The oldest piece of figurative sculpture found to date was this recently discovered in Germany and thought to be about 36000 years old.
Really amazing but for me not really something that rings my aesthetic chimes. When it comes to human representation I can tolerate abstraction but prefer a near human size right up to the outrageously huge. For instance, I was suitably impressed by the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok. At 46 metres long and 15 metres high you can’t quite stuff it in your pocket the way you might a Degas dancer.
But is size simply a choice of the sculptor or was there a cognitive leap at sometime to make something the same size as the real thing? After all, the oldest works are all small.
Oddly enough this reminded me of the Woody Allen passage from his The Discovery and Use of the Fake Ink Blot:
The first ink blots, it was learned, were crude, constructed to eleven feet in diameter, and fooled nobody.
However, with the discovery of the concept of smaller sizes by a Swiss physicist, who proved that an object of a particular size could be reduced in size simply by “making it smaller”, the fake ink blot came into its own.
There are alternative possibilities for the ancient figurines.
1. Ease of execution: in general the larger the work the more detail is required.
2. Amount of available time: perhaps early society was too utilitarian to allow much time to be wasted on art.
3. Amount of available materials: perhaps larger works were seen as diverting important resources.
It is intriguing to consider the state of mind of the old artisans. Assuming they could tell that distant things were far away and not just small they would have intended these as representative and not specifically miniature versions. Or did they, and I don’t really think this, think that they were creating parts of a small world?
And to come at it from entirely a different tack: we think of it as natural of making a human figure life size but it would seem quite radical to make a statue of a large building or a mountain life size.
(Coming soon, musings on the weight of sculpture and the use of perspective.)
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