The Cave Painters is a vivid introduction to the spectacular cave paintings of France and Spain--the individuals who rediscovered them, theories about their origins, their splendor and mystery. Gregory Curtis makes us see the astonishing sophistication and power of the paintings and tells us what is known about their creators, the Cro-Magnon people of some 40,000 years ago. He takes us through various theories--that the art was part of fertility or hunting rituals, or used for religious purposes, or was clan mythology--examining the ways interpretations have changed over time. Rich in detail, personalities, and history, The Cave Painters is above all permeated with awe for those distant humans who developed--perhaps for the first time--both the ability for abstract thought and a profound and beautiful way to express it.
Yesterday (Saturday, Oct. 31) I finished a book by Gregory Curtis, that I enjoyed very much and highly recommend, The Cave Painters: Probing the Mysteries of the World's First Artists.
Five stars, without a doubt, for the author's ability to balance academic/scientific conflict and at the same time include all, or most, of the various viewpoints and theories surrounding the cave paintings and the scope of their impact on the worlds of Art and Pre-History. He engenders, as well, a sense of anticipation (while reading the text chapter by chapter) that brings to the discoveries of the caves and the art within them a sense of both magic and mystery.
Like Non-fiction, Art, History, mild adventure and suspense? The plates of the art are good and deserve contemplation on thier own.Then consider reading this wonderful book.
There are lots of topics that I think sound interesting, but the books I pick up about them aren't always as interesting as their subjects. This one isn't like that. The author, as near as I can tell, is not an archaeologist so he did not fall into the trap of trying to explain every technical detail that a scientist would have spent years learning and understanding. Instead, he simply tells the reader what he learned when he talked to the archaeologists who study these caves. So, the different theories about why the paintings were made and what they mean are presented in clear, non-technical language. Even though most of the caves are not open to the public, he was able to gain access to many of them and describes what he saw in terms of awe and wonderment, not clinical analysis. I wish we could all see the paintings for ourselves - they sound amazing. He also talks quite a lot about the different people who studied the caves and formulated theories about the people who lived and worked there in the far distant past. He even includes some of the "juicy" details about the academic squabbles between the experts. I always get a cheap thrill from accounts of smart people behaving badly - so this pleased me. ;-) There are lots of photos - many in color.
Even in the least interesting of the caves, the walls are covered with paintings and etchings of horses, bison, lions, bears, mammoth - all the big animals found in Europe during the Ice Age. And nobody knows why they're there. The animals depicted aren't the ones that the people hunted, and there's relatively little depiction of violence or scenes that appear to be a hunt. Human figures are rare and rather crudely done - except that many caves include outlines of human hands. And how did they figure out how to make images on the rock walls that are artistically mature, even to the point of using perspective, that still speak to us today?
The Cave Painters doesn't have any answers. But it does give us a history of the ideas put forward by those spending their lives studying these works. Curtis really makes the caves and the researchers come alive, and doesn't dismiss any of the important people in the field, even when their ideas fall out of favor with later researchers. His sympathetic approach makes the book for me.
Max Raphael: [paraphrased] “The paintings are the evidence of the moment when people began to conceive of themselves as different from animals: The very moment when we became human.” Stated elsewhere: “The moment when people started dominating animals and stopped being dominated by them.”
The paintings were produced for so many thousands of years that the artistic skills had to have been taught, generation to generation.