Tuesday, 8 September 2015

The Palaeolithic artist: part 9

Reproduction of a bison of the cave of Altamira
The art at Altamira has been approached through ideas about its function and through examination of the artists techniques. However, there is a quality of that art where technique can have no bearing on function. It is simply impossible. That quality is aesthetics.

Just about anyone who has never been an artist could not understand this at all. For them, aesthetics is just how pretty something looks, regardless of which word or words might be used in substitution for "pretty". It is evaluated only from an observer's viewpoint.

When we "turn this on its head", which is one of my most favorite methods of analysis the association of form and function completely breaks down. This is accomplished by asking how the artist made it "pretty". The knowledge of what, exactly, makes something pretty is not now, or can ever have been analytical or subjective. Granted, once such prettiness has been obtained, it is possible to explain why. But this can only occur afterward. In drawing the "accent lines" on the hindquarters of the boar I showed in the first episode of this series, what is the criterion used to establish the weight, position, and length of that line? You could say that the artist was taught how to do this, but that just passes the question on to that person. At some point, one person must have known how to do this.

Now that we have experienced many thousands of years of doing, studying, and writing about art, then the answer should present no problem, right? Wrong. Talk to any modern artist and point to such a feature in their work and then ask them: "How did you get it looking just so? (or "the right length"; "...reveals such a good representation of form", and so on). The artist can only say "it felt right".

The reason that he or she cannot describe the process that makes it "feel right" is because, in that part of the mind  neither processes nor language can exist. It is the unconscious mind.

As I became involved in something both exciting and very important this morning, and have commitments this afternoon, I will leave you to ponder that and I will be back tomorrow with C.G. Jung in tow.

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