Cave Paintings

There are a number of caves (most famously, Lascaux) in the Dordogne département of central France that are filled with lovely, striking paintings made twenty-five thousand years ago by troglodytic Cro-Magnons.

Cave-painting of a horse from Lascaux.

These cavemen brought pigments made from animal, vegetable and mineral sources into the cave and selected among the available natural features whichever surface features most reminded them of the things they wished to paint. They used these shapes to create bassorilievi of bison, deer, horses, cattle — the creatures with which the cavemen shared their world.

We are still those cavemen, but we carry our pigments in our minds and paint our dreams onto the bare rocks of other persons, always seeking the form that most closely approximates our ideals. These paintings are often beautiful, sometimes so much so that they cause a kind of Stendhal’s Syndrome in miniature, but time wears away the pigments and reveals the stones beneath for something other than what our imaginings had made of them.

When our disillusionment becomes complete we redecorate our caves.

This entry is part of my journal, published January 2, 2004, in New York.