The definition of the word « art » as we understand it today has only to satisfy an aesthetic pleasure, and does not imply any usefulness. This definition is not only too restrictive, but also inaccurate. It is undeniable that artistic approaches, today as in the past, are useful. Pretending otherwise is to set aside millennia of History when art took on a religious or mystical function, in addition to its aesthetic content : it is tantamount to knowingly ignoring all spiritual messages that art intends to convey.
It is obviously not useful in the sense of how our society understands utility today. Yet this ability of art to communicate a certain conception of the world beyond the material aspects of our existence -- does it not conform to the idea of being useful? Is there any conflict between the terms « art » and « utility » ? On the contrary : art always allowed a strong association between the aesthetic and utilitarian, religious, mystical or philosophical.
We cannot extend this idea to other art origins. The Upper Paleolithic art in Europe appears some 35,000 years ago, around the same time that a new human species emerged (Homo sapiens). This art reveals a modern spirit, a high capacity for synthesis and abstraction. This artistic expression was not recognized as such until the late nineteenth century, only after unfortunate episodes. The very idea that these prehistoric peoples have acquired the ability to create art had predestined its path. It also still faces some prejudice : it is indeed surprising that in the majority of cases, art historians stop their research to antiquity.
Did not the direct carbon-14 dating of the cave of Chauvet surprise the most eminent specialists when some of the most spectacular images of Paleolithic art were revealed to be at least 32,000 years old ? Indeed, these hunters are still commonly perceived as beings without any culture or system of values, almost simian. In short, they do not respond to the mental image that modernity has assigned to them from the beginning of history. But we must imagine beings whose appearance and intelligence are similar, if not in all respects, like ours. These Paleolithic populations undoubtedly had important insights on how the world around them functioned, and how they integrated into it, as well as with each other; knowledge that millennia, and especially the evolution of our different civilizations have forced us to forget. Their art is defined as the first signs of an abstract thought, born of the need to go beyond the concept of immediate survival. It expresses indisputably the beautiful, while being linked to organized, symbolic behaviour. The study of this art attempts to recreate the perception and use of images by the peoples of the past and understand their religious expressions, philosophical or metaphysical.
Of course, our society should not get bogged down in its past. It should collect and consider the future, as it is necessary for art to be innovative. However, looking at these first attempts of expression gives us the opportunity to understand a passage of the human experience. The past is part of us : it enriches our conceptual heritage. Knowledge of the past certainly gives us a salutary lesson of modesty and a serious questioning of established values. But it mostly involves an inalienable spiritual heritage that we need to comprehend.
Cécile LaurentTable of contents
Des univers clos aux principes universels
pdf (1.5 Mb)
Le vrai visage des moustiques
Illustrations : Yves Lappert
pdf (7.6 Mb)
Les origines de la pensée symbolique
ou la naissance de l’art
Illustrations : Bernard Reymond
pdf (2.5 Mb)
Ouvrir le monde aux oiseaux du désert
pdf (204 Kb)
Points de suspension …
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pdf (292 Kb)