Lecture, Prehistoric Art


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  • Contrary to its presentation in popular culture, dinosaurs and humans did not co-exist. Stone Age man and woman lived quite differently than the way we do now and in many ways, they did not make or use their art in the same way that artists now do. Main themes of Stone Age art: -Art and Power – the power of art in human existence -Art and Spirituality – to connect humans and the spirit world -Art and the power of interpretation
  • Paleolithic people were largely hunter-gatherers. They roamed in groups and hunted and collected food. They used crudely made tools out of stone and bone.
  • Scarcity of images during Stone Age compared to the saturation of images today makes it especially difficult to understand the power and meaning of imagery to Stone Age makers and users.
  • Since prehistoric art, by virtue of its lack of historical documentation, lacks interpretive text to help us make sense of it, we are asked to understand its meaning both by looking at visual clues (denotative), as well as by looking at similar works make during that time (connotative). Of course, since we are well-versed in contemporary images of the nude, we can not only visually describe what we see but understand what the image’s messages are using the variety of signs and symbols that are familiar to many of us. This has to do with a visual language that in most cases, is understood. Denotative meaning is based purely on what you see. Connotative meaning is constructed by the viewer and so it changes over time.
  • During the Neolithic period, much of the ice that covered Northern Europe melted, the climate warmed and Europe became geographically and biologically similar to today. Some animals disappeared (the reindeer and the woolly mammoth) and some migrated. Humans began to settle into communities, farm the land, and domesticate animals. Man changed from hunters to herders. Sedentary societies emerged which practiced agriculture, weaving, metalwork, pottery and currency exchange.
  • During the 1960s and 1970s, artists stepped out of the walls of gallery and museum spaces and away from the easy commodification of art objects and made performance and installation art in the “expanded field” (nature, landscape, etc). They were not only interested in challenging the limitations of buying and selling works of art, but wanted to interact with and embrace primordial sources and sites of art making as ancient man did long ago, Ana Mendieta and James Turrell are just a couple of these artists who were (and are) interested in interacting with nature both in the use of their bodies (Mendieta) and in the alteration of the natural landscape. Among other works. Mendieta made a series of works called Siluetas in which she placed her own body in the landscape, then left and sometimes altered the remaining negative space before it was reclaimed by nature. Turrell bought this extinct volcanic crater in Arizona the late 70s and has been since working on this elaborate observatory. It is scheduled to open to the public within the next few years. How do you think the concerns of these contemporary artists are similar to and different from those of the Stone Age?
  • Lecture, Prehistoric Art

    1. 1. Preh isto r ic ArtHistory of the World: Part IMel Brooks, 1981http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_v_ubcYsTI The Flintstones, Hanna-Barbera, ca. 1960s
    2. 2. The Stone Age• “The first known period of prehistoric human culture characterized by the use of stone tools” (Merriam-Webster)• Prehistoric (pre-history = a time before writing and recorded history)• Earliest Stone Age art comes from Southern Africa• Important Stone Age artifacts on every continent except Antarctica• Bias in Stokstad textbook toward European art• Variety of materials used (clay, stone, cave paintings, relief sculptures) Map of Prehistoric Europe Incised ochre plaque, Blombos Cave, South Africa, 70,000 BCE
    3. 3. Paleolithic Art Paleolithic Neolithic 30,000 BCE 9,000 BCE(oldest known art objects) Paleo = “old” lithos = “stone” Neo = “new”
    4. 4. Man vs. Image
    5. 5. The Female Nude denotative = literal, descriptive meaningJenny Saville, Self-Portraitca. 1990 Rineke Dijkstra, Saskia Harderwijk, Netherlands March 16 1994, c-printConnotative = meaning derived from context (cultural/historical)
    6. 6. Paleolithic Sculpture - Venus of Willendorf Denotative Connotative • 4¼“ • One of many • limestone other small Paleolithic • Nude woman female nudes • Exaggerated • Both lack faces, reproductive arms anatomy • Both exaggerate (breasts, breasts, belly, belly, pubic pubic region triangle) • Suggest • Arms and emphasis on hands very fertility (female, Venus of Dolní Earth?) small Vĕstonice (hidden) • Representation ca. 29,000 BCE of womanhood ceramic • No face not a specific Czech Nude Woman (Venus of Willendorf) (decorative woman? 28,000 - 25,000 BCE braids) Willendorf, Austria
    7. 7. Paleolithic Cave Art• Focus on Southern France and Northern Spain• At least 300 sites discovered• Still rare considering they range in date from ca. 30,000 BCE – ca. 10,000 BCE• Most are paintings on walls (deep in caves); some relief sculptures (in clay), some wall engravings• Paintings red or black (red or yellow ochre, iron oxides like hematite, charcoal or manganese dioxide)• Crushed into powder and mixed with binder (water) then applied with brushes made of twigs, reeds• Or blown onto surface through hollowed reed or bone• Illuminated work through stone lamps using fat as fuel• Could complete a wall in a day• These deep, dark spaces uninhabited by man Powdered red ochre Hematite rock
    8. 8. Active Learning Project (see worksheet) “Paleolithic Cave Art in France” By Jean Clotteshttp://www.bradshawfoundation.com/clottes/index.php Focus in your readings on “Themes Chosen” “Human and Animal Activities” and “Meaning(s)”
    9. 9. Paleolithic Cave Art – Groups 1 & 2• Shows most common subject (animals)• Clay relief of two bison• Modeled by hand and smoothed with spatula• Fingers used to create mane and facial features• In profile (most common & complete, descriptive rendering)• “Pictorial definition” of subject Two bison, reliefs in the cave at Le Tuc d’Audoubert, France ca. 15,000 – 10,000 BCE, clay each 2ft long
    10. 10. Paleolithic Cave Art – Groups 3 & 4• Shows most common subject (animals)• Two horses and handprints• Animals rendered in profile• Shape dictated by rock formation on right?• Accompanied by geometric forms (here, dots) Spotted Horses and negative handprints• Handprints created by Cave at Pech-Merle, France blowing paint through ca. 22,000 BCE hollowed reed or bone 11’2” long (artist’s or other signature?)
    11. 11. Paleolithic Cave Art – Groups 5 & 6• Shows most common subject (animals)• Not all are bulls• Also shown in profile and in twisted perspective• Contoured and shaded bodies• “Hall” added to over time• Probably not intended to represent a herd• Some share a ground line while some float Hall of the Bulls above Lascaux, France• Lack of setting or ca. 15,000 – 13,000 BCE background largest bull 11’ 6” long• Focus on pictorial definition of animal (conceptually rendered) detail of above not narrative or scene
    12. 12. Paleolithic Cave Art – Groups 7 & 8• Shows most common subject (animals – rhinoceros and bison)• Animals in profile (rhino more naturalistic than schematic bison)• Not painted by single artist• One of earliest appearances of man (not woman)• Suggested narrative? (although since deep in cave, not necessarily meant to be “read”) Rhinoceros, wounded man and disemboweled bison• Bison is disemboweled; bird well shaft, Lascaux, France man (masked?) falling or 15,000 – 13,000 BCE dead? bison, 3’8” long• Aftermath of man vs. animal? (see spear & staff)
    13. 13. Film Screening: Cave of Forgotten Dreams 2010 Werner Herzog, director http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oZFP5HfJPTY
    14. 14. Neolithic Art Paleolithic Neolithic 30,000 BCE 9,000 BCE(oldest known art objects) Paleo = “old” lithos = “stone” Neo = “new”
    15. 15. Neolithic Art - Ḉ atalhöyük • Neolithic community from 7,000 – 5,000 BCE in present-day Turkey • First excavated in 1958 • One of first city dwellings • Houses constructed by timber frame and mud-brick • Plastered walls with platforms • Dead buried beneath floor • Walls typically decorated with mural paintings and plaster reliefs • Shrines? http://www.catalhoyuk.com/#
    16. 16. Neolithic Art - Ḉ atalhöyük • Shows striking change since Paleolithic cave painting • Regular use of human figure (alone and in groups) • Introduction of pictorial narrative • Organized hunting party • Heads and facial features delineated • Details include bows, arrows, and clothing • Painted on prepared (plaster) Deer hunt (detail) surface (vs. directly on wall) wall painting • Use of composite frontal and Ḉatalhöyük profile views (head in profile, Turkey torso frontal, profile view for arms 5750 BCE and legs) • Composite view would become Detail from Hall of standard (pictorial definition of Bulls, Lascaux subject) for millennia Diagram of ancient Egyptian canon of proportions
    17. 17. Neolithic Art - Stonehenge • One of most famous prehistoric sites in world 24’ • Period saw development of monumental architecture • Use of huge rough-cut stones (megaliths) • Inspired name of period (megalithic) Stonehenge, Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire • Range from 17 - 24 ft. in England, 2550 – 1600 BCE height and up to 50 tons each • Arranged in a circle (henge) and surrounded by a ditch • Use of sarsen (like sandstone) and smaller “bluestones” • Post-and-lintel system • Characteristic of other megalithic monuments in Britain John Constable, Stonehenge, 1835, watercolor
    18. 18. Stonehenge diagram, Salisbury Plain,WiltshireNeolithic Art - Stonehenge England, 2550 – 1600 BCE sarsen stones 24 ft. tall support bluestones lintels (beams) 97 ft. diameter outermost ring horseshoe of Connotative trilithons (three-stone Meaning: constructions) astronomical posts weigh 45 – 50 observatory? tons each (solar calendar) (marks point of summer solstice)
    19. 19. Stonehenge in Popular Culture Wiccans at Summer Solstice Jim Reinders, Carhenge, Alliance Nebraska, 1980s This is Spinal Tap, 1984, Rob Reiner http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Zdyo4vJuCU
    20. 20. Contemporary Art Meets the Stone Age James Turrell, Roden CraterAna Mendieta, from Silueta series, ca. 1970s near Flagstaff, Arizona, 1979 to present