At the British Museum, an exhibition about Ice Age artefacts opened in February. It runs until May, and this is an exhibition that I really want to go and see, because it is the oldest examples that we have of modern human art.
Humans have always made art. You could say it is a psychological necessity to make art for any human being, whether a person recognise it or not. Art is intrinsic to human nature, whether that is a modern 12 year old plonking out chords on a guitar while dreaming about being a celebrity, or whether it is this 18 year old that try to become a writer.
And it has always been like that, ever since modern man emerged from the opaque mists of history and started to leave signs and traces in the environment for us in this age to find and marvel at. We may not understand it, and we may not be able to read the symbolism or the signs, and it may be that the meaning of the art is lost because the first consumers of this art knew exactly what was meant and didn’t see a need to leave an explanation of the obvious to later generations, but we immediately see it for what it is.
Art. Creativity made not as a consequence of the battle for survival against the elements, but as a thing to do for art’s own sake. Even though an ivory figurine took 400 hours to produce, it was considered a productive use of time. Because art matter, and art is intrinsically human, and these artefacts are the examples that have survived to this age.
Modern humans are apparently not the only form of humans to create art. In Spain, near Malaga, there is a cave called Nerja with paintings that are thought to be examples of Neanderthal art. The image shows drawings of the seals that the Neanderthals would have hunted and eaten about 42 000 years ago.
Art then, is a characteristic of human beings, and shows up in the two distinct species that have about the same intellectual, emotional and symbolic capability. It seems to me, though this is of course pure conjecture, that for art to show up in two distinct human species – there must be a core trait that goes back at least to the shared ancestors in the ranks of Homo Erectus.