Thursday, June 08, 2006

The "Face" That Launched a Thousand Fish Stories

The bottom line is the scientists might be right. The 27,000-year-old drawing found in a cave in France might indeed be a highly stylized rendering of a face that just so happens to look Modernist or Cubist or something we associate with more intellectualism than we generally credit cavemen with possessing. Perhaps there is some cosmic connection between the prehistoric artist who scratched his charcoal across the stone wall and the stocky Spainard and gant Frenchman who would change art history, but does that give Guardian writer Johnathan Jones a license to ruminate so annoyingly...musing on the universality of the human face, lighting here and there across the ages, connecting Bancusi to Egyptian mummies and Jericho to Australia, like some drunken butterfly who's read one too many Barbara Cartland novels? His article could be used as the textbook case study in the search for a cure for prosaic incontinence.

[Phew...ok, glad I got that out my system.]

On the other hand, there's a whole host of other possibile explanation for the resemblance. Like the "Man in the Moon," the "Jesus' face in the cornflake," and a host of other personifications of perfectly ordinary objects (some man-made, some not), it might just be that humans like to project their likeness onto these things. This "drawing" might simply have been the place the caveman artist sharpened his charcoal instrument so he could add the finer details to the wooly mammoth masterpiece he was working on. The lines perhaps meant nothing whatsoever to him or his clan. The fact that we see a face in it now, doesn't mean the artist intended anyone to.

Which, of course, brings us back to the question we've hashed out repeatedly here...does that matter? If contemporary humans see a face in that wall, do the artist's intentions even matter now? It's not possible to ask what he meant, so the question is moot. Still, I do find it humorous to imagine Mr. Jones and Co. spinning poetic humanistic nonsense over four lines that were merely indications of a cliff and a river, but since I can't be sure, I'll just leave it at that. What do you see?


Blogger Jordan said...

Sorry....I see a bunch of markings. Face?

But if someone sees a face and derives meaning from it....Kudo's to them...I'm not sure the artists intention matters.

6/08/2006 10:44:00 AM  
Anonymous Priit said...

There are two aspects in cave art that amaze me: neanderthal people (who inhabited Europe up to about 8000 B.C) had no art (or very primitive art, as the "face" image shows). But the new brand of people who arrived from Africa about 10,000 years ago, had much more sophisticated art - found in many caves in France and Spain). The difference in art is the SINGLE known difference in the two species of humans. Then, it appears quite probable that the higher art (= capability for abstraction) was among the factors that allowed homo sapiens to drive home neanderthal to extinction in about 1,000 or 2,000 years. And - their art is the only thing that has remained from these people!

6/08/2006 11:35:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

I wonder if their funding depended on finding new old art by a certain deadline. Finding faces is the easiest thing to do. That could support either end of the argument though. I am always suspicious of claims to know the function of ancient objects. "This stone was used for the ritual sacrifice of virgins" Well, no, one time an old man butchered his days hunting there, but otherwise that flat topped stone is where we ate lunch everyday.

If you listen to archeologists you would think the ancient world was filled with people who had nothing better to do than devise rituals and build sites for sacrifice. I am quite sure they were as busy as we are just making a living and staying dry.

I suppose archeologists need a good story to tell. I prefer reality over fiction in such cases. These ancient people were just like us in almost every way and that is more interesting to me than speculation about their 'religion' based on scant evidence and wishful thinking.

You know, if they enlisted the help of an artist in analyzing those scratches she would tell them that people can see faces all over the place and that that analysis is more about the lack of visual sophistication of the living people rather than the same quality of the dead ones. The scratches could be nothing at all, probably are nothing at all.

6/08/2006 12:39:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

Looks like a face to me. Rocks!

6/08/2006 04:39:00 PM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

...but I think the neanderthal face looks like a face

Inserting a bone in a hole to make it look like two eyes? That sounds pretty clever.

But wrether this perticular face is a face or not is irrelevent to me.

They are many other carved faces from a little later that share the "modernist" look. Maybe dig your Modigliani on Easter Island?

The thing that made me laugh here, is that most modernists were influenced by what they termed "primitive arts", which mostly meant that they were influenced by African arts, which in my opinion are not primitive but in many ways more advanced
aesthetically than any other arts.

Modernists didn't invent the world.
From an extra-terrestrial point of view, most of their art was a reflection of how they started to grasp other ways of looking at the world, probably because the history of prehistory was slowly developing and made everyone in the west consider that they we shared more than we thought with eastern and orient people that we used to consider so touristically.

As far as the "longface" is concerned, I don't know. It could be a mark saying where is the toilet.

It looks like a map to me at first sight, or because the nose is way long and starts at an ackwardly high position, it would be someone explaining to another that they are starting to loose the use of one eye, or that someone had tragically died. Why did they insist on the mark at the top? The stone does look like a face but why let it so uncertain and unfinished? Maybe they stopped for 3 seconds and someone did it very rapidly.

I doubt this is someone testing their marker, tough. The angle is too precise. Very intriguing.

I remember the case of the Inuit throat singing, and how these people didn't understand that the
ethnomusicologists would consider them music, as for them this was a game, kind of like playing tic-tac-toe.

But with times, now some inuits give concerts of throat singing because they have realized how it can be potentially be received as art.

So art is really an equation between intents of both maker and viewer, but that is strongly malleable and inter-influenceable.

Function of an object or drawing doesn't mean that it must be deprived of artistic merit.

"Art" as such wasn't a concept that arrived until much later.

Though the concept of decoration was slowly developing, at these prehistorical times everything had a function. If you conceive art as a game, or as a requirement to religious devotion, or a necessary element to a ritual, than your art is filled with a function that supercedes on personal expression.

So I'm not as much interested as to learn the ambivalences wrether that longface was art or design, but mostly I am intrigued by its function.


Cedric Caspesyan

6/08/2006 07:10:00 PM  
Blogger George said...

There is a complete found face in the rocks, clear as a bell. So possibly, the black marks could be like a sign, "lookie here, there's a spirit in the rocks"

Just like the man in the moon photographs but this would probably have more of a magical affect.

6/08/2006 07:58:00 PM  
Blogger rb said...

i think you're right george
it's the rock spirit of sorrow

6/08/2006 10:34:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

Looks to me like a hockey stick. Was this done during the Ice Age?

6/09/2006 03:20:00 AM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

Oh David, you just cracked me up, lovely.

and Edward, I agree that was a totally boring article. It made me miss the wonderful writing of Carl Sagan, Marvin Haris and Stephen Jay Gould.

I sort of see a face, but I also don't feel too worried about whether its a face or not. I think Cedric(?) made the excellent point that "modernists" were looking at ancient art and art from other cultures and economies for inspiration.

I reject the notion that representing "reality" by realism or renaissance is progress.

I also thought the article showed the typical misunderstanding of life before farming. For thousands and thousands of years we enjoyed a life style where in FACT we did have all the time in the world to invent or practice rituals and write stories and make art. Totalitarian agriculture is well known to have robbed us of many hours of leisure that primates enjoyed before farming. We can still see evidence when we look to our neighbours who live by hunting and gathering today. They enjoy a vastly richer quality of life than we do.

Not only are cave paintigns and pottery art sophisitcated renderings of life, Beowulf, Rig Veda are ancient stories that still resonate with us today although they are 40,000-60,000 years old! Preliterate societies also were aware of precession and carefully detailed astronomical events.

Most of us will have to look at a claendar to find the date or a dictionary to find out what precession even means.

As much as Renaissance painting is is also the images of art struggling with being separated from everyday existence. Realism in art ight someday be seen as our weakest insensitive point in storytelling...

it might be a face...but then I am always hallucinating I see no difference between the material world and the is wise to shake off our grids and programming that the agricultural apocalypse has blinded us from seeing...

6/09/2006 01:33:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

romantic guess work. You're sentimentalizing and mystifying what must have been a difficult life, otherwise why struggle to change?

If you look behind the sources you are refering to you will find very nearly zero actual evidence. This is the work of academics with an agenda and no desire to understand how things really went down.

There is a very similar story in the Bible. How the desire to know lead to the downfall of humankind. The author of that story is the real oppressor here.

Oh, if bush-life is so glorious, what are you doing in the city? Could it be that you actually enjoy the life provided by those horrible rationalists who invented perspective, among other things.

The history of humans is the stuggle to overcome religion and its oppression and find a footing in the real world. That story is still ongoing and your little fable about life before science is a minor backslide.

The calendar was figured out by farmers, who else would have needed to know?

6/09/2006 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Lisa Hunter said...

Oh, look! There's a signature in the lower left corner. It's signed...Rorschach.

6/09/2006 04:35:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...


Must be his student work :)

6/09/2006 05:07:00 PM  
Anonymous Priit said...

candy -- Of course, with no formal educational systems, they had to solve all problems themselves. And that includes not only survival in nutritional terms but religion, philosophy, and art.
How and why did the "hunter-gatherer" paradigm took so much ground in history textbooks? Why do we have to take it for granted that the main concern of the cave man was his daily food, or wild beasts threating him? 'Hunter-gatherer-artist' appears a be a much richer and balanced concept.

6/10/2006 02:02:00 AM  
Anonymous Cedric Caspesyan said...

The point to question, Priit, is:

Did the cavemen invent art?

Or did we invent art and now call art what the cavemen did?

If the cavemen had no notions of art (what is generally acknowledged), than how did themselves perceive what they have made? What was their function?

Communication? Teaching?
Magic? Memory? Map? Decor?


In archeology there is a danger to impose your own value on your findings and I think that is what mr. edward here wanted to point out.


Cedric Caspesyan

6/10/2006 04:20:00 PM  
Anonymous h lowe said...

It is Kurt Gödel's constructible universe as seen from above
(head hanging over.)

6/10/2006 08:15:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

heh heh Tim, I have no argument with your idea of religion should be overthrown...I am not a religious person myself.

You said...If you look behind the sources you are refering to you will find very nearly zero actual evidence. This is the work of academics with an agenda and no desire to understand how things really went down.

Well, we don't have to look far to witness "evidence" right now there are hundreds of hunters and gatherers still making a living today. We don't have to guess or romanticise.

I don't recall mentioning a calendar. I looked and couldn't see where I said anything about a calendar...and so you maybe correct that farmers developed calendars.

Birds and turtles navigate by the stars, its' not that weird that before farming we recorded and memorized stars and astronomy. we just practiced science in a different manner. It's not romantic.

Why do I live in the city? I believe it is out of respect for wilderness. And by wilderness, I don't mean countryside...which is just a cousin to farmers and cities. I think we can't escape our slavery to farming right now because it is the most efficent way to feed our populations around the world. But the best way to make a living no?

I don't call farming a progress. There is a motive and a benefit for farming lifestyle...for the very few, and the ones that hoard the food.

I completely agree with you Tim that the author of the story of the Bible is an oppresor. The story of genesis is the story of farming...even the Jesus last supper anecdote supports farming, take bread and water two major agricultural products.

I live ina city so that hunteres and gatherers have more room. I think Native Americans and aboriginals should have their land back and protected. I think our future survival depends on diversity...not the one dominant economy right now in the world...which is totalitarian agriculture practiced in countries commonly-Middle East, India, China, Europe North America. There is no difference between those countries culture. They all make economy the same. Based on agriculture.

I do find perspective and much of the Renaissance very charming, especially when the work alludes to pagan and ancient content which of course, so much of it does. But is it realistic, ha ha oh god no. As realistic as abstract...depends on what one defines as reality I guess.

I find your perspective fascinating and interesting thank you for sharing with me. I guess we shall agree to disagree, and I am sorry if my experience offends you.


6/11/2006 03:55:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

Wow, thanks for the balanced response to my snarky comments. I happened to look just as you posted it.

I have some buttons . . .

"Most of us will have to look at a claendar to find the date or a dictionary to find out what precession even means."

there is your reference to calendars.

I think your comment that bush-people have a richer quality of life is unsupportable. Why must one side be paradise and the other not. My life is great, and difficult.

6/11/2006 04:07:00 PM  
Anonymous David said...

the author of the story of the Bible is an oppressor. The story of genesis is the story of farming...

Actually, I think it starts out pretty well with "let there be light." But it's all downhill from there.

6/11/2006 11:42:00 PM  
Blogger Candy Minx said...

See Tim, I can't even read my own writing, my god I should really edit my dyslexia is a hassle ha ha.

Oh duh, sorry...I was so confused.

Um, well, measuring "quality of life" is tricky isn't it? Let me suggest I am thinking at this moment much time and effort we spend to make a living. Hunter gathers spend a couple hours a day, often not for a few days just not making a living. Whereas, farmers need to work at least 40 hours a week to pay for rent/mortgage, food clothes...and often some families have to have more than one job to accomplish this.

I think there are other ways to make a living.

I a very pleased you enjoy our system of economy and life.

I however have never really fit in...and I see disenfranchised and lonely and depressed people all around me. Not community. I think the processed food of farmers, the idea of locking up food that is actually free and hoarding it is unbecoming and inhumane, and I think the basic beginning attitude of controlling nature and food production is corrupt. I think every civilization has fallen apart in the past that has based their economy of farming. All of them either collapsed or were abandoned. Did you know the Anasazi were farmers until horses were introduced to America...they found it a better way of making a living to return to hunting.

I guess we shall see if this current civilization will work out.

I don't see the benefits. Maybe I am just a negative person. I am sure glad to hear someone likes this lifestyle, Tim. I find it stressful and depressing...whats next after charging money for food thats free? Charging money for water?

By the way, I checked out your art work I believe it was yours and very nice.

David, very funny you made me laugh and spit my coffee. Thanks!


6/12/2006 11:56:00 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Somebody once pointed out to me that the 'first people' could pick up gold nuggets from the ground, that was soon depleted so they started to dig and pan for it. I have a feeling this is what you are talking about. Maybe paradise could only exist for two people. Once they had children they had to get to work. The rest is history, as they say.

Thanks for the compliments.

6/12/2006 01:47:00 PM  

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