What Inspired Me About Cave Paintings

By Andy Orge, REA Designer

Recently I had the opportunity to watch Werner Herzog‘s film Cave of Forgotten DreamsWeeks later, I’m still reeling from the experience.

Cave is a film that documents Herzog’s journey to the Chauvet Cave in Southern France. Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet Cave is significant for its almost completely intact cave drawings that appear on its walls. Through carbon-dating, it was discovered that the earliest drawings in Chauvet Cave date back 32,000 years, and the later markings are dated at 20,000 BP (Before Present) — putting 5,000 years between the first and last prehistoric cave artist.

Although no one is entirely sure, it’s been theorized that prehistoric cave painting served a spiritual/ceremonial purpose.  Capturing the work of these mysterious – yet incredibly familiar – ancient people, the film left me both humbled and awestruck. It was like being 8 years old again, and looking at my first dinosaur bones in the Museum of Natural History.

Herzog’s narration has a Germanic, wise man’s tenor to it. The camera walks you through the cave, exposing incredibly up-close views, while Herzog jokes and poses playful yet thoughtful questions. We view cave walls filled with renderings of buffalo, horses, tigers, and half-human, half-animal creations.  What’s most astonishing is that these drawings are done in intricate and explicit detail, which leads us to realize that this prehistoric man is a sophisticated one, not too distant from us.  The film links us to our ancient past and levels the ideas of our “modern selves.”

During the film, I realized that despite the enormous gap of time, there is still a human connection between modern artists and prehistoric artists, between “us” and “them.”  It’s something that resonates to the core of my being — I can share my desire to communicate through visual means with the people who preceded me by thousands of years.  I understand them; and they, in turn, understand me.

It was because of a fluke of nature that these drawings and bones were preserved—a rockslide had closed off the cave somewhere between the genesis of the paintings and 1994.  Thanks to that fortuity, Cave gave me the chance to reflect on how much progress we’ve made, and how that urge to create—no matter in what field—has always been with us, and will always drive us forward.

Here’s the movie trailer and a link to the Chauvet Cave’s official site.

One response to “What Inspired Me About Cave Paintings

  1. Pingback: The Cave of Forgotten Dreams | I choose how I will spend the rest of my life

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