose bones were found.

The question remains: how and why prehistoric people started producing art?

To create a picture a person should know what the picture is. However, how can somebody do it if he/she has never seen one? An explicit example of it is given by the story of a Muslim man who was shown a 2D image for the first time in his life. It was the picture of a horse, but he did not recognize it. He explained that he could not understand that it was a horse because he could not move around it.

A revolutionary idea about prehistoric paintings comes from David Williams, who studied the paintings by San tribe in Africa. They were almost identical with the paintings of our ancient ancestors. He investigated the rituals practiced by San shamans of putting themselves into trance, the state in which they claimed they could heal. In this altered state of consciousness, shamans visited the spiritual world. Therefore, the essential aim of the paintings was to depict the images that they had seen in trance and wanted to keep.

This theory is also supported by the modern psychiatric studies. When people are put into trance, they usually see the same things. It does not matter who they are or where they are from. It explains intriguing patterns of grids and spots seen both in prehistoric paintings and paintings of San tribes. Deep in the caves, without any light, our ancestors experienced sensory deprivation. It induced hallucinations and created in their minds these wonderful images.

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