I saw Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams at Exeter’s Picture House cinema last year. A few days ago I watched it again on DVD. I now have a childlike fascination with the cave drawings of Chauvet cave. Paleontologists think some of those drawings date back 30,000 years. After first seeing the drawings of the cave bear and the lions, I tried to draw them myself, from my mind’s eye. My attempts were pathetic. I realised I couldn’t even conjure good images of cats in my mind, let alone then translate them to paper. This shouldn’t be surprising because I am not an artist. I’m not a drawer. So I took the cheap way out and tried to copy the Chauvet images. I looked at the images and then tried to reproduce them on A4 with my colour pencils. It was pretty satisfying, because reproducing the curves and shading of those bears and cats helped me feel them in some way, to experience how they stalked or just sat. But it made me realise how second hand it is to just work with someone else’s images. The satisfaction from having watched and studied those animals, and then to paint them into the shapes of the rocks must have been quite something.
So I’m jealous of those people of 30,000 years ago. In some ways I can lay claim to being an artist. I hold an MA in Lit, and I have created some original photographs. I’m proud of lots of things that I’ve done, but I don’t think anything I’ve done compares with what they did. For one, they lived a life that was obviously more primal and experiential than mine. They lived among cave bears and cave lions! They walked alongside herds of wild horses! They understood those animals. If those people had hunted, which they no doubt did, they would have watched how the lions and dogs hunted, and no doubt learned from them. The lion drawings make that obvious, since the cats are stalking. Those people were connected with the things they were meant to be connected with.
Which gets me around to my title: Diminished World. The world we now live in is a world that, more and more, we have created. It’s a world we have created but that I wouldn’t have chosen. We don’t live among wild animals anymore, at least not here in the UK. If we paint on walls, we are probably breaking some law, since they are not ‘our’ walls, and it is not our world. In our quest to make our world easier to live in, we have killed our wild animals. Where I live, a large town, I have to travel just to see insects and birds. I have to go a long way to see hawks and eagles. To see a lion or a bear! Well, that’s a zoo isn’t it! So what chance do we now have to be true artists, to experience a world worth experiencing?
It probably says a lot about my life that I am so excited by Chauvet Cave. I am jealous of a world that was 30,000 years ago. Perhaps I should take a flight to Oz and try living in the bush for a while, or do a Timothy Treadwell and live amongst the bears. Perhaps not though. I’d ruin it for myself. I’d want the latest Nikon D800 to take with me. I’d need a battery charger and a place to plug in. I’d end up recreating civilisation as we know it.
I know what I’ll do instead! I’ll watch the DVD again! 🙂
(One thing I take away from all my confusion here is how much I’d love to go to Chauvet Cave myself. It’s not easy to get in. Getting a pass to see inside the cave is right up there with getting a peek inside Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. You need to be an Umpa Lumpa (i.e. to work there) or get a golden ticket (like Werner did). Maybe one day I will though. It would mean more to me than winning the lottery. Maybe I need to get myself to a place where I’m one of the best photographers of cave art, so they let me in to do them a service – like take large format photos and hand them back as gifts. That wouldn’t be such an impossible thing, since I’ve already made a start at photographing rock art. Just a little start. And I can work with light!
But hey ho! If you read this, and you can get me permission to Chauvet Cave, just let me know what I have to do. I’ll do what I have to do!)