The mystery of the Lascaux puzzle. In all likelihood the real meaning of the paintings in the French cave will never be totally clear until we know who they were actually done for. Who was the patron? There has been much learned, but our knowledge is still as dark and murky as the cave itself…
To be sure, the painters of the cave wanted the pictures to have a certain magical, religious or philosophical utility: make game for plentiful, make hunting more accurate, perhaps to render the entire universe more fecund and kindly disposed toward his people. But to suppose that this hoped for utility was his only reason for painting is to fly against what we know about the history of art and about human nature.
That the Lascaux artist had the itch is a very visible fact. He was an accomplished colorist, capable at his best of obtaining an astonishing range of effects from his limited palette of mineral red, yellow, brown, black, and violet. Sometimes he used a stippling technique, with widely spaced dots and flecks, and sometimes an impressionistic dabbling touch, but his favorite method was to apply the color, including a velvet black, to large areas as a flat wash and then let it vibrate with the irregular surface of the wall, or shade off delicately into the clotted, shimmering paleness of the surrounding limestone.
The painter’s skill as an optical naturalist scarcely calls for comment. It is easy to be struck by the charming, if rather precious and mannered vivacity of the small-headed, full bodies horses and cows,and by the vigorous presence of the great white bulls. The conceptualism, on the other hand, seems a bit pointless and crude, that if it were not so evidently deliberate, it could be dismissed as bungling. It consists in such tricks as the placing of an ear almost anywhere and the use of twisted perspective for horns, heads and hoofs. An analogy with the practice of the pioneer cubists, who also fragmented reality and drew what they knew rather than what they saw, does not really hold up, for they did not really distribute their “concepts” haphazardly but in perceptible patterns.
The abstractionism goes further than the rectangles, dots and dashes. It is apparent in the way the wall space is appropriated and animated, in bits of what seems to be nothing but inspired doodling, in the counterpoint of S-curved backs and sagging bellies, and in such details as the elaboration of antlers of the small deer. The artist clearly enjoyed the graphic results of simply letting his hand swoop and his arm sweep.
One of the most analyzed images from the cave is that of the stick figure of a human, but a human with a “bird” head. Beside this image is a totem-like stick with a bird atop it.This type of symbolic and repeated bird imagery is recurrent among shamanistic themes; shamans are known as frequent flyers when inhabiting an altered states of consciousness .This is one of those paintings where it is almost impossible to decipher whether the figure participating is dancing, fighting or in some ritualistic relationship. What is clear is that the overall meaning goes beyond the explanation of hunting, magic and tallying of the kill. It also defies the known contexts of ethnological analogy. Although research has plausibly, even convincingly demonstrated the connection of the cave paintings with astrology and the “dead man” painting with sacred geometry, we still do not entirely comprehend what game is actually being enacted and that the ground rules for understanding it have yet to be fully deciphered.
The paintings in the cave at Lascaux have been deemed a miracle, but their meaning remains an enigma. In general, art historians have concentrated on documenting the caves, taking measurements and tracings, and they have only put forth tentative hypotheses about the meanings of the paintings. There are essentially four categories of interpretation. First, animism, where all things are filled with an immaterial force animating the universe. The portraits are of animal spirits, the painters repainting in order to renew their power over them. This helps explain the many superimposed figures. Second, the magic of the hunt,
This helps explain certain obscure markings, possibly spears and arrows drawn on the figures or actual holes dug into the compositions, which indicate the animal has been killed or wounded. Third, the cult of beauty or pure decoration, where the artists painted for the pleasure and fascination of representing creatures that were a part of their lives. This helps explain the high degree of competency in their drawing, their understanding of animal anatomy, and their incorporation of natural accidents in the rocks as part of the paintings.
The fourth conjecture is the language of sexuality, where the paintings are interpreted in the context of a fertility cult, the bison with a female valence, the horses with a male valence. The prehistorian André Leroi-Gourhan hazards this idea. In The Time Falling Bodies Take to Light, William Irwin Thompson couples Leroi-Gourhan’s idea with the idea of Alexander Marshack, that the animal figures are expressions of time-factoring patterns, to suggest the possibility of a complex cosmology in which the animals are the early forms of the zodiac. Read More:http://www.physikgarden.com/glasshouse/RD/rd01.html