How art made the world : a journey to the origins of human creativity

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Dated to 65, years ago, the cave paintings and shell beads are the first works of art dated to the time of Neanderthals , and they include the oldest cave art ever found. In two new studies, published Thursday in Science and Science Advances , researchers lay out the case that these works of art predate the arrival of modern Homo sapiens to Europe, which means someone else must have created them. Who were the Neanderthals?

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Do humans really share some of their DNA? Learn more about Homo neanderthalensis and how the species fits into our evolution story. In three caves scattered across Spain, researchers found more than a dozen examples of wall paintings that are more than 65, years old. At Cueva de los Aviones, a cave in southeastern Spain, researchers also found perforated seashell beads and pigments that are at least , years old.

And they were made by Neanderthals.

A journey deep inside Spain’s temple of cave art

Do I need to say more? The authors argue that, despite their oafish reputations in pop culture, Neanderthals were the cognitive equals of Homo sapiens. If their results hold, the finds imply that the smarts underpinning symbolic art may date back to the common ancestor of Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, some , years ago. In , limestone quarry workers in Germany's Neander Valley found bones that at first seemed to belong to a deformed human. Scientists of the time soon concluded that the large-browed, barrel-chested figure belonged to a distinct hominin species: Homo neanderthalensis.

At the time, Neanderthals were considered more brawn than brains, with one scientist even suggesting that they be classified as Homo stupidus. But since the s, researchers have jettisoned the knuckle-dragging stereotypes. Neanderthals buried their dead with care , crafted stone tools, and used medicinal plants. Genetic evidence also shows that Neanderthals and modern humans interbred: About two percent of modern European and Asian DNA traces back to Neanderthals.

Some researchers had been reluctant, though, to say that Neanderthals could make symbolic art. Based on the evidence at the time, it seemed that early European art didn't flourish until a major wave of modern Homo sapiens arrived on the continent about 40, to 50, years ago. Other studies did complicate the narrative. In France, scientists found jewelry made by Neanderthals around 43, years ago.


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In one Spanish cave, similarly ancient charcoal lies alongside cave paintings. Even off the wall, the painting commands attention. His back straight, his head jutting forward like a jaguar eyeing a peccary, Meyer will pivot between the pair until one of them signals defeat. Astounding but not surprising.

How art made the world : a journey to the origins of human creativity, Nigel Spivey

Nearly half a century after his death, Picasso continues to bewitch, confuse, entice, and provoke. From his early days as an artist, Picasso shattered our most primal understanding of the world with his fractured faces and splintered perspectives. He worked voraciously, reinventing his style at a rapid pace—his blue and rose periods, the African period, cubism, surrealism—creating thousands of sculptures, drawings, copperplate etchings, ceramics, and paintings.

Just as Albert Einstein envisioned gravitational ripples in the cosmos, Picasso saw undulations in the world we live in, long before we saw them ourselves. How does a person evolve from newborn to mastermind? How can a single soul redefine the way we see? Picasso the man was messy. He loved life at the circus and death at the bullfights. He could be both boisterous and silent, amorous and domineering.

But from his beginning as a prodigy to his final years painting musketeers and matadors, Picasso seemed destined for artistic greatness, his journey to genius fixed as firmly as paint on canvas. All the elements were there: a family that cultivated his creative passion, intellectual curiosity and grit, clusters of peers who inspired him, and the good fortune to be born at a time when new ideas in science, literature, and music energized his work and the advent of mass media catapulted him to fame. The arc of his life was not only prodigious; it was long. Everything about this place is rich with history and sensuality, he says.

Aromas filled the air. Genius is almost always cultivated by parents and teachers who support and nurture the seeds of greatness. From the start, young Pablo communicated through art, drawing before he could speak. Such a mix of awe and fear is not uncommon when it comes to prodigies. Where does such early expertise come from? Prodigies are rare, making it difficult to gather robust sample sizes to research, but Ellen Winner, director of the Arts and Mind Lab at Boston College, has found several core features among those she has studied. Precocious artists have acute visual memories, show remarkable attention to detail, and are able to draw realistically and create an illusion of depth years before their peers.

These characteristics mesh like a checklist with Picasso, who boasted about his exceptional artistry early in life. Within a few years, Picasso was painting skilled portraits of family and friends. He was an artist through and through.

A Journey to the Oldest Cave Paintings in the World

Genius requires a game-changing personality, endowed with the courage and vision to transform a discipline. When his turn came, Picasso charged forward with the intensity of a fighting bull. But the painting would become the cornerstone of a radical art movement, cubism, and vault to the top of the list of the most important paintings of the 20th century.

He avoided commissions, instead painting what he wanted and expecting people to be interested, his son says. So why do we find it so compelling? Science is providing interesting fodder here too.

How Art Made the World (TV Series – ) - IMDb

Such a balance of outward viewing and inward contemplation is unusual, Vessel says. This experience creates a special relationship between viewer and art, bringing the works alive. The human brain is capable of taking incomplete clues and reconstructing fairly coherent images. But how? This would suggest, at a biological level, that humans intuitively draw on their own experiences when viewing and processing complex art.

Long before brain science could corroborate it, Picasso seems to have understood this dynamic. The journey to greatness is never a solitary pursuit. He was driven by an obsession and a voracious dedication to his art, a rage to master that never subsided.


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The artist found promise in everything, etching an owl or a goat onto a stone from the sea.



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