Specific Features of The Prehistoric Art
While speaking about the prehistoric art we, freely or unintentionally, create
a certain illusion of equality between it and the art of the latest epochs up
to modern times. Formulations, usual for popular art-criticism, are widely used
while interpreting ancient depictions ("aesthetic norms and principles", "the
message of the art", "reflection of life", "composition", "perception of the
beautiful" etc), but they took us aside from the understanding of the
prehistoric art specific character.
Now art is a specific field of culture with boundaries and specialization,
clearly realized both by creators and "users" of the art, but in the past
those notions were more vague. In the primitive man's mentality art was not
singled out into a special field of activity.
Only a few people possessed the ability to create depictions (as nowdays).
Certain supernatural features were ascribed to them, like later to shamans.
Probably, that put them into special conditions in their society but one can
only guess the authentic details. The process of realization of an independent
role of art in its different trends by the society started only in the late
antiquity, dragged on for some hundreds of years and completed not earlier
than the Renaissance. So we can speak about primitive "creative work" only
allegorically. The whole spiritual life of the primitive people passed in a
single, not separated into special spheres, cultural environment. It is
credulous to think that there were artists and spectators in the primitive
art, as we have now, or that all the people were artists-amateurs and
spectators at the same time (something like our amateur artistic work).
The idea of leisure hours filled by different kinds
of art is not correct either. They simply had no leisure hours as we
understand them (as time, not occupied with any activity), because they did
not distinguish between work and idleness. At the end of the Upper
Palaeolithic, when a primitive man had a few hours free from his intensive
struggle for survival and got a possibility to glance at the sky and around
himself, he was busy with ritual and other activities, not idle but aimed to
the prosperity of his family and himself.
So while using the notion "art" in respect of the primitive epoch, it is
desirable to keep in mind the above-mentioned statement.
What art should be considered to be a prehistoric one? Few years ago the
Marxist philosophy of history considered as prehistoric the art of the
primitive society: the Palaeolithic, Neolithic, Bronze Ages. But the
development of culture was uneven. When a primitive organization dominated
over the eurasian steppes, in the Mediterranean, Mesopotamia, in the valley
of the Nile and in other regions with favourable natural conditions the
ancient civilizations were formed.
Unevenness of of the cultural development rate in different periods and in
different regions requires appropriate criteria to classify imaginative
monuments to the prehistoric art or, for example, to the culture of early
civilizations. The main features of the civilization, such as urban culture,
writing, murals and reliefs on the walls of living and cult buildings etc.,
may be one of these criteria (though not quite absolute because absolute
criteria are impossible in the history of culture). But the situation is still
vague. Egypt of the Early or Ancient Kingdom existed under the conditions of
the Chalkolithic, the tools were mainly stone as in the prehistoric society.
At the same time art was brilliant and diverse. And how to classify the
murals on the walls of dwellings and shrines of the proto-urban culture like
Chatal Huyuk or statuettes from Jericho, Khadgilar etc?
Can we consider the Scythian animal style, which carries the features of the
Aeneolithic art of Southern Siberia, the influence of Greek art at the peak
of the Athenian democracy and that of Iran in the Achaemenids epoch, to be
a primitive art? How to attribute the art of the Indians from the North-Western
coast of the USA and Canada, which is, in fact, quite up-to-date, or the art
of the numerous aboriginals from Asia, Africa, Australia and Latin America?
The imaginative art of these peoples, as well as the art of aboriginals
from Siberia, Central Asia and Europe still preserve many subjects and
stylistic peculiarities of the prehistoric art. Therefore it may not be out
of place to call such art "an imaginative folklore". Close interaction of oral
and imaginative traditions and of other aspects of the sign behavior (dancing,
mime, rythmical speech etc.) in the prehistoric art is based on the common
natural psycho- physiological principles. Language and image are - from the
appearance of the modern man and up till now - means of cognition and
reflection of the outside world which are the complement of one another. If
the complementarity principle can exist in the humanities the same way as in
physics, it is applicable, in the first turn, to the explanation of interaction
of logical and imaginative mentation.
The main folklore features are visible in the prehistoric art. For instance,
it is difficult to distinguish individual artistic styles in the palaeolithic
paintings and in the neolithic petroglyphs, although the "epoch style" is
clearly seen. The same with folklore. The ancient Greek literature, brilliant
as it was, is not a literature in the modern sense of the word. As the author's
verbal art oriented for the readers and printed for them, it appeared only in
the Hellenistic epoch and the interest to the author appeared still later.