Before Shit Happened…

  If you buy the idea that developments in the arts of a time or  civilization are due to tremors in its underpinnings, then get this: the cave paintings of Paleolithic artists were largely unchanged for some twenty five thousand years! Must not have been any neurotic cavemen.  Or angst.  Or civil displeasure.  I read this in an interesting article by Judith Thurman in the 6/23 New Yorker.

  Isn’t that amazing?  Just think of all of the different movements of art that rode tumultuous waves of change in the twentieth century alone: Fauvism, Die Brucke, Cubism, Futurism, Orphism, Der Blaue Reiter, Constructivism, Suprematism, Dada, De Stijl, Art Deco, Bauhaus, Surrealism, Regionalism, Abstract Expressionism, Op, Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism, Performance, Earth, Post Modernism, etc, etc. 

  She writes: “Paleolithic artists transmit[ed] their techniques from generation to generation for twenty-five millennia with almost no innovation or revolt.  A profound conservatism in art is one the hallmarks of a classical civilization.  For conventions of cave painting to have endured four times as long as recorded history, the culture it served… must have been deeply satisfying – and stable to a degree it is hard for modern humans to imagine.”  In addition, she points out that there has not been found any depiction of human conflict in cave art.

  Thurman tells us that the life expectancy way back then was about eighteen.  The brevity of the average was due to high infant mortality.  However, those making it through could expect to live for another thirty or so years due “to the rarity of infectious diseases and abundance of protein… considerably longer than the Greeks, the Romans, or the medieval peasants who built Chartres”.

  The zeitgeist way back then – for all of those centuries and all those generations – must have been characterized by an overwhelming sense of natural rhythm.    

  Must have been sweet.  But then we invented agriculture and began to try to remake the world according to an endless variety of parochial visions.  Shit happened and the rest is, well, history.

  As I have asked before, and will again, now that we are all elbow to elbow and our existence is at the very least wildly syncopated:  whither now that zeitgeist?

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