Head detail of the large auroch (ancient bull),
Hall of the Bulls.

The Art of Being Human

 

Common themes abound in the experiences of those who have stood before the powerful prehistoric images of Lascaux. They use words like elating and intoxicating. They tell of feeling the sense of profound awe, of finding a new respect for life and our Universe.

Ian Tattersall, curator of anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, eloquently described his encounter in Lascaux as “overawed by the magnificence”.

Why does Lascaux create such strong and definite emotions in people?

Joaquin Vaqueros Turcios, acclaimed Spanish painter and sculptor, explains that all art, no matter the age, is contemporary if it touches the viewer.

 

But why does the art of Lascaux touch us so deeply?

How can 17,000 year old paintings on limestone walls in the ground below the landscape of France move a modern human being to tears or dance?

The feeling of connection, of continuity with the artists of Lascaux is inescapable. We stand in their presence; we stand in communion with them. The images they painted on Lascaux’s craggy walls are familiar to us, endearing. They touch in us the innocence of another time, perhaps of an earlier place in our own lives.

We marvel at the skill of another’s hand. We pay homage to the creative impulse, that leap from abstract thought to image which separates us, stands us alone in the kingdom of living things.

Yellow mare, known as the Chinese Horse, Axial Gallery.

Through the
images of now extinct aurochs and ibexes, swimming deer and ancient horses, the Lascaux artists share with us their world, their cosmos. It has been said that they taught themselves how to see, how to remember what they saw, how to see by remembering, how to remember by shaping, how to shape by remembering. In doing so, they reach through time and reshape our own cosmos.

Some say that Lascaux is like experiencing another person’s memory; but it is more than one person’s memory. It is the
collected memory of a people, a civilization and a culture that, in truth, is not so fundamentally different from our own.

We begin to understand how alike we are, how much we share in common with our long ago ancestors. We see and understand
their love of beauty and the earth, of the animals and celebration. We understand the longing to place our own hands on the face of time, to leave an imprint: we were here.

And, perhaps, that is one answer to the “why” of Lascaux; it removes barriers, reduces differences and distances to insignificance; it celebrates the human experience.

 

 

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