Painting before history
Prehistory, in painting, corresponds to the Paleolithic and more precisely to about 32,000 years ago.
A temporal distance that our brain hardly perceives. He accepts it as a given, but such a long time cannot be conceived well.
Man still lives in caves, has an average life span of 30 years, and lives by hunting, gathering wild herbs.
He is able to build "amygdales", or roughly shaped and chipped stones to make an ax, carve and work the animal skins with which he covers himself.
A first element to think about: let's consider the graffiti on the walls of the caves the first signs of "painting".
Well, these appear simultaneously all over the world from China to the Americas and the style is almost the same.
The intention and practice of creating graphic signs are born identical in all human beings in the world. It was the consideration of Picasso and Klee (to name two of the most famous painters) to be able to study graphic signs prior to any culture and, for this reason, not influenced by any academy, obligation or dogma created by complex civilization.
A pure sign. The man, the color and the sign.
Both Klee and Picasso used the prehistoric "style" extensively in their paintings.
A second reflection tells us that the image, the drawing appears 30,000 years before writing. Not only. The writing was born already differentiated in the various areas of the earth. Ideograms, hieroglyphs, cuneiform characters, etc. from the very beginning; substantial unity is missing.
Let's go back to painting.
Why did men feel the need to paint?
The function of cave paintings is both creative and magical, but not in the religious sense of the term "magic". Prehistoric man did not believe in any god or religion, but he was practical.
By painting a bison he took possession of the bison. The space-time between the drawing and the actual capture does not exist for him.
It is as if we were setting mousetraps today, no more, no less.
An anecdote can help clarify the concept. A similar attitude can be found in Native American art. A native, observing that a "white" researcher was drawing bison, reported that by that time the bison had decreased.
More bison were drawn less bison in circulation, because those drawn were "taken". Just as later for a native to be photographed was equivalent to losing soul and identity: nothing remained of him.
This was the "naturalness" of prehistoric painting, which has nothing to do with the paintings of the tribes or with those of children.
Children paint what they know, not what they see. The prehistoric person paints what he sees. And with what precision and skill! He already uses chiaroscuro and lines of different thickness to obtain the depths and the distance between things.
The children's drawings, on the other hand, start from thought and not from nature, and in fact they stylize and geometrize the figures.
No decorative or aesthetic intent, of "joy for the eyes", but the creation of a spell.
A clear clue is the position in which the "painter" (let's call him that) made his drawings: in the most hidden or least visible corners. If it were decorative it would be the other way around.
In addition, the figures are added and are added to the others, instead of using other space that was in abundance.
Finally, the figures of the animals are pierced, like a “hunt in effigy”, not only by drawn arrows or spears, but also by real blows, inflicted on the rock and on the drawings, by real weapons.
For this it is necessary that the image be mimetic and naturalistic, almost impressionistic and not idealized. The image, enchanted, replaces the real in the magic of the creative act.
Thousands of years have passed, up to modern art with impressionism and subsequent figurative styles, but concepts and practices of art were already there, in the hands and in the thought of prehistoric men.