Until the photographer Eadward Muybridge filmed a horse running in the early 20th century, nobody was entirely certain what position horse legs were in while the animals ran. In retrospect, after scientists analyzed Muybridges films frame by frame, it turned out that many statues and paintings created of running horses before that time were incorrect. With one odd exception. A group of Hungarian scientists examined over 1,000 examples of prehistoric cave paintings and modern artistic illustrations of four legged animals running, and found that the most accurate representations by far were prehistoric.
Indeed, the error rate in prehistoric cave paintings like the elephant painting you see here is half the error rate in modern illustrations before Muybridge's time. Prehistoric artists appear to have known a lot more about animal behavior than people who lived thousands of years later.
Write the scientists in PLoS One:
- The lowest rate of error in quadruped walking illustrations analized by us, was found in cave art (46.2%) . . . The 46.2% error rate of the prehistoric quadruped walking illustrations is nearly half of the 83.5% error rate of the pre-Muybridgean illustrations. This is surprising, since it could be justly expected that the prehistoric man, with a primitive culture and artistic techniques, would work with a much greater rate of error than his later counterparts. Prehistoric men illustrated the walking of quadrupeds with almost the same error rate (46.2%) as the taxidermists of natural history museums (41.1−43.1%).
The accuracy of the prehistoric artists representations is too common for it to be mere chance. The researchers speculate that prehistoric hunters, whose entire lives might depend on observing the movements of animals, may have paid much more attention to the creatures gaits than more modern artists.
Modern people generally don't have to rely on observing nature for their survival.
When we see amazing art like this and this (Chauvet Caves) we're looking at the surviving works of one or more artists. Looking at the breathtaking stuff in the Chauvet galleries is like viewing Renaissance art in Italian churches...no scribblers allowed!
Originally posted by Kandinsky
Lascaux and Chauvet probably represent some of the foremost artists alive at that time.
There are ample examples of less refined paintings, and particularly at Altamira, of attempts to capture the life cycle of the animals that they hunted and co-existed with.
What is interesting, to me, is how the Ice Age artistic expression, of the less accomplished artists, changes so dramatically when we come to the Neolithic period. It becomes far more geometric, though not in an organised sense, random shapes, lines and scratches using stone implements, much less use of paint and colour. I wonder if this was due to 'advancement' of portable art, or less communal living.
Originally posted by ShotGunRum
It does have a very pastel look to it. But I think it may be that way due to the grainy rock surface. Creating a stylized yet accurate version of an object is a lot harder than it looks. Especially since these people didn't have photos to reference..they had to go all by memory. I'm thinking that actually might have helped them learn faster by not having a crutch of a photo to rely on.
Originally posted by Kandinsky
Right there was a 'consciousness shift' as external reality met internal reality and childhood slipped a moment further away. I see that moment as perhaps being similar to the cultural shifts we see in art from 2-dimensional depictions and on through the Neolithic attempts to express a 3-dimensional reality. Rather than that little kid sulking that he had to paint the whole sky, he could have told the other 30 kids and they all would have had a mini-consciousness change. In that way, I ask myself if the path from Upper Palaeolithic art through to abstract Impressionism and Expressionism weren't the tiny steps of shifting human consciousness?
/end of blathering