The Magic pictures Of the cavemen
In the old stone Age, some 20,000 year ago, when the first pictures we know of were made, people lived in caves, and their biggest worry was how to find enough to eat. They had not yet learned how to keep cattle, and they did not know about farming, so they depended mainly on hunting for their food supply. When the hunting had not been good they had to go hungry. There were, of course, all sorts of birds and fish and small animals they could catch, but these were not enough to live on, so they always hoped to kill something big, like a deer or a buffalo, which would yield enough meat to last them for some time. They wanted very badly to kill these animals, but they were afraid of them, too, for they only had the simplest of weapons as yet. In fact, they knew nothing about metal, so that whatever tools they had were made of wood, bone or stone. And they had to hunt on foot because they had not yet learned how to ride horses.
No wonder , then, that the cavemen’s minds were always full of the idea of hunting large animals for food, and of how dangerous this was. And because they thought so much about these things, it is not surprising to find that almost all of their painting s are of these animals, which always look very powerful and lifelike.
How did the cavemen learn to make such skillful pictures ? We don’t really know for sure. But since the pictures are done on the sides of caves, which are rough and bumpy, it is possible that the idea of making pictures came from these bumps, just as the ink blot suggest ideas to us. Some hungry caveman, staring at the wall of his cave, might have imagined that a particular bump looked like an animal and perhaps drew an outline around it with a burned stick from the fire. He could then complete the picture by filling in the parts that were not there, and finally he learned how to make such a drawing all by himself, without the help of the bump on the wall of the cave.
Figure 2 is a modern copy after a cave painting . Figure 3 shows you a cave wall as it really looks, and you will notice that the animals are all scrambled together, without any kind of order. Once you get them sorted out, you can recognize each one easily. Why, them, did the cavemen spoil their pictures by doing one on top of another? It is because they did not want them for decorations. Even if the pictures were not such a jumble, we could tell this from the fact that all the caves that have pictures in them are very dark and difficult to get into.
If the cavemen artists had done their animal painting s merely for pleasure, they would have put them near the entrance of the cave, where everybody could look at them. As it is, they are so well hidden that they have been discovered only recently and by chance. The cave in figure 3 was in fact, found in 1940 by some boys who had gone out hiking with their dog. Suddenly the dog was gone, and in looking for him they found the hole, overgrown with brambles and weeds, through which he had fallen into the cave.
But what were the pictures for, then? They must have been a kind of hunting magic, because some of the animals have spears or arrows sticking in to them. The cavemen must have thought that if they made a painting that looked real, and then ‘killed’ it, it was almost like killing the animal itself. Perhaps they threw stones or jabbed the picture with their spears, too. This made them feel stronger and surer, so that when they finally went out to hunt their prey, they had a better chance of success because they were no longer afraid. Once they had ‘killed’ the picture, they did not care about it any more. One cannot kill a real animal twice, and so they felt that one cannot kill a painted animal twice, either. The next time they got ready to hunt, they had to make a new picture to ‘kill’ first.
It is remarkable that the cavemen took so much trouble with their animal painting s. After all, they were going to use them only once. Perhaps they felt that the magic would work best if the animal looked as much like the real thing as possible. And they were probably right, since they used the pictures as targets, to learn exactly where to hit the animal in order to bring it down.
In any case, it took a good deal of skill to make such convincing pictures . There must have been some cavemen who were better at this than the rest—who had special talent for art. After a while they were probably allowed to stay at home and practice making pictures , while the other had to go out hunting. Even 20,000 years ago, then, the painter was a special kind of person, although we mingh say that he was mainly supposed to be a magician.
Today we no longer believe in that kind of magic. We know better than to get mixed up between living thing and the pictures of these things, But even now our feelings sometimes get confused, no matter what our reason tells us. For instance, it still happens that after a sudden quarrel people will tear up the photograph of someone they used to love; they know well enough that they cannot actually hurt anybody by doing so, yet it gives them great emotional satisfaction. We need hardly be surprised, therefore, that the men of the old Stone Age, who understood very much less than we do about the difference between thinking and feeling, could get pictures confused with real things.
Art is always as much concerned with the way people feel about things s it is with the way things really are, Usually, both knowing and feeling go to make up a picture, and so painting s are different from one another, depending on whether the artist was more interested in what he saw or knew, or in what he felt; also on how much he saw, and knew, and felt.
The Magic pictures Of the cavemen
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