1: Primitive Art; Ancient America (Paleolithic Age)- Neolithic Art- History of Art
Paleo implies “stone” and Lithic denotes “age” hence Paleolithic meaning Stone Age, i.e the period in ancient human history characterized by the development of stone tools. The oldest paintings to have existed are authentication of human skill that archaeologists failed to acknowledge when they first discovered lifelike representations of animals belonging to the Stone Age. An example is the Altamira cave paintings in Spain.
We cannot hope to understand these strange beginnings of art unless we try to enter into the mind of the primitive peoples and find out what kind of experience it is which makes them think of pictures, not as something nice to look at, but as something powerful to use. I do not think it is really so difficult to recapture this feeling. All that is needed is the will to be absolutely honest with ourselves and see whether we, too, do not retain something of the ‘primitive’ in us. Instead of beginning with the Ice Age, let us begin with ourselves. Suppose we take a picture of our favourite champion from today’s paper-would we enjoy taking a needle and poking out the eyes? Would we feel as indifferent about it as if we poked a hole anywhere else in the paper? I do not think so.
However well I know with my waking thoughts that what I do to his picture makes no difference to my friend or hero, I still feel a vague reluctance to harm it. Somewhere there remains the absurd feeling that what one does to the picture is done to the person it represents. Now, if I am right there, if this queer and unreasonable idea really survives, even among us, into the age of atomic power, it is perhaps less surprising that such ideas existed almost everywhere among the so-called primitive peoples.
Upon further discovery of stone-age tools list made out of stones and bones, it was reaffirmed that images of bison and other animals on the cave walls perhaps attacked by the creators themselves who believed that the act would bring them a good fortune to capture their prey eventually. This seems quite logical due to the fact that even today, there are tribes who have preserved their ancient customs such as festivals in which they dress up as animals and dance. Similarly, the Romans believed that Romulus and Remus had been brought up by a she-wolf, and till the present day, they have a bronze she-wolf on the sacred capital in Rome.
Paleolithic Art comprised of small sculptures, and monumental paintings engraved designs and reliefs on cave walls. Such works were produced throughout the Mediterranean region and other scattered parts of Europe, Asia, and Africa but survived in quantity only in eastern Europe and parts of Spain and France.
Small, portable clay figurines and bone and ivory carvings were typical of this period. The works include simple but realistic stone and clay animal figurines, as well as carved stone statuettes of women, the most iconic piece being the “Venus of Willendorf” that’s a raw portrait, an idealization of the female figure with exaggerated features such as her Vulva, breasts and the belly, all these depicting fertility.
Neolithic age marks the climax of the stone age that commenced around 10,000 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent, a region of the Middle East where humans first took up farming. This period is frequently linked with agriculture and is familiar with the name Neolithic Revolution which is the time when food cultivation and animal domestication was introduced. It was characterized by stone tools shaped by polishing or grinding, thus the use of metal tools became widespread along with crafts such as Pottery and weaving that were emerging.
Approaching the end of the Neolithic Era, people began to use tools made from metal. Copper was the first metal used for tools. Eventually copper replaced the stone, leading to the Copper Age. Innovations in stone tool fabrication became widespread and embraced by various groups in distant locations, which is evidence for the existence of vital networks of exchange and cultural interaction.
Instead of small family groups of the Old Stone Age, evidence substantiates that the people of the Neolithic period settled in large city complexes. Catal Hoyuk in modern-day Turkey is an ideal example of a Neolithic city. In Neolithic cities, people lived close together and extended cooperation with one another. This led to civilization, which actually means “to live in a city.”
Neolithic art was primarily created for some functional purpose ignoring exceptions. There were more images of humans than animals, and the humans looked more identifiably human. It began to be used for ornamentation.
The sculpture was no longer produced by carving. In the Near East, figurines were made of clay and baked. Evidence of it is the Archaeological digs at Jericho that turned up a marvellous human skull (c. 7,000 BC) overlaid with delicate, sculpted plaster features.
In the cases of architecture and megalithic constructions, art was now created in fixed locations. This was significant. Where temples, sanctuaries and stone rings were built, gods and goddesses were provided with known destinations. Additionally, the emergence of tombs provided unmoving resting places for the dearly departed that could be visited—another first.
When discussing the Neolithic era and the Art and Architecture associated with it, we’re often reminded of the Stonehenge, the iconic image of this early era. Dating to approximately 3000 B.C.E. in England, it is a massive structure, a gigantic monument and more complex than anything built before it in Europe. Stonehenge is an example of the cultural diversity and progression brought about by the Neolithic revolution—the most important development in human history.
Primitive Art bases upon such preconceived notions and gives the artist ample space to bring out creativity. Also when discussing it, the word primitive does not imply to the knowledge the creator has of his craft. Tribes settled in far off areas even today have an astounding set of skills when it comes to what they produce be it carving, basketwork, weaving, etc. However despite the fact that what they produce requires competence and time, still we cannot call it Art as it’s devoid of critical thought and reasoning.
Without explanation, we could never read and understand the meanings and connotations attached to such intricate carvings and value the amount of effort put in. The mask below is a ritual mask from Alaska which on first sight appears to be humorous or comical but it actually depicts a cannibalistic mountain demon with a blood-stained face.
It is worthy of appreciation of how natural/organic shapes take the form of a continuous pattern. There are numerous such marvellous works of this type that have probably lost their intended meaning forever but are still worthy of admiration.
Also, such works shouldn’t be approached with preconceived notions that they were made for the sake of pleasure-seeking or decoration but could also prompt us of the horrendous sacrifices made by the people of that time. An example is the horrid carving of a death head from an altar of the ruins of Copan in present-day Honduras, probably dating back to 504 AD.
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