Tuesday, 22 July 2008

ONE LOVELY DRAWING, part 21



This may be my favorite drawing ever.

I encountered it on the wall of a dark cave at Pech Merle in the Pyrenees.

20,000 years ago, humans were struggling for survival in a hostile ice age world. A desperate, hungry man prepared himself to hunt the dreaded wooly mammoth-- a lumbering beast that weighed ten tons, with tusks 15 feet long. The man's only weapons were a pointed stick, a rock... and this drawing.

He captured the mammoth with a line on the wall, and with a bold red color he struck a killing blow. Once... twice... twenty-seven times.

Other creatures were bigger and stronger, but only humans could give their hopes and terrors abstract form. In such dark places art was born.

This drawing contains the seeds of everything that would follow:

  • A design as beautiful as any modern abstract painting
  • A magical power over his enemies that was as illusory-- and a courage that was as genuine-- as that gained from the most persuasive religious art
  • A message as passionate and sincere as the content of any art form to come.
If this artist survived the ensuing hunt, the subtle hand that created this masterpiece (notice how the artist was careful to get the contours of the mammoth's hump exactly right) would soon be gouging and hacking through matted fur and thick hide so his family could feed on the bloody carcass and survive for another day.

There was a time when humanity was just one of nature's less promising experiments competing for survival. This ancient artist held on through an existence that you or I would consider intolerable so that today, trained artists can sit on cushions in air conditioned comfort and make pictures using highly sophisticated tools. But with all these advantages, I doubt you will ever see a more lovely drawing.