“Art Never Improves”

Posted: January 21, 2019 in Uncategorized

Cave Paintings
Southern France
(circ. 11,000 to 17,000 BCE)

Originally termed L’âge du renne (the Age of the Reindeer) by Édouard Lartet and Henry Christy, the first systematic excavators of the type site, in their publication of 1875, the Magdalenian is synonymous in many people’s minds with reindeer hunters, although Magdalenian sites also contain extensive evidence for the hunting of red deer, horses, and other large mammals present in Europe toward the end of the last ice age. The culture was geographically widespread, and later Magdalenian sites have been found from Portugal in the west to Poland in the east. It is the third epoch of Gabriel de Mortillet’s cave chronology system, corresponding roughly to the Late Pleistocene.

  1. wakingligeia says:

    I looked through a few of these albums and I found that this process made it much easier to understand Elliot’s viewpoint. Considering these ancient people had little more than berries and charcoal, their work is truly gorgeous. I couldn’t recreate something that realistic even using the materials I have access to today. I can’t help but imagine what these artists would craft if they had access to today’s mediums. Anyway, just wanted to mention that enjoying this art has made it WAY easier to digest and agree with Elliot’s arguments. The human mind never changes, and never will as long as we stay human.

    • I’m not sure who are, but I appreciate your attention to this post. I’m certainly glad the images helped clarify some of Eliot’s thoughts.

      To be clear, these are not examples of ancient but prehistoric art. ‘Ancient’ refers to literate societies which have settled into city-states and live in accordance with established laws and public institutions. Prehistoric societies have none of those characteristics. Still, they were human societies, and the persons in them were subject to aesthetic feelings and capable of expressing them in refined ways.

      I don’t know what we gain by asking what these persons would have produced under our condition. Because if the had lived under our conditions they would have been us and not themselves. In saying this, I begin to encroach on territory covered in Clement Greenberg’s essays, in particular his thoughts on ‘historical criticism’. I’ve made those essays available, though I haven’t formally assigned them yet. I hope to offer an introduction to them in class today.

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