The Mindful Bard
Cave of Forgotten Dreams
Books, Music, and Film to Wake Up Your Muse and Help You Change the World
Volume 21 Issue 22 2013-06-14
Film: Cave of Forgotten Dreams (IFC Films 2011)
Director: Werner Herzog
The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave Drawings: A Faithful Originality
“Man is a creature who walks in two worlds and traces upon the walls of his cave the wonders and the nightmare experiences of his spiritual pilgrimage.”
Once upon a time, before the dawn of history, somebody drew animal pictures on the walls of a cave in what is now France. The drawings exhibited insight, skill, and a well-developed aesthetic. There was evidence of techniques that had created a three-dimensional quality, something largely missing from European art until the Renaissance.
The drawings all bear the mark of a master and display a commonality of style. It’s easy to analyze this body of work as if it came from one person, but in fact the drawings were made by different people, artists who might have lived as many as four thousand years apart.
The Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave quickly became a household name after ancient drawings were discovered there in 1994. The significance of this find is phenomenal, in a particular way for poets, painters, and mystics.
Since its discovery in modern times the cave has attracted hordes of tourists. Their breath on the walls of the cave has created mould, so the French government has had to restrict access to certain areas in order to protect and preserve the drawings.
Apparently the urge to protect the past is prehistoric as well; there’s evidence that after these drawings were made, the people in the area respected them and took pains to protect them, even touching them up from time to time and adding new drawings with the same theme and in the same style.
This preservation is vital for reasons not always evident, reasons having to do with our connection to these ancestors and the debt we owe them as well as for what they still have to teach us. Not doing so will not bode well for us, and not because of some superstitious curse.
These “curses”—usually involving a grave dweller who will come to life to exact vengeance for the violation of his resting place—contain a bit of allegorical truth, representing if you will the emotional, spiritual, and psychological repercussions of dismissing the past.
We don’t have a lot of rational support for our prejudice against the ancient mind, even though a quick examination will reveal that our only advantage over them is that we have had the time to build better tools. It’s quite possible that if we could resurrect one of our Paleolithic ancestors and bring her up to speed, she could outperform us on a number of intellectual tasks, including artistic creation.
The remarkable thing about this art is its use of that stream of collective inspiration that Jung talks about, that unconscious resource that only geniuses can tap into. This wellspring of creative inspiration compelled these cave people to create art in the same style, yet always with the same spontaneous charm, ease, and creativity. Yes, Bob the lion slayer may have been adding embellishments and new animals to the work of Bess the berry picker who lived five centuries before him, but his additions were original and authentic and delightful even as they paid homage to the previous work and echoed its style.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams is masterfully crafted and visually splendid. It’s also thoughtful enough to spark endless discussions and ruminations on human nature and artistic endeavour.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams fulfills seven of the Mindful Bard’s criteria for films well worth seeing: 1) it is authentic, original, and delightful; 2) it poses and admirably responds to questions that have a direct bearing on my view of existence; 3) it stimulates my mind; 4) it provides respite from a sick and cruel world, a respite enabling me to renew myself for a return to mindful artistic endeavour; 5) it inspires an awareness of the sanctity of creation; 6) it makes me want to be a better artist; and 7) it makes me appreciate that life is a complex and rare phenomenon, making living a unique opportunity.
Wanda also penned the poems for the artist book They Tell My Tale to Children Now to Help Them to be Good, a collection of meditations on fairy tales, illustrated by artist Susan Malmstrom.
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