Updated: May 10
Hi and welcome.
To get this party started, I thought I'd share some notes, over a few posts, about the profundity of the "image,"and more generally, art as part of our collective DNA; an irrepressible form of nonverbal expression. To be certain, this is by no means breaking news, underreported phenomena and, moreover, it's most likely only riveting and insightful to me.
Since taking my first art history class in junior high, I always thought the best way to teach history, pretty of much any kind, would be to teach art history instead. By examining an object, or a painting, to try and fully understand its context, one will gain at least a passing knowledge of its historical context. Inevitably, that will lead to a clutch of rabbit holes that will require exploration. Ultimately, you'll end up with a timeline but you'll also get a smattering of politics, philosophy, economics and, in roughly equal parts, geography, science, warfare, culture, maybe even some other art and artists. Then, before you know it, there's a cranium brimming over with entirely too much stuff. This can be super helpful when playing Jeopardy or at your local Buffalo Wild Wings, where you're certain to keep your fellow inebriants rapt with attention due to your burden of useless knowledge.
Since history is generally thought of and taught as a linear progression, let's take the Lascaux Caves in France where the imagery is nearly 20,000 years old. These cave paintings, and a few others, have been dated as some of the earliest instances of human-created, abstract thought expressed symbolically. Or what we now see, a work of art.
There at Lascaux, a discovery was made that the mystery artist utilized a black pigment made from manganese and not charcoal. This little factoidial morsel can reveal so much about our history and the continuum of human experience: We're humans doing the same things that humans did a thousand generations ago.
That the manganese was located high in the Pyrenees Mountains 150 miles away and that it had to be mined, by hand, informs our understanding of geography, commerce, trade (entrepreneurship?), even perhaps that of communal existence (war and peace) in that we tend not trade with those that we're trying to kill... or trying to kill us. All those myriad dynamics, rules, agreements, etc. were necessary as regulators on our behavior (and maladaptive instincts) for a functioning society.
At some point, to get that precise black pigment that the artist just had to use versus abundantly available charcoal, the manganese had to be burned in a fire that was at least 1600 degrees which is a great deal hotter than a typical wood fire. Then, after all that, the pigment would be that exact "just had to use" color that the artist required.
The layers of human culture development are so densely woven into that one little bit of black pigment. For the intrepid educator, and now I'm talking to about you Augustus Schoonover- teacher of history at Blackhawk Middle School- who smoked a pipe, and smelled like he smoked a pipe and looked a he smoked a pipe-in a Dickens novel- those black lines found in a cave can be so instructive about the artist's culture, history, religion and all the other fascinating bits that are part of such a greater whole. It would have been so much better and I would have spent much more time in your classroom rather than blowing it off, building brain cells instead of killing brain cells.
Thanks a lot, Augustus.
And now, a great picture of our super cute dogs.