Cave Art and Space

In my previous blogs on cave art, I wrote that the art did not change for 20,000 years, which is true, but its presentation did. There is a significant difference between the placing of this art between the earliest at Chauvet and the next oldest of Lascaux.

It has been repeatedly noted that the art does not start until the darkness begins. This is a constant, and suggestive of an element of theatre. As does the placing of the animals, the shaping of them around natural features. But the big difference between the two is that Chauvet, the number of figures and complexity of design seems to increase the further into the cave one progresses. This is also a progress from large spaces which are surprisingly sparsely decorated, to the smaller spaces which hold the most pictures.

This seems to suggest to me the artists were in search of solitude, they were fleeing the outside world to be able to concentrate on their art. It was less a matter for display, more a form of self expression, of understanding what they were try into achieve, to express.A place for the artist(s) to work without interruptions.

By contrast, the art in Lascaux seems to proliferate in larger spaces. There is a sense of the artists really opening up, of exploring the surfaces available, this is more about display. This seems to suggest the reason for the art has changed. It changed from being an act by a single person or small group to become more of a community exercise.

There is also a suggestion that this use of the large cave is about the acoustics, about exploring sound, song and ritual. This is possible, but sound is one thing that we cannot find in records of the time. It is a wonderful idea, and I would not discount it, but what we know – or at least take reasonable guesses at – is what we can see. That is what I can get my brain around here.

4 thoughts on “Cave Art and Space

  1. This is part of what I love about history and archaeology, etc. The proof that humans (or at least close ancestors) like ourselves existed and had lives and ideas and stories as rich as ours, but different too. All these tantalizing bits, but not always a coherent understanding of how they all fit together. We may never know the exact answer, but it’s comforting knowing they once lived and left a piece of themselves.


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