I saw this on netflix streaming, so I didn’t get to see the 3D version.
I have two questions I’d like to explore in this thread: 1) How did viewers like the paintings? 2) What does the film say about being human?
A glimpse of some images of the paintings (or maybe they were from a different cave) I saw impressed me, so I expected the paintings to blow me away. That wasn’t the case, and I was a little disappointed, actually. Maybe I’m not sophisticated enough to appreciate the paintings, so I’d be interested in hearing from others who think highly of the paintings. Btw, to be clear, I don’t think the paintings are terrible or poorly done, but, for some reason, I felt let down.
On a related note, some of the curators’ comments (especially the lady who said, “You can almost hear the bison running, etc.”) amused me—and they made me think about the way context can affect one’s perception and appreciation of art. In this case, a strong desire to love the paintings affect the perceptions and feelings of viewers. The cave is an extremely exciting and remarkable discovery, after all. I certainly feel a tugging sensation to really love the paintings—and I’m sure if I went there I’d feel this more strongly. What do people make of the way context of an artwork can influence one’s appreciation and perception of art?
As for what the film says about being a human being, I’m interested in hearing insights others got from the film—as I didn’t really get much.
Well, we need to grade the paintings on a curve, right? They might not be much compared to Michelangelo, but for primitive man, its pretty damn impressive. I think its the story behind the art we’re supposed to appreciate even more than the art itself.
Herzog really makes me appreciate them more than I certainly could have. It is a very interesting film.
Well, we need to grade the paintings on a curve, right? They might not be much compared to Michelangelo, but for primitive man, its pretty damn impressive.
Meaning, we need to judge the painting within a historical (or pre-historical) context? I think that’s an interesting question. My feelings are vague and ambivalent. On one hand, the context argument seems to diminish the art—as if you’re making excuses for it. On the other hand, I do think context does matter—maybe not in terms of personal enjoyment, but at least appreciation the accomplishment and significance of the work.
I think its the story behind the art we’re supposed to appreciate even more than the art itself.
Do you mean how the cave was found?
I’m curious to hear which bits of information from the film helped you appreciate the paintings?
Herzog personified the paintings giving them life. They really are the “forgotten dreams” of these people. Had it been anyone else it would have been a pretty lackluster National Geographic documentary. The paintings mean something and aren’t shot to simply point out “Hey look at this really old painting.”
>>On one hand, the context argument seems to diminish the art<<
In my mind the art is more diminished without it. If we knew nothing of the antiquity and history of the cave paintings, I’m not sure many of us would give them ample consideration. Not that they don’t have their charms, but painting has evolved since then. But now add the context and the paintings grow in importance and give us more to appreciate. You can never have too much information.
>>Do you mean how the cave was found?<<
More so, their extreme age. It’s interesting to consider how early certain human adaptations, such as art, developed.
They really are the “forgotten dreams” of these people.
I like this concept, but I don’t think the film really succeeded in conveying this feeling for me.
If we knew nothing of the antiquity and history of the cave paintings, I’m not sure many of us would give them ample consideration. Not that they don’t have their charms, but painting has evolved since then.
So I get the sense that you don’t think the paintings stand up on their own. In other words, the paintings are only good relative to when they were made—and perhaps, their part in the history of art. So, your experience of the art is more academic, than personal or experiential?
For me, the primitive quality of the technique (among other things) doesn’t have to prevent the art from moving modern viewers. Indeed, wasn’t there a movement in modern art (Primitivism) that tried to return to a more primitive mindset and approach. (Some of the cave paintings remind me of Picasso’s work, for example.) Ancient art and artifacts can be aesthetically pleasing and successful to modern viewers, even if they don’t conform to modern aesthetic ideas, right? (Or are you saying something different?)
Kind of, Jazz. Although I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike these paintings. This is very nice:
But I prefer this:
Not to mention:
But its all a matter of taste, because, despite its acclaim, I have no use for this:
All these are preferences without context, just based on what’s pleasing to my eyes. Context would allow me more information to make better comparisons. It provides me with more respect for painting one, which I already appreciate to an extent, but does not help with painting four because its in a style I dislike even after learning about it.
Guys, is it really necessary to put the cave paintings along with other works of art? I think you’re missing the point.
First of all, context is obviously important for art appreciation. Or you would say that you always, since you were born, felt touched by every work of art? The first time I saw “Battleship Potemkin”, for instante, I couldn’t totally get its importance and energy, because I knew very little about the history of cinema. Then I read “Film form”, with essays by Eisenstein, and it helped understand him, understand how he thought carefully about each plan and cutting in each film, inventing expressive forms we still use today. Context is not everything, but it is important.
About the cave paintings, I think the point of the film, or “what we can learn about humans”, is that we can see, through those (relatively, of course) sophisticated paintings that the human impulse for observing nature and representing it with care (and creating techniques for suggest things outside the “tableau”, like the movement of the horses), is really more fundamental than we could’ve thought in principle. Maybe representation of life is almost fundamental to humans as eating or procreation.
Context would allow me more information to make better comparisons.
Right. What I’m ambivalent about is saying that an art work is good for its time, which implies it’s no longer very good.
I don’t know about comparing the paintings to other works of art, but asking whether the paintings are great works of art is a legitimate (and interesting) question, at least for me. If a modern viewer finds these works great—i.e., the paintings impress and move the viewer—wouldn’t that speak to the work’s power and greatness?
Or you would say that you always, since you were born, felt touched by every work of art? The first time I saw “Battleship Potemkin”, for instante, I couldn’t totally get its importance and energy, because I knew very little about the history of cinema. Then I read “Film form”, with essays by Eisenstein, and it helped understand him, understand how he thought carefully about each plan and cutting in each film, inventing expressive forms we still use today.
Right, but after all the reading, does the film move you? Leaving aside it’s influence, do you think it’s a great work of art? I can appreciate the technical aspects of the film, and the fact that it was innovative for its time says something—but I have a lukewarm reaction to the film in terms of its greatness. Ditto something like Birth of Nation. In other words, these films might be historically important, but as works of art may longer possess the power to move and affect viewers. Said in another way, they’re not timeless—or at least they don’t feel that way to me.
Maybe representation of life is almost fundamental to humans as eating or procreation.
Right, but this isn’t so revelatory, is it? And I don’t mean to sound snide or superior. I agree that the impulse for creative expression seems fundamental to what it means to be a human being, but that piece of information isn’t so interesting, imo.
@Jazzaloha (sorry if I don’t pursue this discussion on the next days, but I probably won’t have the time…)
- About the 1st point:
I understand your worries about understanding if a work of art is really great or not. As I said, context is important, though it is not everything. But I think this problem will never be solved: how much of a work of art value is due to context and how much is due to an “inherent” beauty? Maybe someone here had already read books about it, but I didn’t, unfortunately, so I don’t know in which point of this discussion humanity really is. In any case, do we both agree that this problem exist, right?
And I believe the cave paintings add some clues here: we can at least know that, in a very basic and almost uncultured level, we like to do things like that. Actually, those works are the most “undressed” works of representation we have, so maybe they offer more clues about an “inherent” beauty in representation than anything else, even the greek art, which the Western world feels as basic standards.
- 2nd point:
Actually yes, contextualization helps one’s feelings towards a work of art. I was very moved, for example, by Eisenstein’s “Strike” after reading his book. I could feel its energy. I think it doesn’t happens always with everyone (and I’m not claiming it always happens to me), because it depends on how deeply you understood the context. Roughly, I would say that there are here two leves of understanding: 1) you can remember the informations you read about a work while watching it (let’s say its a movie) or 2) you can use the information you got to undress yourself of conventions of your own time, of standards of expectations, and watch the movie (for instance) with more attention (like a child who doesn’t know what to expect from things and pay a lot of attention to them), and that can make you actually become a “victim” of the “emotional tricks” of the work, or, in other words, be moved by it. In any case, it’s true that we can never feel a work of art as people contemporary to them would have felt.
- 3rd point:
Well, maybe it’s a personal matter, but I think it’s interesting. First, it unifies humans: we usually can draw the lines of human different cultures only to some thousands of years ago… this discovery (those cave paintings) are a new point, up to which we can draw all history lines back and find a common origin to our need of representation. Second: it’s interesting to ask why exactly did they paint so many animals and so few humans (there is only one woman painted there, if I remember well)? Or why did they made that thing with all those painted hands? What did it represent to them? That was something really sophisticated, in my opinion.
I think there are lots of more questions we can do… that’s a great thing, isn’t it?
But I think this problem will never be solved: how much of a work of art value is due to context and how much is due to an “inherent” beauty?
Hmm, that’s not what I’m quite getting at. (I think.) I’m objecting specifically to saying an art work is good primarily within the context it was made—which implies that it isn’t timeless; that future viewers won’t find the art work so meaningful or special.
On the other hand, if by “contextual information” we mean knowledge and information that increases our understanding of the work of art—i.e., we gain a deeper appreciation of what art is about and whether it successfully expresses this “aboutness”—then I think this is perfectly valid and doesn’t really conflict with inherrent beauty notion you mentioned. Indeed, contextual information can sometimes illuminate the inherrent beauty, so to speak.
2) you can use the information you got to undress yourself of conventions of your own time, of standards of expectations, and watch the movie (for instance) with more attention (like a child who doesn’t know what to expect from things and pay a lot of attention to them), and that can make you actually become a “victim” of the “emotional tricks” of the work, or, in other words, be moved by it.
Yeah, I agree with this. In this case, the context can help you remove prejudices or preconceived notions that hinder your appreciation of the work (the inherrent beauty?).
Second: it’s interesting to ask why exactly did they paint so many animals and so few humans (there is only one woman painted there, if I remember well)? Or why did they made that thing with all those painted hands? What did it represent to them? That was something really sophisticated, in my opinion.
These are interesting questions, but what answers or insights does the film offer?
- 1st point: about your concept of “timelessness”
I think we can understand those cave paintings as the first attempts humans made to relieve an almost physiological anguish of representation. But it was not enough, and the proof is we still make art. It’s actually never enough. We have to make different things, more complex, or more abstract… we have to experiment, because our anguish soon gets bored with things, and needs new stimuli. Maybe when you were a child you saw a drawing of a horse on a book which made you feel really great for a second… Now they don’t do you that much, and that’s why you have to “undress” yourself to “re-feel” things. (And, of course, by “you” I mean “us all”).
But, of course, whenever we are born, we have to live a lot of years to feel a Da Vinci painting, for instance, as “ordinary” stuff (mainly because humans have limits, and every new born has to start from scratch, so it’s hard to match* Da Vinci, but it’s easy to match the cave paintings, because they were only learning about possibilities of representation). But it actually happens, we get (a little!) used to Da Vinci, and need to do other things… But we also forget Da Vinci, and after some years we can turn back and appreciate Da Vinci again. So, the concept of “timelessness” has a lot of caveats, I believe.
The film answers some things (we could have asked: “Was the painting with the hands made by just one person?”, and the film answers “yes”), but probally it offers more questions than answers. I think this is a good thing, though. Maybe I would never ask this things if it wasn’t for the film. And I feel good asking them, so point for Herzog.
I think I gave my opinion about the cave paintings “greatness”, but let me summarize it: you shouldn’t really worry about their “greatness”, because we can’t analyze then on the same cultural grounds we analyze Da Vinci. Does it mean they are not “timeless”? “Timelessness” is not a very strong concept, it depends on how you define it. They are not timeless, in the sense timeless = “we have to do nothing to feel they are great”, but they are timeless if we accept contextualization as part of art appreciation. (If even after contextualization one doesn’t feel something like art, so either it’s not art either one’s not sensitive enough.)
Contextualization is not “pretending” (or it can be more than pretending), I believe, it is something we do all the time in art and in life (you have to do some of that to actually feel proud about a child’s drawing… though you can always pretend to feel proud), so I prefer the second definition of “timelessness”.
Just one more thing: it’s great watching the movie in 3D. It was the first time I felt great about a 3D film because, as it’s unlikely any one of us will ever ENTER the cave, Herzog did us a GREAT favor filming it in 3D and making us feel a little what is it like to be inside of it.
Without context there is no real meaning, Jazz, only the subjective assumptions of an unaware mind. It doesn’t mean one has to enjoy a work of art (that’s why everyone has an opinion on how it affects them specifically), but a historical context certainly lends a lot to the appreciation of a work. Neither does context act as an excuse, rather a reason (or possible reason) for something being the way it is. This is why we have such things as genres and whatnot, compartments of association.
As far as answers…why are answers important? This is my qualm with most religions and the general outlook of most people (even those who are not religious). With religion, there are definitive answers to important questions (Christianity: there is a god, there is an afterlife, etc.), but do these answers really exist? Are they really answers or merely one’s opinion of what the answer must be? We can even segueway this back into the previous paragraph…if someone like I (who is very nonreligious) regards a Christian’s explanation of what happens after someone dies as impossible and illogical am I not ignoring the hypothetical context of the Christian scenario? Context is monumentally important with anything one does, it’s the only way to have an educated opinion on what one is talking about.
There is no definitive answer to many questions and to force an answer out of something that is impossible to answer is disingenuous (for instance, how could Herzog have answered what the cave paintings represented for the primitives?). I think it’s a bit unfair to expect to be given an answer when one can easily form one’s own conclusions through research, or if there is no material to research, then through supposition.
So, all of that to say this: the question is much more interesting than the answer. Just as the climax of a film or novel isn’t as impacting when someone just tells you, but when you see/read it for yourself, you experience the context of the conflict and the climax is more affecting. What Herzog leaves out of the film are answers to unanswerable questions. He would have to assume answers or guess…stuff I would edit out of a film.
And on top of it all, one should never expect to find answers to anything when watching an Herzog film…
I don’t have much time right now, but I want to address the issue about wanting answers. I don’t expect the film to provide definitive answers. Rather, I’m looking for insights or enlightenment on what it means to be human, what is the nature of art, etc. I just didn’t think the film revealed or offered any of these things. See what I’m saying?
One more thing. Deck said, This is my qualm with most religions and the general outlook of most people (even those who are not religious).With religion, there are definitive answers to important questions (Christianity: there is a god, there is an afterlife, etc.), but do these answers really exist?
If by “definitive,” you mean answers that are absolutely true and indisputable—versus giving specific and definite answer to the key questions. For example, to the question, Does God exist, Christianity answers with the definite, yes. However, I don’t think being a Christian means that this answer is beyond dispute. Uh, that’s not clear, is it? What I mean is that although I truly believe that God exists—that I believe this is true, a fact, etc.—at the same time I understand that I could be wrong about this; that I can’t offer definitive proof of this. I’m comfortable with this situation
“or instance, how could Herzog have answered what the cave paintings represented for the primitives?”
Good point. How old are these paintings? Because there are some theorists that argue—quite convincingly in my opinion—that since primitive man had no concept of the abstract, he couldn’t have possibly been ‘representing’ the outside world through art in the sense that we understand it today.
Jazz, see it in 3D if the chance arises again. Probably the best, simplest use of the technology I’ve yet seen.
Ursulino has it, as far as I’m concerned.
We shouldn’t judge them as works of art among others, necessarily, but the fact of them as art, at some 30,000 years old. This (not to mention the first example of human writing being a recipe for beer on a Sumerian cave), speaks to who we all really are, stripped bare of the centuries of history which some of us have attempted to study.
If we were set into another dark age and bereft of the privilege of history, we would still create art, and continue to invest it with glorious meaning.
For myself, I love that.
I thought the film was good. I would have liked a bit more scientific information. Also, more information on the artistic technique (from a historical standpoint) would have been great. On the rest of this discussion, I see no reason to judge these paintings on aesthetic grounds. It is a miracle that this cave and the paintings in it exist. If that isn’t enough to inspire awe I don’t know what is.
Also, more information on the artistic technique (from a historical standpoint) would have been great.
On the rest of this discussion, I see no reason to judge these paintings on aesthetic grounds.
But doesn’t the film assert that the paintings are a great work of art? And I’m assuming other people feel the same way, so I think it’s a valid question—or at least I find the question interesting. Having said that, even if the paintings aren’t great art, I still think the discovery is important and interesting.
No, I don’t think the film tries to assert that these are great works of art. I didn’t get that sense. Herzog is in love with the paintings but he doesn’t try to claim some high aesthetic grounds for them. I don’t think these paintings should be judged as “art”. It’s beyond that category. These are amazing historical artifacts that tell us so much more than a simple “is it good or bad art”.
Maybe, or maybe they aren’t direct representations, but symbols and that would make them abstractions vs mimetic representations. Have we always had the need to manipulate symbols?
I thought I saw a Banksy on one of the cave walls…
I’m looking for insights or enlightenment on what it means to be human, what is the nature of art, etc.
The context of the work is pre-history, so we can’t know much of the relationships posed by the work.
The genius of the film was the effectiveness of combining the 3D tech with the pre-hisotric work: thereby, intensifying our imagination.
“truly productive thinking in whatever area of cognition takes place in the realm of imagery” —Rudolph Arnheim, Visual Thinking (1969)