Week 2: Prehistoric & Paleolithic

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The origins of art come from tool making during the Prehistoric or Paleolithic era.  “The term “prehistoric” refers to the time before written history. In the West, writing was invented in ancient Mesopotamia just before 3000 B.C.E., so this period includes visual culture (paintings, sculpture, and architecture) made before that date”.  Paleo- is English for prehistoric time and -lithos is Greek for stone, and therefore called The Stone Age.

In this era, the Neolithic revolution (10000 B.C.E.) transfers early humans from nomadic life into horticulturalists, or farmers and herders. Humans have learned how to “naturally select” tools, if you will, shaping and adjusting sticks and stones for a finer result. This is the beginning of craft, which can later turns to art in different ways.


( 5 min video of difference of Art & Craft in Western Culture by Khan Academy: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/ap-art-history/introduction-ap-arthistory/v/is-there-a-difference-between-art-and-craft-laura-morelli)


All art has purpose, that’s why we study Art History! In the Prehistoric eras, cave paintings become one of our first references of human art work. What was their purpose? Like tool and craft making that had an economic purpose, Cave Painting had a religious function–except it was referred to as magic. Most cave paintings are found in Spain and southwestern France like the Wounded Bison. (c. 15000-1000 B.C.E Altamira, Spain.)

H. W. Janson’s History of Art for Young People. 4th ed.

Having no distinction between image and reality, the People of the Stone Age performed magic rituals including painting an animal being killed before it was actually hunted.  This was believed to “kill” the vital spirit of the animal before killing it’s physical body, and securing a successful hunt (economic/food security purposes).  The ritual gave hunters courage to perform a better physical killing since the beast  was already defeated in their eyes. H.W. Janson, from Art History for Young People, thinks that today we still practice this emotional “magic” by, for example, “carry[ing] snapshots of those we love in our wallets because this gives us a sense of their presence, and people…[who]…tear up the photograph of someone they have come to hate”.  Painting animals was also a function to “create” food to hunt during migration, or when animals were scarce. For these people, making art was literally a form of creation.

Furthermore, these “artists” would also use the “natural formation of the rock” like protruding bumps, or vein and crack contour–almost like making pictures out of the clouds in the sky.


Suggested Questions

To you, how can craft become art?

What do you think is the purpose of modern art, or how has the purpose of art changed?

How do you think art today is a literal form of “creation”?


S. W. L.

January 17, 2017




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