Raoul-Jean Moulin in his book ‘Prehistoric Painting’ quotes other well-known French archaeologists who specialised in the cave paintings of southern France. Andre Leroi-Gourhan, for example, who examines the interplay of pictorial subjects depicting both life and death. He concludes:
“fecundity and destruction are not incompatible; a metaphysical conception of birth and death are to be found behind every figurative group – something so common to all religions as to appear banal. However, we must consider that the proof of the existence, in the upper Paleolithic period, not of a magic in hunting but of a metaphysical connotation, is a notable acquisition.”
So our list of elements towards a definition of ‘spiritual’ is growing:
1) Expression of a reality which is more complex than we suppose
2) Art made as a demonstration of humankind’s powers
3) To make man’s presence in the world felt
4) A “metaphysical connotation”
To which we can add a couple of suggestions from the French archaeologist Annette Laming-Emperaire:
“These subterranean compositions reveal a story of both man and animals, where we are in the dominion of myth; they attempt to state what man was among the animals, to draw up a classification, to put a little order in this great animal and human world, where chaos exists, ever new and ever inexplicable . . . “
5) To state what man is among the animals
6) To put a little order into the chaos
These thoughts are interesting because they take my mind back to the film I was talking about last time, ‘The Monuments Men’. The situation in the film is that the best art works in the world are threatened with ignominy and destruction (for some of them, for example, work by Picasso), yet there are men who are prepared to put their very lives on the line to preserve these works for generations to come. Why?
This is my attempt at an answer from the six comments listed above. Firstly because art captures something of the spirit of man, that which reaches for the invisible heights of the spiritual, and longs to break away from the confines of the purely material, a feature which is peculiarly human, which defines a distinction between us and the animals (however intelligent some of them may be). Art in this way is a reminder that we are not confined to the physical substance of the world around us. Secondly because the world is in its nature chaotic, making art enables us to assemble a modicum of order with which we can begin to understand at least a little something of this great mystery we call life. Put like that, can you imagine a world, or a time, in which people did not make art?
‘Sacred Journeys 2’ – Carmen Mills, A2, graphite on paper