Hunting, gathering, and defense, not art, were necessities of survival in the Stone Age. How, then, do we account for the complex paintings found in caves? Painted images may have been a form of religion, attempting to harness the world. Communal living would permit diverse responsibilities. Those who worked outside the caves, supporting the painters, could be considered the first art patrons.
Ancient, but not primitive, artists used realistic physical proportions and beautiful gestures. Decorative details in clothing, headdresses, and jewelry were included. Forms of limbs and torsos acknowledged underlying muscles and bones.
These examples are from among thousands of cave paintings in the Brandberg, a granite mountain in Namibia.Though originally attributed to travelers from Egypt or Crete by French researcher Abbe Breuil, a later rock art specialist, Harald Page, maintained that the artist was African.
The paintings in this region are between 800 and 3,000 years old. Clothing was decorative, more than merely functional. Feathered, decorative strips were worn at the biceps, wrists, waist and knees. Some figures appears to be wearing mocassins and complicated headgear. Carrying bows and arrows, these are well-dressed hunters.
These beautiful examples from Algeria may be thousands of years old. Body shapes and gestures are quite sophisticated. Again we see body decoration, whether painted directly on the skin or added in accessories. These ancient narratives show us daily life.
The human body is wonderfully made and complicated beyond our comprehension. Painting the human being is the most challenging subject of artwork. Everyone can recognize if the proportions are incorrect, and each person has many nuances to their character, which can be communicated in a drawing or painting. This challenge captivates me, and I don’t find as much joy in other subjects.
Making art has been important since we lived in caves. We still attempt to harness the world, to insure our survival, but the human heart desires more than mere physical survival. We need the dreams and flights of imagination, which art encourages.