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The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art
Synopses & Reviews
The breathtakingly beautiful art created deep inside the caves of western Europe in the late Ice Age has the power to dazzle even the most jaded observers. Emerging from the narrow underground passages into the chambers of caves such as Lascaux, Chauvet, and Altamira, visitors are confronted with symbols, patterns, and depictions of bison, woolly mammoths, ibexes, and other animals.
Since its discovery, cave art has provoked great curiosity about why it appeared when and where it did, how it was made, and what it meant to the communities that created it. In the most convincing explanation for Upper Palaeolithic art yet proposed, David Lewis-Williams describes how nineteenth-century beliefs that the drawings were "art for art's sake," or totemism, were supplanted in the wake of Darwinian evolutionary theory. The earliest human beings had a more advanced neurological makeup than their Neanderthal neighbors, allowing individuals to induce altered states of consciousness during which they experienced vivid mental imagery. It became important for people to "fix," or paint, these images onto cave walls, which they perceived as the membrane between their world and the spirit world from which the visions came. Over time, new social distinctions developed as individuals exploited their hallucinations for personal advancement, and the first truly modern society emerged.
Illuminating glimpses into the ancient mind are skillfully interwoven with the still-evolving story of modern-day cave discoveries and research. The Mind in the Cave is a superb piece of detective work, casting light on the darkest mysteries of our earliest ancestors while strengthening our wonder at their aesthetic achievements. 87 illustrations, 26 in color.
"[Lewis-Williams] describes the shock of descending deep underground and finding art work thirty-five thousand years old: 'Muddied and exhausted, the explorer will be gazing at the limitless terra incognita of the human mind.'" Lauren Porcaro, The New Yorker
"While writing about our forebears of tens of millennia ago, the scholar rightly suggests important similarities between the functions of art in the Paleolithic and current eras. Now, as then, he argues, images maintain spiritual power; art can still have a direct impact on social relations, leading to unity or division." Publishers Weekly
Includes bibliographical references (p. -314) and index.
About the Author
David Lewis-Williams is Professor Emeritus and Senior Mentor in the Rock Art Research Institute, University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. His publications include Believing and Seeing: Symbolic Meanings in the Southern San Rock Paintings and, with Jean Clottes, The Shamans of Prehistory.
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