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Peeks & Piques!
Peek and Piques archives


ART TIMES December 2005

LONG BEFORE THEY became craftspeople and technicians, prehistoric image-makers (dare we call them artists?) were seers. Though largely incomprehensible to us, the abstract squiggles and rectilinear lines chiseled into rocks, tomb markers, and cliff faces meant something to their carvers, but what precisely they signify remains a mystery. In the first place, why such markings? What did they convey to the maker? What to their fellows? Some, like Otto Rank, have hypothesized that these markings represent mankind’s earliest attempts at expressing the inexpressible and, as such, represented an incipient spirituality that served as some prototypical ‘religion”. In this sense, then, these early image-makers were our first ‘priests’ since our major religions, being book-based, came long after speech was transformed into a written language — and, as we know, these pre-historic “artists” were around a long, long time before speech as a means of communication came about. It was only after, when the tools became as important to mankind as had been their original use — namely, to express ‘something’ — that the idea of craftsmanship began to arise. As craftspeople became more and more technically proficient in both the making and use of their tools, it then became the doing — and not the tools — that was deemed all-important. Attention thus shifted to process. A foregone conclusion, then, that it would eventually be the product that became the focal point. In time, it was the object created by a craftsperson proficient in the use of special tools that became all the rage — and thus the concept of “art” was born. From purpose, to process, to proficiency, to product. What an evolution! But what of that original impetus that started the whole thing going in the first place? What happened to the seer? To the one who tried to point his fellows to a something beyond their senses? Don’t we still tend to think of artists as those who can see more clearly than the rest of us? Do we still owe anything to that original gift of being able to see more than others? And how — and why — did he/she slowly evolve into a mere producer of objects? How did they get from ‘see’-ers to ‘do’-ers? Ought there not be some homage paid to this business of genuine seeing? After all, these pre-literate stone-scratchers are the great, great, great, great granddaddies and grandmamas of all artists — from da Vinci to Rembrandt to Morrisot to Warhol to the very latest wannabe on the block. Shouldn’t today’s artists be showing/telling us something other than where we’ve been, where we are, or where we’re heading? Shouldn’t they be doing something about giving us a heads-up on where we ought to be going? Come on, being a seer is where it begins, isn’t it? It can’t all be about technique, trend setting, and sales — can it? When did the impetus first hit you? Remember? What was your vision and why was it strong enough for you to attempt to express it through an image? Is that initial urge to put pencil to paper still there, lurking around in your subconscious? Or have you buried it under a style, a favorite motif, or the theme of an upcoming, juried show? Have you slavishly followed the same evolution from purpose, to process, to proficiency, to product? Or are you finally going to get serious and get back to that vision? Who knows — it might be you who really has something to share with us.

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