Our Ancestors Continue to Speak to Us Through Cave Paintings

David Lewis-Williams, a noted anthropologist who has studied cave paintings in Western Europe and South Africa, has written extensively on the visual record left behind by our ancestors.  Of particular interest is the reason behind the images and what are these ancient peoples telling us from 30,000+ years ago?  One reviewer of Lewis-Williams ideas related to cave painting stated:

“Did our remotest ancestors really distinguish between natural and supernatural realms? Or did they regard the significant agencies that controlled nature as part of nature, and such that they could be encountered and communicated with, just like any other part of nature?

Lewis-Williams thinks that cave walls were viewed as the sacred interface between human beings and chthonic forces. Can we really know? Perhaps he can appeal to the continuity of brain structure and function to suggest that religious experience is likewise continuous. However, he is careful enough to talk often of “maybe” and “perhaps”; and to an amateur being offered the explanation, it is the tentativeness that sounds most persuasive.”

What are your initial thoughts on the cave painters and the works they left behind as they adorned the walls of caves?  As we turn our attention now to the chronological history of mankind through their art, what values or beliefs do you bring to this inquiry?

Paintings in the Altamira Cave, Spain

Bison, Alta Mira Cave Painting, Spain


Photography as an Art Medium

Photography is a by-product of the Industrial Age and the Age of the Machine.  There is no disputing the advances that have been made in photography from early camera obscuras, to daguerrotypes, to film and now to digital.  But, with all the technical advances, has photography risen to be an Art form or medium?  Eugene Delacroix, the talented and influential 19th century French painter, criticized photography in the following 1859 Journal entry:  “When a photographer takes a view, all you ever see is a part cut off from a whole:  the edge of the picture is as interesting as the centre; all you can do is to suppose an ensemble, of which you see only a portion, apparently chosen by chance.”   On the other hand, Edward Weston, a well known and respected 20th century photographer, wrote in his diary (1926) the following:  “The camera sees more than the eye, so why not make use of it.”  David Hockney, a respected late 20th century British artist, doesn’t believe photography has truly defined itself yet.  In 1976 Hockney declared:  “I think that photography has let us down in that it’s not what we thought it was.  It is something good but it’s not the answer, it’s not a totally acceptable way of making pictures…I’m not even sure how emotionally powerful a photograph can be.  Take a photograph of a woman and a child crying…Obviously suffering occurs.  But you’re aware that the photographer is standing in front of them; you feel that, instead of taking the photograph, he should be helping.  After all, a man can paint a picture later; he could have helped and then painted the picture.”  Below are three famous photographs taken in the 20th century during war (WWII and Vietnam).  What are your thoughts on photography as an Art medium?  Do you believe that photography is on the same aesthetic level of value and importance as a medium of Art as has been the case with painting, sculpture, drawing, printmaking, performance art or ceramics?

Joe Rosenthal, Raising the American Flag on Iwo Jima (photograph)

Eddie Adams, From the Vietnam War Suite of Photographs

Nick Ut, an Associated Presss Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer

The Art of Printmaking

This week we will turn our attention to the art process known as printmaking.  Learning Module #5 introduces you to a number of different printmaking techniques or processes.  As you look that material over and examine the images within the context of the PowerPoint file and the reading focusing on printmaking, think about the following statement written by Vincent van Gogh and let me know what you think of printmaking as an art medium.

“The act of printing has always seemed to me a miracle, just such a miracle as the growing up of a tiny seed of grain to an ear – an everyday miracle, even the greater because it happens everyday. One drawing is sown on the stone or the etching plate, and a harvest is reaped from it.”

Tamarind Institute Master Printers Brooke Steiger and Aaron Shipps

Developing Visual Literacy: Painting

Simonides, a 5th century B C poet, quoted by Plutarch in his 1st century A D publication De Gloria Atenesium, made the following observation:  “Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting with the gift of speech.”  What are your thoughts of Simonides’ notion of the art of painting?

Winslow Homer, The Artist Sketching

What is ART?

Over the centuries many learned men and women have tried to “define Art” but their efforts have fallen way short of the mark.  This week we are going to cast our collective gaze toward an understanding of what ART is and is not.  I ask you to consider the following statement on the presence of artistic genius by the English author William Blake:  “If art was progressive we should have had Michelangelos and Raphaels to succeed and improve upon each other.  But it is not so.  Genius dies with its possessor and comes not again till another is born with it.” (Annotations to Sir Joshua Reynold’s Discourses, c. 1808).  Your thoughts?

Should an artist master description or the spiritual in a work of art?

For generations of time, there has been a sustained argument among artists (and art patrons!) between those who support the Law of Description over the Law of the Spiritual in art making.  This battle over aesthetic issues accepts no cultural or political boundaries.  The 10th century Chinese aesthetician, Ching Hao, wrote:  “Resemblance reproduces the formal aspects of objects but neglects their spirit.  Truth shows the spirit and substance in like perfection.”  Should an artist faithfully copy nature and offer us a mirror reflection or should the artist delve into the mysterious and spiritual as the foundation for art making?  Where are your sensibilities and preferences on this fundamental issue?

Jackson Pollock and his “unique process” of applying pigment onto the canvas

Art 160: Appreciation of Art

Hello and Welcome to Art 160:  Appreciation of Art.  During the Fall 2011 semester, we will examine a wide variety of expressions offered by visual artists throughout the history of mankind.  To begin our investigation, I  offer the following quote by the 19th century British art critic John Ruskin:  ”Great nations ‘write their autobiographies in three manuscripts – the book of their deeds, the book of their words and the book of their art. Not one of these books can be understood unless we read the two others; but of the three the only quite trustworthy one is the last. The acts of a nation may be triumphant by its good fortune; and its words mighty by the genius of a few of its children; but its art only by the general gifts and common sympathies of the race.”   What are your thoughts on Ruskin’s declaration?  And what do you want your artists to be?

The Rothko Chapel, Houston, Texas (Architecture design by Philip Johnson, paintings by Mark Rothko)