Friday, June 26, 2009

The Keeper of Knowledge and Record

Before the fall, when they wrote it on the wall,
when there wasn't even any Hollywood;
they heard the call and they wrote it on the wall,
for you and me and we understood."

- Steely Dan, The Caves of Altamira.

Who were they, 17,000 years ago, who took charcoal and clay from the world around them and painted the walls inside the caves in what is now the Cantabria region of Spain? Maybe they were hunters, showing the story of their great expeditions to bring food to their people. They also could have been agricultural people, telling stories of the animals around them. Perhaps it was a training wall, where young hunters were advised how the hunt for the next day would be carried out.

An outside possibility is that they were animistic primitives, who did not teach of the creatures on the walls of Altamira, but worshiped them, instead.

There are negative images of hands, drawn by placing the hand on the wall and covering it with the clay, then pulling away. These could be totems, trophies, or even signatures of the small group of artists permitted to place their hands on the walls.

Whatever the answers, today the bison and goats drawn at Altamira are Art.

The same can be said for the treasures of ancient pharoahs we see displayed in our museums. They might have served a religious purpose. More likely, overshadowing their significance as art was their plain statement of power and status - look at me and all my golden things.

Still, from such works of old art, we are able to see the face of King Tut. From their beautiful hieroglyphs, we can listen to a story told in an imagined voice.

We live in a world full of people who consider typing a word into a box and hitting a button "searching the Internet". Remember Archie, Jughead, Veronica and Gopher? I do, and I am truly not that old, yet.

So it isn't surprising that this is the same world where we hang the Madonna of the Rocks in the Louvre and admire it's beauty, but forget that it was, originally, created to teach a bible story to an illiterate public.

Never move so fast, in Art, that you get caught up in its aesthetics, and forget that Art has only been judged on its beauty for less than one percent of its existence. It is this very forgetting, that Art is the great Teacher and Keeper of Records, that has made the arts the first casualty of choice in our underfunded education system for the last forty years.

We have transformed our ancestral survival skills into modern day money pits and an obsession with looking like the version of ourselves that could hunt a bison on foot with nothing but a sharp stone on a stick - without maintaining the actual ability to do the things our ancestors had to do.


From the generation that has been trained to merely look like they are learning from Art shall come the generation that will be trained to simply look like they are learning at all. That generation is already here. I know it.

I Googled them this morning.

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