At Lascaux

“The appearance of art,” he told us, some dutifully recording the lecture while others caught flies with their slack-jawed mouths, “is how we mark the existence of the first Homo sapiens–the oldest evidence being the cave paintings at Lascaux in France.”

Here was art creeping in on an anthropology course about human evolution.  As my father’s daughter, I delighted in its diffusion out of its academic canon.  It refuses to be held back, like the intentional scribbles of my childhood that defied a coloring book’s lines or like Picasso breaking from his time’s artistic conventions.

The professor clicked to the next slide, to show us an example:

Photograph by Sisse Brimberg for National Geographic

Photograph by Sisse Brimberg for National Geographic

“They say that when they light the cave with candles, the flickering makes the layered animals look like they are moving.”

“Intentional, obviously.  The earliest art was supposed to be a ‘video.’  A prehistoric Pixar,” I mused.

* * * * *

The next semester, I managed to get a huge bruise on my thigh.  It lasted for weeks.  One day I noticed that the bruise had a peculiar shape, the way one does while absentmindedly gazing skyward only to find an elephant-cloud.  It was not just a bruise, but a bull from the cave at Lascaux gracing my leg.   A 17,000 year-old image was set in motion again, not by candle light, but by my every step.

The artists at Lascaux–the first artists–intended their work to be seen in eternal motion, but archeologists have arrested their work with the installation of floodlights to aid contemporary study.  The only thing that said archeologists, or anyone for that matter, cannot force into stillness, however, is human kind.  We keep walking toward our evolutionary horizons, whether they be artistic, cultural, or biological–diffusing outward and refusing to hold back.  We are not the first artists from 17,000 years ago, though we still inhabit a likeness of their forms, whether they be bruise-bulls galloping across our legs or our classification as fellow Homo sapiens.

 

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