Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Cave Art Masterpieces

What makes something a masterpiece? Is it the mystique involved with the art and the artist? Is it technique and finesse of execution or is it the ability to fascinate the observer? In my take, the so called masterpieces are arts that somehow touches the human soul and can engage human curiosity through ages! Monalisa by daVinci, the Sistine Chapel frescoes by Michelangelo, the Sunflowers by Vangogh, all has that same quality. They fascinates the viewer. The story behind the artwork and the artists who created them adds to the endurance of these pieces. If that is the case then I think some of the cave arts  should be called masterpieces as well. Some of the drawings discovered in the dark crevices at Chauvet, France, are nothing short of amazing pieces of artworks!
 I am not a anthropologist or a paleontologist, an archeologist or even a  an expert on cave arts! I am an artist who understands good art when I see one. And the amazing drawings at  Chauvet are some of the best drawings I have seen. I am not going to venture into the discussion why they were made! Were they shamanic or graffiti by teenage boys (they found adolescent foot prints in front of some of the drawings) or done by bored cave housewives! I doubt if all the scholars writing academic papers have any clear ideas themselves. They conjunct but there are always detractors who propose an alternative theory!

Horses, Chauvet Cave, France

Chauvet Cave Drawings, France

Rhinos, Chauvet Cave, France

Rhino, Chauvet Cave, France

 When Picasso saw the cave drawings in Lascaux, he exclaimed,“They’ve invented everything.” I feel the same way when I looked at the amazing Chauvet  drawings. Since they don't let people in the caves, my seeing them first hand doesn't seem likely but even the reproductions seem to writhe with life. If we look at the rendition of the horses, they were done with exquisite strokes, with sure hands! They have used shading as well as the lines with varying degrees of thickness to indicate volume......The way they have overlapped the figures of the horses or the rhinos and bisons, seem to show them in motion.I find them almost like animations The sense of motion is so palpable. If we listened carefully we can almost hear the thundering of the hooves! How many times in the life drawing classes we had to adjust the limbs of the model when they shifted position? Some of the drawings at Chauvet seems to be doing just that. The overlapping figures of the canine figures seem to indicate they were trying to capture their movement. It might be that these are symbolic paintings but the way they are rendered makes me think, whoever was in charge of making these drawings over the thousands of years, actually enjoyed doing them. They observed and took pains to draw the animals with precision! Heck, some of these drawings are better than many of my student drawings! I am just frustrated that I won't be able to see them first hand! Maybe when they find a system to control the climate down there, they might allow spectators in! Until then lets enjoy this simulated visit to the shrines of the oldest painters:

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