What Does Art Represent?

What does art mean to us? Why does art play such an important role in our life? Why are humans so drawn to art?

Painting at Jabiru Dreaming, Kakadu National Park

Researchers have told us that 40,000 years ago, the first humans had developed instruments to make sounds, to make music. But 78,000 years ago they were able to depict their imagination and what they saw in two-dimensions and they created representational models we now call ‘Petropglyps’ - which is the earliest undisputed art that survived the prehistoric ages. This shows that art is even older than what we perceive as music.

The Blombos Cave, also known as the Cradle of Human Culture, is thus known for being invaluable in understanding the understanding and cognitive capabilities of early humanity – the actual birth of art.

Our appeal for art dates that long time ago. This is how intrinsic our cognition is and how deeply rooted art is in our evolution. Some even argue that the development of art back then, those first red markings on some cave walls representing the world’s first paintings, were actual catalyst in our evolution, without which we would not have had cultural evolution.

If we believe that one part of the brain is for appreciation and understanding of art, namely the left-side, then natural evolution really from the development of the first art by our ancestors. Indeed, research shows that humans use the frontal-lobe to understand art, and subsequently, more of the frontal-lobe to activate our emotions and reactions to the art. Art is almost a motor to human evolution and it can be argued that a child exposed to art can be engineered – for lack of a better word – to become artistic, or at least, creative in some art field (even in architecture or fashion.) The simple exposure to art will do that.

But why?

Surely, there is more to it than just the way we evolved. Since 78,000 years ago, our frontal-lobe have been evolving due to exposure to some form of art. 78,000 years of cranial development is an incredible process.

The human brain is already less understood than most phenomenon in nature and so far, science have not even been able to produce an actual map of our brain. So, it is fair to assume that excitation in the frontal-lobe is not the only reaction when looking or trying to understand or create art.

Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain

An art piece is capable of capturing our eyes and mind and emotions and bundle it together to take it somewhere we never thought existed. This is one explanation of what happens when we stand in front of an art piece and let ourselves dive into it. Often, we use the narrative of the description or some opinion piece we read that some critic wrote. We use that narrative either as an inception to the journey the art will take us on or we use the narrative as the actual journey. Many agree that the more imagination we express, the deeper we dive into art. Many more agree that the more we allow ourselves to dive into art, the more our imagination is fed and the more it grows.

In my opinion, when it comes to art, the frontal-lobe acts like a vessel and art becomes the fuel. The more art we pour into our consciousness, by either looking at a painting, trying to understand a painting or creating a painting, the more we allow our subconscious to live in a reality that is beyond the mere materialism we surround ourselves with. Art thus becomes doorways and windows to another reality, another dimension, another universe. Looking at a art piece turns into looking out the window and seeing an imaginary garden in an everlasting universe.

78,000 years ago, the first humans were looking at a different reality when they enjoyed the red paintings on their cave walls. Today, we are pushing further and enjoying multitudes of alternative realities.

Humanity will always have art. Art will always have humanity.