Paleolithic Art

The following sample essay on “Paleolithic Art”: a description and discussion of the problem of art during the Paleolithic era.

When we look at art what do we see, lines, imagery, references, details? But we if we take a closer look at the overarching meaning of art, we can see that art is an embodiment of a time period. Certain pieces of art regardless of the time period represents what is most important. During the Paleolithic era there was one distinct feature that could be seen about all the paintings that were found from Europe to Africa and India, and that was the focus on foo d, micro societies and survival.

But if we move forward to the modern times with artists such as Banksy in the United Kingdom, we can see that his graffiti take on a more political tone that focuses on society as a whole rather than necessities such as food and survival compared to the Paleolithic era.

Regardless of what the art represents in both the paleo and modern timer period, it is important to note that despite the simple type of mate rials that were used to create it, artists only used what was necessary to create their works, unlike the detailed complex canvases that the Medici banking family had done for them. In Spain, old paleolithic paintings were recently found, and to archeologists surprise it was not done by modern homo sapiens but by Neanderthals (the c ave dates back 12,000 years ago ). If we look at the painting above, we can we see that the it is relatively simple as expected for a Neanderthal, however, what is interesting i s the technique used to create the bison.

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We can see that the bison was drawn with sharp smooth lines, and what is particularly creative here is that in order to represent the hairs on a 2 -D plane the Neanderthal made smoother sharper lines below and above the neck with a white powder or paste that was most likely limestone. As for the n ose and eyes we can see a darker substance was used to help bolden that area. Looking beyond th e technique and materials used for the buffalo let us look at as to why th e Neanderthal chose to paint the buffalo as opposed to a river or lake. During the Paleolithic time period Nean derthals and early humans alike were primarily concerned with gathering food and staying safe from larger predatory animals.

Since this was the focus during their time period the artworks that w ere created ended up having an emphasis on materials that p romoted survival. Furthermore, iconic hand -held figures such as the “Venus of Willendorf ” shows how Paleolithic societies placed great importance on necessities that were required for survival. If we look at the Venus in th e photo above, we can see that she is rather large and obese with her legs belly and breasts larger than what would be considered “normal” in the modern world’s standard. In the Britannica article “Venus of Willendorf” by Kathleen Kuiper, she states that the Venus of Willendorf has been suggested to be a fertility figure, a good -luck totem, and even a mother goddess symbol (par. 3)

In addition to this, because the Venus of Willendorf places a special emphasis on good luck, the harsh terrain that the Paleolithic peo ple faced no doubt was a fac tor for them to develop a pagan icon for wor ship and for them the pagan idol would help them survive in the wilderness. Survival in the Paleolithic age was no doubt easy as large carnivorous an imals roamed the landscape. The respec t that early people had for large predatory animals can be explained in paintings found in the Chauvet Cave in Ardeche France (picture of the Chauvet Cave painting bottom left, Namibia Africa leopard painting top right ). When we look at the painting on the top left what do we see?

In this case it is a multitude of lions and the one feature that grabs our attention immediately are the faces of the lions. The lions’ faces are detailed in bold colors. A possible reason as to why they are bold is because when the Paleolithic people encountered large predatory animals such as the lion their bodies were probably filled with adrenaline at the time to engage in the flight or fight response. The painter who painted on the cave’s walls in France most likely had such an encounter and because of that they most likely wanted the intense face of the lion to have the focus in the painting. In the second photo on the top rig ht we see a painting of a leopard that was found in Namibia Africa. On the right side of the cat ’s body we can see the hind legs are darker than the rest of the body.

This is a possible indication that the African people in Namibi a who encountered the ani mal at the time could see that it was fast and because of that whomever drew the large cat wanted to emphasi ze the speed of the hind legs. In the photo below this painting was found in Madhya Pradesh state of India. What particularly grabs the attention of the viewer in this case is the actions of the people in the cave painting.

The artist made this painting in an S like shape which provides us a scene of movement. Some basic photography techniques include capturing a line of movement, for example if you were to take a picture of a stair case you would want to take it from the top spiral, and have it float downward to emphasize the flow of the spiraling staircase. Whomever created the cave painting above however, brilliantly uses an S technique to show the movement of the people on what appears to be horses. If we look deeper within the painting, we see that some of the figures have what we can assume are a circular helmet whereas the other horse riders do not.

The painter might have don e this as to signal to us that these were people of great importance within the society that they were in. We can no doubt conclude that the reason most Paleolithic cave paintings were based around resources that helped with survival was because life during this time period required strenuous amounts of work. A s a result of this t he emphasis placed on totems such as the Venus, large animals such as the bison and lions are reflected in the art work for time period. In the Modern era the emphasis of our society isn’t based on necessities such as food and water whereas those of hunter gatherer societies of the Paleolithic era were.

Instead modern Humans today have all the necessities required for living, automated, as a result of technological developments in agriculture and modern infrastructure layouts. Instead if we look at political graffiti and artwork today, we see that they have embodied the problems that our society currently faces. One of the artists today that delivers his powerful political messages is known as Banksy who is from the United Kingdom. If we take a look at the Graffiti that Banksy produced what do we see? We see 3 people that have their heads covered with TV’s.

What’s particularly notable about this is that while it might seem like an innocent pai nting indicating that the people are enjoying a happy moment together, there is inevitably a darker meaning behind it all. In the era of following the tech boom of the 19 90’s we have had an explosion of devices at our fingertips which include computers, smart phones, tablets, and Tv’s of all kinds of sizes and shapes. People today spend hours on end with these devices as if they were in an entirely different world separated from our own. When we look at Banksy’s style of technique we can see that while in the c enter we have a cheerful moment of happiness with the people dancing in the white light (which in literature symbolizes peace and purity) and then if we extend outward the painting takes on a more darker sadistic tone indicating that the people in the pain ting aren’t truly happy rather they are trapped in a fake world unaware of what is actually happening to them.

While the Paleolithic cave painters were creating works of art that pertained to the problems they faced on daily basis which related to food, an imals, and survival, Banksy on the other hand uses his art to bring a message to the world showing that the electronic revolutions that occurred in the last few decades have not brought happiness but rather misery to peoples’ lives. Furthermore, one of the more recent problems that our world faces today is over population with the Earth to continue growing beyond 7 billion people.

Sim Chan who creates work related to Hong Kong accurately portrays the problem of overpopulation indirectly it in his painting Sim Sky (shown above). In his painting we can see just how tightly constrained the details are the rising blocks obscure our view from deeper within the painting as they rise to the sky’s limit. While Chan may not have intended this painting to represent anything dark or depressing about our world the symbolistic message however can be directly seen if we take a look at Hong Kong, it has an extremely dense population, and as a result the price of real estate there has sky rocketed resulting in a lot of people being unable to afford proper housing and instead they now crowd into box like containers so that they have a place to sleep.

In SimSky the colors of black red and grey all symmetrically connected helps to give us the viewers a sense of a dystopian world that resulted from over population. In Chan ’s painting we can clearly see his thought process with SimSky because it depicts a large dense urbanite area with each cube in the frame tightly packed together. And while Chan did not create graffiti in the traditiona l sense of using a can of spray paint ; the box like figures that he b uilt upon each can be paralleled to the Paleolithic people could never have visualized what would become of the world. Their art pertained to the Paleolithic era in which mostly a lush green wilderness filled with animals such as the bison.

Environmental differences act a s a significant influence in art for any time period. In Spain, an artist by the name of Aryz produced a graffiti mural on the side of a building which featured a dying flower in a pot. The colors show a drab blue yellow and white signifying that the flower itself is dying. We can see the roots that are exposed at the bottom of the base as if all the nut rients have been sucked out leav ing them exposed. If we look at the surrounding perimeter and area of the mural, we can see that it is place d in an urban area. In the modern world urban areas are usually concrete jungle s that lack green texture. In this mural Aryz most lik ely sy mbolizes it as a way of showing that the nature on our planet is dying as a result of the expansion of large metr opolit an areas.

Both Chan ’s and Aryz ’s murals are a st ark contrast to the vivid drawings of large animals that are presented in paleolithic paintings. Nature is decaying in concrete jungles as shown by Aryz. Another reason as to why urban life is decaying is due to violence and in no place is this more evident right now than in Brazil. According to a Guardian articl e by Dom Phillip s “Brazil broke its own record for homicides last year, according to new figures wh ich show ed that 6 3,880 people were killed in 201 7” (par.1) Brazilian artist s Os Gemeos from Sao Paulo Brazil (born as twin brothers, Otavio Pandolfo and Gustavo Pandolfo ) spray painted a mural showing a man covered i n what can be described as gang paraphern alia.

Look at how the man has his face cover ed with a red scarf and how his body is also position in a horizo ntal layout. If we look a t the current crisis relating to homicides in Brazil, we can easily identify that the red mask the man wears is associated with crime and gangs. However, the calm collective way he is holding himself represents the Brazilian peoples fear of being killed. The buildings surrounding the mural further amplify the symbolism by showing that Brazilians feel trapped and are unable to escape the horrific situation that is occurring. On ce again, here we see an example of how cur rent affairs pertaining to a certain region can affect the shape of art. American art is unique in which parts of it can be compared and be realized as similar to earlier paleolithic artwork. In Syrian -American artist Diana Al -Hadid ’s painting Shadow Figures, we can see that technique no matter the era can serve as a bridge for art.

If we look at Hadid ’s painting, we can easily compar e it to the paleolithic era cave art. Her use of thin line d metals and polymer as a base for composing the image of the knights is in direct relation to how the early humans used relatively thin simple lines to portray animals and other people. The painting that was found in India as mentioned earlier was composed of people formin g an S line which helped to represent movement. Hadid similarly use s relatively thin lines to compose the image in way that a falling mov ement is taking place, so as to bring the painting together.

If we look at one of Keith Ha ring ’s work s from 1988, we can see that he uses relatively simply lines to d epic t a larger message. In the graffiti above we see at first that it is nothing more but a string of lines crawling its way across the expanse, but if we look from the top to the bottom, we can see that the head of figure is a person moving outwards, with the hands of the body moving in an energic motion. All of this was done on a 2 -D plane with Har ing exploiting it completely. The chaotic nature of the work above can be best explained by the fact that Har ing was present in New York City in the 70 ’s and 80 ’s a ti me in which crime and indecency ran wild, but out of the Chaos Ha ring produced works that reflected NYC chaos of the time.

Both t he pale olithic cave art and Har ing ’s work above have a similar technique and style. Ha ring used chalk in NYC subway ’s and the paleolithic people most likely used white limestone to draw on caves making. The symbolism of current times ends up always manifesting its elf through artists who then produce works as ex emplified with Ha ring and the chaos of NYC in the 70 ’s and 80 ’s along with the paleolithic people’s lives which revolved around surviving. Art itself no matter the era will be heavily influenced by the surroundings which include factors such as, environment, technology, people, and politics. But if there is one important detail to remember, it is that humans cannot always convey emotions and events with words alone, and as a result art is a tool in which that void can be filled. It is a tool in which humans can take on the challenging task of expressing our world and truly turning it into a stunning masterpiece irrelative to the opinions of others. Factors that influence ar t change over thousands of years, however, the will to produce art will always stay with humans.

Works Cited

  1. Al -Hadid, Diana, and Marcelina Morfin. “Shadow Figures.” Culture Trip , Culture Trip, 28 Dec. 2016, OHWOW Gallery, Los Angeles, -america/usa/articles/the -10 -american -contemporary -artists -you -should -know/.
  2. Aryz. “Still Life.” Aryz , Aryz, 2012, Lodz Poland,
  3. Banksy. “Tv Heads.” SincerelyShannon , SincerelyShannon, -introduces -its -womans -line/banksy -tv-heads/.
  4. Chan, Sim, and Sally Gao. “SimSky.” Culture Trip , Culture Trip, -kong/articl es/10 -contemporary -hong -kong -artists -you -should -know/.
  5. Gemos, Os. “Os -Gemos -Mask -Building.” Street Art Bio , Street Art Bio, Brazil, -gemeos.
  6. Haring, Keith. “Untitled.” The Keith Haring Foundation , The Keith Haring Foundation, 1988, New York City,!/art -work/689.
  7. Kuiper, Kathleen. “Venus of Willendorf.” Encyclop?dia Britannica , Encyclop?dia Britannica, Inc., -of-Willendorf.
  8. Marchant, Jo. “Smithsonian.” Smithsonian , Smithsonian, Jan. 2016, Ch auvet France, -oldest -cave -paintings -world -180957685/.
  9. Marchant, Jo. “Smithsonian.” Smithsonian , Smithsonian, Jan. 2016, Windhoek, Namibia, -oldest -cave -paintings -world -180957685/.
  10. “The Mysterious World.” The Mysterious World , The Mysterious World, -10 -most -amazing -cave -paintings -in-the -world/.
  11. Phillips, Dom. “’A Devastating Scenario’: Brazil Sets New Record for Homicides at 63,880 Deaths.” The Guardian , Gu ardian News and Media, 9 Aug. 2018, -sets -new -record -for -homicides -63880 -deaths.
  12. “” ,, 27 May 2016, -05 -spain -cave -art -trove -feet.html.
  13. Turconi, Susan. “ARH 2050.” Class. Class, 2019, Venice, State College of Florida.

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Paleolithic Art. (2019, Nov 17). Retrieved from

Paleolithic Art
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