If we could imagine visual art’s many ‘isms,’ styles and periods, stuck to a string, one after the other from this present moment to its earliest beginning, and then we roll the string backward into a big ball of aesthetic resonance, what would we find at the end? We can be sure Renaissance Classicism will be far closer to today’s ‘Video Art’ than anything at the beginning of our distant journey. Even ancient Sumerian or Egyptian art seem near. No, I suspect approaching the far side—but far away still—we’ll find Paleolithic panoramas incised and painted on the walls of dark caves, illuminated by the burning fat of wooly mammoths.
Scientific evidence can place our image-making somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 years ago. In fact, in the Chauvet Caves of Southern Frances, Radiocarbon dating reveals that our early artists continued to paint images upon images, on the same stone walls, for over five thousand years, embracing a notion—the physical reality of animals upon which we survived and worshiped as gifts of life for life.
But even here, we can’t expect the string to end. No, undoubtedly, our ball of art will continue to spool out into the dimmest, unreachable light of our beginning, far beyond our ability to measure.
We can—and so often do—argue about what is good art or bad, what is relevant, what is not, which artists are important and which are not. But we cannot argue about our need for art nor its enduring persistence in shaping our psyche; it began as something sacred, an awareness for life itself, something absolute and necessary. Today, we tend to objectify art, to think of it as ‘product,’ when in fact it is equally a verb, a constant coming into being, one endless thread of human potential, a mirror of collective awareness. Still, we cannot separate verb from noun; reflection and glass are one.
As long as we exist, so will art and so will our need to make it and move it into the world.
-Galen Garwood, March 2017