Art News – Abstract Art is Older than You Think

neanderthal-art-Stewart Finlayson

Art News: Abstract Art is Older Than You Think, written by an anonymous Guest Blogger

Creators of abstract art are often confronted with a simple question: is what you do even art? Unfortunately, the answer (while easily summarized as an emphatic “YES”) isn’t often as simple. What follows is generally a discussion of the merits and drawbacks of abstract art.

Fortunately, a recent bit of art news ensures that artists now have an additional argument to make in their case for abstract art: it’s been done for 40,000 years.

The work, creatively titled #stoneagehashtag by Twitter users, features a series of criss-crossed line etched in stone. It was presumably created by Neanderthals in Gibraltar, who had been thought to be less evolved than modern humans precisely because of their inability to create art for art’s sake.

But that’s exactly what this new finding seems to suggest. Scientists found distinctly Neanderthal tools engulfed by the stone surrounding the art, the likes of which have never been found next to art created by homo sapiens.

So Neanderthals unexpectedly knew how to draw abstract lines. What’s the significance for today’s artists? 

Scientists know Neanderthals as a lesser-developed species of human being who above all followed their survival instincts. Findings throughout Europe seemed to support that hypothesis, but the new findings are a curveball.

In fact, they leave only two possibilities: either lines serve some sort of practical purpose, as most cave paintings do – instructions to hunt, recounting cautionary tales, etc. But why take considerable effort in creating the lines that would be much better spent with more obvious, less abstract paintings?

Al Held

That makes the second possibility much more likely: the abstract lines are a kind of self-expression, the development of symbolism, a desire to express thoughts that can’t simply be drawn literally. 40,000 years ago, human beings took considerable effort to etch a few lines in stone, because these lines were important to them in ways that go beyond their simple appearance.And isn’t that just what any argument about abstract art comes down to?

Featured Image (top): Abstract cave carving, possibly the first known example of Neanderthal rock art. (Stewart Finlayson)

Bottom Image (bottom): Al Held


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