Contemplate & Konangal
Art Documentary screening
The Day Pictures Were Born
Episode Two of BBC’s How Art Made the World
9th June 2012; 5.45pm
Contemplate Art Gallery
There are two big questions in this second episode of the BBC’s acclaimed art series ‘How Art made the World’. One is why homo sapiens, who have been around for over 150,000 years, only began creating representational art about 35,000 years ago.
The debates among biologists, evolutionary linguists, paleo-anthropologists, etc., wage on about what has been called “The Great Leap Forward,” or in Dr. Spivey’s words, “The Creative Explosion”, which includes the development of language (around 50,000 years ago). That question is left a mystery, and the second big question is, what do these 35,000 year old paintings mean and why did humans start making them?
Using anthropology from South Africa and the San people, Spivey and a couple experts theorize, rather plausibly given their evidence, that these early cave paintings were part of solitary shamanistic rituals, and very likely were produced after trance states. A neurologist at London’s Institute of Psychiatry demonstrates a really cool machine that produces trance-like responses in the brain through the visual cortex, and show that our brains are hardwired to receive certain kinds of geometric patterns and that trance states actually turn those into hyper drive.
Spivey hypothesizes that for this reason, different cultures around the world had trance-visions of different objects and animals. Scientists who study altered states of consciousness suggest the answer lies in the hard-wiring of the brain. People didn't just one day decide to invent making pictures. Rather, prehistoric artists where experiencing sensory deprivation deep within their caves—in a sort of trance state—resulting in powerful hallucinations. These hallucinations were of such powerful emotional importance they felt compelled to paint them on the walls. According to this theory, these artists were simply nailing down their visions.