Max Raphael and a Marxist perspective on art (Part 2)

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Max Raphael and a Marxist perspective on art (Part 2)
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The discussion that follows was prompted by the article: Max Raphael and a Marxist perspective on art (Part 2). The discussion was initiated by baboon.
Below is the discussion so far. Feel free to add your own comments!

The first picture

Just a couple of points on the first painting, the section of the Lion Panel:

The lioness in the top left-hand corner is not in fact a deliberate distortion. The distortion comes from the limits of the camera and the way the artist has expertly used the shapes of the rock face in order to paint a very realistic image of a lioness. The fixed camera is unable to show the curvatures and the image therefore appears distorted. There are deliberately distorted figures but this is not one of them. Note the two weasel-type lion figures in a confrontation/meeting just to the left-centre. It has just occurred to me that there appears to be no lions in the Lion Panel but the big cats seem all to be lionesses. These big cats would have been about 20-30% bigger in this period so the distinctive mane of the male lion would have been even more pronounced. There’s no indication or remnants of it in this panel as far as I can see. In the context of this particular “procession” that fact that they are lionesses and not lions could be significant.

I’ve seen a blown-up photo of one of the bison in the “wall” in front of the advancing lions. In an asymmetrical pose it appears to have the “evil” or “magic eye”. The look is piercing and unsettling.
To the bottom left-hand corner of this picture is part of the “aperture” which both separates and enhances the whole procession. A part of a mammoth can be seen emerging and other animals are out of the picture..

john... is that you?

The lioness in the top left-hand corner is not in fact a deliberate distortion. The distortion comes from the limits of the came

As Parmigianino did it, the right hand
Bigger than the head, thrust at the viewer
And swerving easily away, as though to protect
What it advertises. A few leaded panes, old beams,
Fur, pleated muslin, a coral ring run together
In a movement supporting the face, which swims
Toward and away like the hand
Except that it is in repose. It is what is


all verses all

which makes me wonder how much i would love to write an article on poetry hah.....


i can take or leave art

the origins of writing


The above article pointing to the origins of writing is from palaeoanthropologist Genevieve von Petzinger. She has studied the geometic "signs" in the Aurignacian caves between 28 and 40,000 years ago and suggests that these origins of writing must date back to Africa. This was also the suggetion made by Max Raphael above and David Lewis-Williams.

The "eternal nature" of Upper

The "eternal nature" of Upper Paleolithic art is raised again in a piece in the Daily Mail today

It points to the links between one of the techniques of the ancient art, making up representations by dots, and those of Van Gogh and Seurat, both of whom have a claim to be profound artists. The techniqe is shown in several caves in southern France 35-odd thousand years ago, but also in the 40,000 year old expressions in Salawest, Indonesia. This too must have had its roots in Africa.

Picture 5 of 7 in the article shows the partial engraving of a mammoth I think using natural shapes in the rock..

Just to add, the similarities

Just to add,

the similarities with this technique in the oldest Australian cave art, probably older than Salawest.

serve and curve

Reading Marx on Epicurus I became compelled to add something on the representations of the "curve" in Upper Palaeolithic cave art. The meanings of these representations are not in direct parallels to the "swerve" of Epicurus - as such they don't exist - but there are some profound similarities that are worth looking at. I don't think that a relationship between the materialist philosophy of Epicurus and cave art of the Upper Palaeolithic should be surprising. As Marx demonstrated, the fundamentals of the atomism of Epicurus were the expressions of the human condition. Life and its depictions were certainly part of the human condition of Upper Palaeolithic hunter-gatherers and these were a "history-making people par excellence".

From Australia, southern Asia and Europe, from forty to around fifteen thousand years ago, the concave-convex curve, which came from the shape of various favoured animals, was a constant and formal basic element of cave art. It underwent some changes probably due to historical circumstances but, in general, it became here more abstract, there more pronounced with both imbued with magic and meaning. There's ethnographic evidence of San shamans using the curve or arc developed from the shape of animals (elands) as a point of power and symbolism which may be both attraction and repulsion. The simple curve of the San is "decorated" in very similar ways evident on some the UP painted caves. The curve is everywhere in UP cave art: it rarely stands alone and exists in relation to other curves with which it sometimes intersects or holds off, passes right through, absorbs or rejects, sometimes in strict mathematical ratios as in the Spanish cave of Altamira or compressed and paralleled, as in Chauvet, France giving an image of movement.

In Prehistoric Cave Paintings, Max Raphael, who approaches this art from a Marxist point of view, writes of the curve in Franco-Cantabrian cave paintings: "The straight line and rigid geometrization and symmetrisation of the concave-convex curve into a sine curve are avoided everywhere. The originally complementary parts of the curve are shifted and their measures and positions become asymmetrical in relation to its turning point; and this external law is a consequence of the internal law according to which the curve is not a sequence of points that obey a rigid and always identical course but a motion caused by an elemental force ('mana') whose rhythm it follows. The factors that determine this curve were predominately ideological; they were, first magic, which was the force which changed one condition into another and thus required a purposeful motion marked by different turns, and second, totemism, which, with its consciousness of the clan unity and the dignity of the clan's history, pressed towards a rhythmic taming of the magic transformation. The lack of strict mathematical regularity called for a system of proportions to control the course of the curve. In accordance with this ideological origin the free curve gradually became less vague and arbitrary, as it was adapted in a progressively concrete and differentiated manner to the figures and lives of the animals and to the aesthetic feelings the animals were intended to represent. The striving for objective and subjective exactitude constantly changed the quality of the curve: motion through many dimensions became motion through one dimension, motion in one direction became motion in two opposite directions, etc."

I don't think that I am somewhat blinded by passion or being fanciful in making a connection between the Epicurean swerve and curve of UP cave art. For Democritus, although the atom moved it was pure in itself and moved in straight lines in a deterministic fashion, matter is more or less fixed; for Epicurus, it is fluid, changeable and the essence of the atom or a collection of atoms is transformed by consciousness into being, motion and time. It seems to me that the peoples of the Upper Palaeolithic, who had little distinction between theory and practice, no distinction between magic and daily life, were expressing similar sentiments in their lives and in their art. There is nothing linear, predictable and deterministic about their representations, particularly of the curve which becomes symbolic of movement, freedom, being and time. The curve plays a major part in the unification of the original contradictions between motion and being that these people were immediately faced with. The curve became a spiritual and political force in the Upper Palaeolithic sense of the words and it bears some elements of the Epicurean curve in my opinion.


New visions

I'm still trying to absorb Baboon's thoughts on Marx and Epicurus, let alone apply them as he has done in the post above: really thought-provoking and mind-stretching contributions.

So the purpose of this post is purely to draw attention to a development which I'm sure many will have already seen - the discovery of 'Neaderthal Art' - which adds yet more data into our understanding of our origins with a view to better shaping our future.


That's interesting; it

That's interesting; it depends on the dating technique but they make a persuasive argument for it. There's no reason why HN shouldn't make cave art, the species wasn't a sub-standard version of us, they processed painting materials from stone, they painted themselves, shells and stones and had clearly symbolic behaviours. In the video there's a lovely curve in one of the compositions (and these are compositions, they are not slapdash or "primitive") on the wall which is made up of four parallel dotted lines curving around the corner of another symbolic "sign" which contains an animal.