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Friday, February 25, 2005

Painting for Nobody

Is it art for art's sake when you paint a picture nobody can see? Is it not wonderfully unpretentious to paint a picture believing that nobody will ever see it no matter what? Is it not simply brilliant to paint it in such a way as you the artist not being able to see it either, not even when you are painting it?

Paul Bahn, the independent archaeologist, believes that the motivation for some of the Ice Age art found in the world today, was religious. Of all the debates about cave art - and most of them seem to end up saying that cavemen were in touch with rocks, fairies, drugs, or their feminine side - the one piece of incontrovertible evidence about all of them that science can look at, is that the very place they were painted is still there. Right there beside the rocks.

I'm reminded of how all the great landscape views aren't simply something that exists in the lense of a camera or window-like on an artist's canvas, but instead run all the way from the distant horizon up to the viewer's feet. The immediate physical space is such a crucial part of any landscape, and perhaps why so many of us want to go to that road to look at Mount Saint-Victoire as Cezanne did, with the branch of the tree beside us rooting us into the landscape.

Some studies in acoustics have highlighted a relationship between the spaces in caves decorated and the quality of the sound. It occurs to me that the better sound might simply account for the presence of the artist and not for the presence of the art.

However it is in studies of visibility that Paul Bahn finds grounds for drawing a religious motivation in some cave art. If paintings are deliberately painted up chimneys or in fissures where no human can go or is likely to try to, then just who or what is intended to see these pictures? Bahn believes it was clearly intended in such cases for a deity, spirit or ancestor - that it was clearly religious in some way and produced out of strongly held motivations. I'm not so sure.

Is he not forgetting the artist? Do not some of us - all of us who create - not sometime create things not intended for the public? And I mean really not intended for the public, as in not now, not in twenty years, not when you grow up, not after you die, not ever. And by public viewing I mean not showing to anybody, not just not simply in a gallery. That means not showing your husband, your girlfriend, your best friend, your mother, or your dog. Don't some of us deliberately destroy works we have created unseen by anyone else? Did we do it for god to have a peek? Or were we aware that it was for our dead great-grandfather?

Maybe there were very shy cavemen painting pictures up chimneys or in low overhangs because they didn't want it to be seen, even by god, but they just didn't have any sketchpad handy. And maybe it was an overbearing and proud mother that often broke away stalagmites and stalactites for viewing by the public in the ones we can see easier.

-Where you've been? I've had your dinner ready for an hour already!
-Don't you nowhere me young man, I know you've been somewhere.
-I haven't.
-Oh yes you have. And what's all that stuff on your hands?
-You've been climbing up those chimneys again, haven't you?
-No, I haven't.
-C'mon, take me there. Show me what you been doing then.
-Ah no mom.
-Oh, your mother isn't good enough to see your pictures is she not? Your mother doesn't understand art? She's not 'An Artist'.
-I didn't say that.
-No, but you're thinking it aren't ya? Or are they dirty pictures you been drawing?
-No mom, just buffalo again.
-You and your buffalo. C'mon, let's go show your dad.

Paul Dorrell says

you will know when you're ready to show publicly if you trust your inner voice, and your critics.


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