Getting Back to Basics In earliest times primitive people made contact with the outside world through the same five senses used by people today. They could hear the sounds of animals, see objects, feel the rain on their faces, smell the fragrance of wild flowers, and taste berries and other foods. Primitive people also expressed their feelings through art and dance. The cave paintings in Lascaux, France, which were drawn some 27, 000 years ago, depicted animals of the time. Do these images show Paleolithic man's continuity with nature? It is not known whether these pictures had a methodical, or a magical or religious purpose; however, they did show that primitive people had both a need and a talent for self-expression. In Suzi Gablik's book, Conversations before the End of Time, Gablik touches base with several artists analyzing the discontinuity between man and nature, nature and art, and art and man.
During interviews with each artist, philosophical questions arise, such as what is art for (Ellen Dissanayake), are humans really at the apex of the pyramid (Christopher Manes), and can mankind survive without modern technological civilization (Rachel Dutton and Rob Olds)? Links between ecology, psychology, and art are explored, and the consensus among the artists states that mankind needs to change how we live with the earth by getting back to the basics. What is Art For? & Making Art About Centipedes If you were to ask Ellen Dissanayake what is art for, she would reply that art is "making special." Dissanayake believes that humans, since the beginning, have been attracted to objects that were 'extraordinary or special', and 'make special things' to show that we care and have regard for those things. Most importantly, "art is for everyone and not solely for an elite group of artists in the art world." Upon first reading this article, I agreed with Dissanayake, however after rereading, I discovered that there was some hypocrisy in what she was saying. Initially, Dissanayake created a solid argument on why art is important to man, why we create art, and to whom art is created. However, when linking this to the importance that man must "realize that we cannot go on living in ways that are so mechanical, materialistic and hard on the environment (Dissanayake, p. 54), Dissanayake separated man into a Darwinist view of nature, and man's superiority over it.
In my opinion, this view is the reason man is disconnected with nature. Christopher Manes stated during his interview, "man is not at the apex of the pyramid" (p. 88). In other words, to believe that we are more important and better suited to rule and control nature is to believe that nature is not equal to man. This discontinuity between nature and man is what allows man to destroy and dominate over nature. According to Dissanayake, Humans are unique because we are the only ones able to produce art, and we do so because we enjoy aesthetically pleasing things that we, in turn, 'make special'.
Dissanayake states that Paleolithic man created art because man enjoys beautiful things. Dissanayake also speaks of the hunter-gatherers as making art for decorative purposes and using art for 'participation in the social order'. However, Dissanayake has separated man from nature, and thus man from art. Paleolithic man observed and studied nature, most likely for survival. Paleolithic man presumably created art for reasons other than aesthetics, they were possibly created as shamanic visions, or hunting rituals. The truth is, that we can only theorize the purpose of art and why humans have always enjoyed art making.
Nonetheless, I must agree with Manes when he stated, "if you watch nature it does basically what we do" (p. 98). Does that mean that nature can create art too? Absolutely. Making Art About Centipedes & Doin' Dirt Time " Cave paintings are not generalized, vague, formalistic portraits-they are detailed listings. Hunter-gatherers obviously sat down and watched these animals for a long time" (Christopher Manes, 1995, p. 104).
"Daily life as a prayer is that everything is holy. You are holy, everything around you is holy, rinsing a vegetable in the sink is holy. This is a quality that has been utterly lost from contemporary civilized society, which lives apart from nature and sees every thing as dead -- -except people" (Rachel Dutton, 1992, p. 68). Long before a separate science of ecology arose, men and women in all sorts of occupations were guided by what are now regarded as ecological considerations. The primitive hunter who knew how to recognize natural patterns and 'track' was a practical ecologist.
So too was the early fisherman who realized that Seagulls hovering over the water marked the position of a school of fish. In the absence of calendars, men used ecological facts to determine the seasons and grow crops. They regarded the noise of geese flying south as a warning to prepare for winter. Though in separate interviews with Suzi Gablik, Christopher Manes, Rachel Dutton, and Rob Olds, all convey the message that we must revert back to our humble and simple beginnings. Each agree that we must reconnect with nature, come to the realization that nature is art, and that everything within "nature deserves the same equality as all creatures, including man" (Christopher Manes, p. 86).
Unlike Dissanayake, who focuses on man's uses of art in our society, Manes, Dutton, and Olds, place emphasis on nature's natural beauty and how everything within nature creates art in its own way and does so with balance without causing devastating ecological damage. According to Dutton, and Olds, increases in human material possessions have been accompanied by a potentially dangerous worsening of the natural environment. By giving up their material possessions, Dutton and Olds, have gone back to the basics and reevaluate the purpose of life and art. Taking a step back has allowed them to view our civilized society in a new perspective, connect with nature, and live art rather than trying to create it. Manes's hows us that people cannot regard nature as separate and detached. Any changes made in the environment affect all the organisms in it.
When vehicles and factories hurl pollutants into the air, animals and plants as well as humans are harmed. Each life form on earth has attributes that can be regarded as superior and unique. Manes' artwork focuses on seeing life as a centipede does, 'they, like us, hunt, mate, sleep, eat, calculate, and sit around and look at things... just like we do'. Throughout the world man-made communities have been replacing the communities of nature. However, the principles that govern the life of natural communities must be observed if these man-made communities are to thrive.
Though personally I do not believe that my artwork is competing with nature, I do believe that my work is to be enjoyed, just as I am suppose to enjoy nature. Unlike Dutton and Olds, I do not believe we should necessarily stop making art; just as nature creates art, we too create art, however, I do believe that we need to respect nature, and like Manes, we need to acknowledge nature's gifts and achievements. People must think less about conquering nature and more about learning to work with nature. In addition, we must realize our interdependence with nature. To safeguard life on Earth, people must learn to stop trying to control and over power nature, rather, acknowledge its' contribution to society, art, and the environment. In an age when technology, capitalism, and acquiring material possessions is our primary focus for living, mankind must reevaluate our purpose and start getting back to basics..