Consciousness and the Origins of Art
by David Lewis-Williams
• Paperback: 320 pages
• Publisher: Thames & Hudson (April 2004)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 0500284652
• ISBN-13: 978-0500284650
From Publishers Weekly
In attempting to discern how Paleolithic Homo sapiens "became human and in the process began to make art," Lewis-Williams, an emeritus art historian at a Johannesburg university, focuses on the glorious but mysterious cave painting of western Europe, made between 45,000 and 10,000 years ago. Lewis-Williams has two main hypotheses: the first contends that mankind could only engage in image-making upon developing "fully modern consciousness," or an ability to process mental images in a variety of manners. The second argument insists that cave painting was a byproduct of religious belief and helped maintain a society with strict class distinctions. Recent research findings in the fields of archeology, anthropology and neuropsychology, among other social and physical sciences, bear upon the elaboration of these two ideas in the first two thirds of the book, while the final third details the author's interpretations of the animal and geometric imagery found in such sites as France's Lascaux and Gabillou caves. Having presented the science supporting his views of prehistoric images, Lewis-Williams is particularly winning as he subtly reveals his devotion to the art and people he attempts to explain. He is sensitive to those who "saw real things, real spirit animals and beings, real transformations" on cave walls.
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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information
From Library Journal
For the last 30 years, Lewis-Williams (Rock Art Research Inst., Univ. of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg) has written books and articles about rock art produced by the San (Bushmen) of South Africa and the Cro-Magnon of Upper Paleolithic Europe. This recent work, mainly focused on wall and ceiling art in French and Spanish caves, recalls The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, which he coauthored with Jean Clottes. That book was considered an important contribution to the field, if not the last word on the subject. That assessment applies here as well, but for the current volume Lewis-Williams has brought in more scholarly methodology and up-to-date research to develop his premise that some of the paintings were produced by shamans who aimed to "fix" on the underworld "membrane" of the cave walls what they experienced in states of altered consciousness. He discusses the development of various theories, past and present, about rock art, Paleolithic peoples, shamanism in hunter-gatherer societies, neurology, and higher-order consciousness. This insightful work could fit in a number of categories-art, archaeology, anthropology, history, early religion, psychology-and is recommended for both academic and public libraries.
Anne Marie Lane, Univ. of Wyoming, Laramie Munhall, Edgar. Greuze the Draftsman.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information.
The Bradshaw Foundation Book Review
|James David Lewis-Williams is professor emeritus of cognitive archaeology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. David Lewis-Williams, as he is known to his friends and colleagues, is regarded as an eminent specialist in the San or Bushmen culture, specifically their art and beliefs. His book, The Mind in the Cave: Consciousness and the Origins of Art (Thames & Hudson) won the American Historical Association's 2003 James Henry Breasted Award. His most recent books are Inside the Neolithic Mind: Consciousness, Cosmos, and the Realm of the Gods (Thames & Hudson) co-authored with David Pearce and published in 2005, Conceiving God: The Cognitive Origin and Evolution of Religion, published in 2010, and Deciphering Ancient Minds: The Mystery of San Bushman Rock Art, co-authored with Sam Challis and published in 2011.