Myth #4: We can reach higher worlds by physically going higher. We live in a city that prides itself on building the highest skyscrapers. Masters of the universe aim to transcend by residing in glass cubes in penthouses. We’ve spent a century sending rockets into space, and learning to fly high in the skies. Paleolithic people spent 25 millenia forging ahead with their mysticism down in the caves. The way that they painted and worked on the walls existed for four times as long as history has been recorded. To me, (and all the experts), this suggests that whatever they were doing in the caves was working for them. Imagine this: 25,000 years doing the exact same kind of art work, probably for religious reasons. Possibly, our route to transcendence won’t come from the sky, but instead right here on and inside the earth. Last night I watched the gorgeous film, Cave of Forgotten Dreams (2010), directed by Werner Herzog, who acquired access into the Chauvet caves and brings to life the paintings inside. The film examines the ancient artwork (which was originally shown in theaters in 3D), by connecting these relics with the human experience. Archeologists, scientists, and historians are transfixed with these images and the mysteries that they open up. Herzog’s awe is contagious, and by the end of the film I was haunted by the beauty of our ancestors.
The hardest part of becoming obsessed with the caves is that this is a puzzle that can never be solved. The paintings themselves are symbols of us, as humans and as organisms living on earth. Who are we? How did we get here? What is our purpose? The artwork are the questions, the clues and the answers; circling around to leave us with only more questions.
Myth #3: Paleolithic humans lived in caves. Again, I think my source of this “common knowledge” comes from The Flintstones. Early mankind did not use these dark, cavernous places for living. We know this for archeologists have been studying the bone remains found in these ancient sites. This is agreed upon unanimously. But the mystery revolves in what were humans doing in these caves then? Most of the paintings in paleolithic caves are not to be found in the outer chambers, close to the light. The artworks are found deep in the inner chambers, sometimes in places where adults need to even crawl to get through. Lit only by torches, these locations would have been only accessible with effort and purpose. But, what purpose? Last Spring, my family and I took a vacation to Ireland where we had the chance to go into Doolin Cave and examine one of the world’s largest stalactite. I commented on how in America, a 4-year-old equipped only with a wobbly hard hat would legally probably not be able to hike through a slippery dark cave to look at a 25-foot-long crystal. But off we marched, down hundreds of stairs, carefully treading on ladders and catwalks, through a maze of tunnels and damp dungeons. My son and I lagged behind, each step precarious, with his large helmet toppling to the ground a few times. I held tight to his upper arm, not trusting the metal grates and railings overlooking 10 foot drops. Eventually, we caught up with the tour and the guide called to us to make sure we were okay. He warned us that he was about to turn off the lights, and to prepare for the engulfing darkness. With an intake of breath, the flashlights flickered off— we were left in an oppressive darkness making our eyes strain. I squeezed my son’s hand tighter and I thought he may be apprehensive or as nervous as I was, but he seemed calm. Something about the cave had sedated us both- perhaps the carbon monoxide that seeped through. My hands were pools of sweat and I was afraid I’d lose my grip on my son’s arm. ”Before I had this job, I wasn’t sure if I believed in God. Now I’m sure,” the guide pronounced as he switched on the light and we turned around to see the magnificent stalactite; 25 feet of dripping, alive, crystal. The feeling I had was of realizing that aliens have landed on our planet, or rather that some secret of the universe had been revealed. Eliette Brunel, upon discovering the paintings in the caves of Chauvet, was said to have exclaimed, “They have been here!” These secrets transcends language and are understood only at the soul level. It makes sense that these dark caves were used for religious reasons, as there is something very profound in the setting.
Myth #2: Cave paintings were made by men to increase their luck hunting. One expert decided that these paintings were made by hunters only interested in feeding themselves and other practicalities of life. This interpretation was accepted for a very long time, until other interpretations came to light. The most recent “discovery” contradicting this very basic interpretation is outlined in an October 2013 issue of National Geographic. Archeologist Dean Snow used a new study on hand sizes in gender, to re-examine the handprint stencils found on these cave walls. He found that most of the prints were made by women. Is that a surprise that women would have participated in community events of Paleolithic times? The biggest surprise is that it took so long for someone to even make the suggestion. What other theories have not yet come to light?
Recently, I have become entranced with prehistoric art, and specifically the cave paintings found in Europe (although similar prehistoric artwork was found all over the world.) These artworks represent the origin of mankind, as well as the origin of art, and possibly the start of mythology, religion or naturalism. We’ll never be sure to what the exact meanings are behind the paintings, but these could be the most important works of art to date. For some reason, I never grasped the importance and I’ll try to breakdown my own ignorance here.
Myth #1: There is a predominant notion that prehistoric art is simple and crude; the earlier the artwork, the less refined the technique. How would our paleolithic ancestors have developed painting techniques, beyond the stick figure, before inventing lightbulbs or refrigerators? I always believed that hunter-gatherers were so preoccupied with their food sources that there would be no time for fine art. Of course, I gathered most of my information from growing up watching the Flintstones and had never paid too much attention to the idea of cave drawings. Recently, I’ve become fascinated with the findings at the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in southern France, discovered only in 1994. Like most mysteries, once you stumble across it, the ideas take hold and it is impossible to let go. The images that were found: naturalistic paintings of horses, bison, bears, cave lions, wooly mammoths and bears continue to dance in one’s head, reverberating deep in the ancestral heart. The humans depicted are often crudely depicted, which in contrast to the beautifully rendered animals tells us more about their values. Note: that no human conflict is ever captured on these walls.) In Judith Thurman’s fascinating 2008 article in The New Yorker about the cave, she writes how in these halls the artists invented perspective, animation, scaffolding to reach high places, stenciling, pointillism, powdered colors, brushes, stumping cloths, and blowing pigments with the mouth. The techniques are astonishing, and anything but “primitive”. These marks upon the walls are not just the origins of art, but are in fact astonishing works of art in and of themselves.
I can’t believe that it has been almost a year since my last post. Despite my passion for art and seeing copious amounts of shows with my son, I have found blogging to be a tad overwhelming to keep up with alongside my other work. I hope all of my readers have kept up with our art journey at Brooklyn Based where I write often about our gallery visits.
I’ve had to rethink what I want to accomplish with this blog and how to separate it from my other work. The question I ultimately came to, was what is my unique perspective and how best to share it with my readers? I’d love any suggestions on what you’d like to hear about, I’m all ears. I have some great brainstorms for upcoming posts, continuing my family’s art path, as well as my personal creative life learning. In the meantime, I’d like to share my week’s media (reading and podcast links).
Podcast on Heritage Radio— Lisa Congdon, author of Art, Inc— I just found out about this wonderful Inc. series by Chronicle Books which gives practical advice to start your own business in crafts, as a mom, or this one, as an artist. I’ll definitely be ordering a few of these books (Blog, Inc for one!). But today, I enjoyed listening to this podcast with the San Francisco- based artist and author of Art, Inc.
Creative Block by Danielle Krysa— This book is by one of my favorite art bloggers, Danielle Krysa aka The Jealous Curator. I found it in the Whitney bookstore, after visiting the Jeff Koons show this summer. Although I’m only a few projects in, I can already tell that this book is potentially life changing. It’s like a project based graduate school in a book, with over 50 cool projects suggested by the coolest artists. I’ll be posting more about this in the future, and will be documenting part of my own creative process. I’m just seeing that this is also published by Chronicle, so obviously I need to explore their website for more great discoveries.
Art History Course on Khan Academy- If you are a big nerd like me, you will LOVE this free course in art history at Khan Academy. I hope this is just the beginning of their curriculum, because I would love to even dive deeper. The format with some reading, and lots of videos, makes the learning fun— and very different than sitting in a dark room looking at slides (which is what my college art history experience was.)
The New York Public Library published a list of the 100 Best Children’s Books of all time. We’ve read about 1/3 of them (33 out of 100). Some of our current faves are Frog and Toad, Millions of Cats and Pink and Say.
This definitely gives us some inspiration for our library visits. At our library, we order our materials online and have them delivered to our local branch. I’m emailed when the order arrives and I can just pick them up. It’s such a wonderful system and I think without it, we wouldn’t be such avid readers! What’s your reading & book buying style?
A few weeks ago, we went to Chinatown for the day. Before we left the house, we read “The Story About Ping” by Marjorie Flack which takes place on the Yangtze River in China. This story about a duck that gets lost from his crew, set the stage for an adventure filled day. (Just a forewarning though— the book is from an time long long ago where the word “spanking” is used without a second thought. But the illustrations and story are so classic that I have to recommend it anyways.) Just like Ping, we got lost in a new neighborhood and saw all sorts of strange birds- and other delicious treats and eats! You can read all about our exploration at Brooklyn Based.
Get an extra 20% off…see how at the end of the post
One thing about visiting so many museums with my preschooler, is that he’s just at the cusp of stroller versus no stroller. For long treks, I usually opt for the stroller and let him walk when we arrive. As a born and bred New Yorker, he usually has a pretty good attitude about doing a hefty amount of walking. But it usually means, I have to go overboard in making sure that his clothes, shoes, sun protection are in tip top shape and he is well fed to prevent potential meltdowns. This week we test drove the new line of adorable shoes from Plae(see my earlier post about the brand here) and went to the most exhausting museum of all, the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This behometh monster of a museum can bring the average tourist to their knees, so I knew it would be a good test of both shoe and stamina!
My son is already enamored with the sneakers. Although they look cute in the photos, they look even hipper in real life. The best part is they come in different colors with remove-able velcro tabs (straps) that can be swapped out to match any mood. We were pleasantly surprised with how easy it is to change these tabs out. For a control obsessed toddler, this is a dream come true. On this fine summer day, my son color coordinated with his Michael Jackson shirt and away we went to check out the Ken Price sculpture retrospective at the Met.
This Frank Gehry designed exhibit (he was a BFF of the late artist), is a retrospective of Ken Price’s life’s work: mostly organically shaped ceramic sculptures that look almost other worldly in their smoothness. The glazed objects are beautiful and are basically begging to be touched by little dirty fingers. To avoid this, my son got a piggy back ride through the exhibit to prevent a disaster of epic proportions.
The key to the Met is taking frequent breaks and not looking at too much art in one day. After the beauty of Ken Price, we decided to take a snack break on the roof. Champagne for mom and dad, and water and pretzels for Lincoln, helped keep up our energy levels. Our son is currently taking hip-hop dance lessons, and he showed off some of his moves for us (and the scores of out of towner onlookers.) Before he started busking, we took a bathroom break and finished off with the modern wing at the Met. While my sandals were already starting to pinch, Lincoln seemed to be bouncing off the walls in his Plae kicks. Modern greats Giacometti, Picasso, Bacon are all represented here. It’s easy to forget that the Met even has a modern collection, but given it’s size and scope, it really does have everything under one roof. A few hours in the museum was enough for us, but surprisingly Lincoln still had energy to burn. We headed into the great lawn at Central Park and let him run loose as he zig zagged across the meadow. Eventually, he tired himself out and joined us where we lay exhausted on the ground. Even when we got home though, he refused to take off the new shoes.
P.S. The folk at Plae are extending their Back-to-School offer for readers. Through 9/2, you can get your child their own pair of these fly new sneaks for an extra 20% off just by using the code AS76 at check out.
Last week, we checked out the Prospect Park Zoo for the website, Brooklyn Based. Temperatures were running high, and we realized that it might be a good time for summer to come to a close. Check out a review of out time here. My son is really really really into animals, and we have enough Schleich animal figurines to appease Noah and his ark. All day long we make animal noises, sort what habitats animals live, and make up animal yoga poses. I’m looking forward to the day we can study mammals closer with The Burgess Animal Book, which I’ve had so many people recommend to me. We tried listening to it (free on LibriVox!) and Lincoln was bored to tears. But for those with older animal lovers- it’s a free resource, in the form of an audiobook, that teaches about all sorts of mammals. Additionally, there are websites that have accompanying coloring pages, etc.
*An interesting project is being funded by the artist Marina Abramovic on Kickstarter. (If you haven’t already donated to the campaign, the kickstarter is now closed.) But since the money was raised ($661,452!!!) we can look forward to the Marina Abramovic Institute: a Performance and Education Center that will be located in Hudson, NY. For those unfamiliar with the performance artist, I suggest an evening with the recent documentary Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present, that can be rented from Netflix. People who saw her eye gazing performance at the MOMA retrospective have called it an almost religious experience. After watching the film, I was definitely sipping the Kool Aid! It’s not a film for kids (there is nudity and adult content), but it does have some good perspective on the eternal burning question “What is Art?” If art is making the viewer feel something, then Marina Abramovic may be one of the greatest artist of our times. People were leaving the MOMA weeping and many, many people came back to see her again and again even with lines that wrapped around the block for hours. I’m looking forward to seeing what grows out of Hudson.
This week’s NY Times Magazine had a beautifully written article about a naturalist artist who happens to be a close family friend of my husband’s. Beyond the personal connection, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of Carmen Almon’s art. For anyone interested in nature or beauty, this is a wonderful read. Children of all ages will be enthralled by the pure magic of her flowers. And what inspiration for going on a nature walk to enjoy the upcoming autumn months and the botany that arrives with the changing of the seasons!
My son and I are always on the move checking out museums and now that he is getting to be too big for the stroller, his footwear is on the forefront of my mind. Currently, he’s rocking some navy Natives, which look like Croc boat shoes. He calls them his “tapshoes” but if he ever tried dancing in them, they would fall right off his feet. So, when the nice peeps at PLAE asked if we wanted to roadtest their line of mixable matchable shoes, we were psyched! Founder Ryan Ringholz (who designed for Puma, Diesel and Uggs) enlisted an orthopedic surgeon to ensure a line of kids’s shoes that were not just cool, but also will assist developing feet. I’ll give a full update of the test run, but in the meantime to celebrate their launch, they are giving readers a 20% deal starting today on all shoes and accompanying fashion tabs. Our readers can use the code AS76 for 20% off al shoes through 8/309/2 to celebrate Back-T0-School! If you love the idea as much as we do, join their facebook page and tell your friends.