14 Mar

There seems to be a new vogue in good-looking Oxbridge video stars. Sexy historians who give the goods on the human story in easy sound-byte sized episodes. Brittany Hughes, for example. Her simple, serious minded English Rose act doesn’t cover the free and easy way she has with a summer dress, you can almost smell her thick brown hair. For those who dig the lads I guess there’s Nigel Spivey. The same thick brown wave of hair cut in the style of an Etonian schoolboy who’s escaped to Greece.

His book How Art Made the World is part of a wave of Art History tomes that’ve found their way into the marketplace over the last ten years or so. I’ve only read half so far. The first chapter is the one I find most interesting. He starts off with the discovery of the Altamira cave in the late 19th century by the nine year old daughter of the Spanish amateur archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola. He later was accused of forging the paintings. They were too good.


He died without knowing that they would one day be verified. During the second world war a group of teenagers and their dog (how Romantic is that?) found the Lascaux cave complex in southern France. This is the oldest art gallery in the world – that we know about.


There were people who made marks. There have always been people making marks. And in the West this has always been partially analytical, materialistic. These Lascaux people, they really wanted to represent nature with accuracy and detail.

That’s not Spivey’s theory it’s mine. His is that art originates as a Shamanic activity. With deft diplomacy he skates around the requirements of political correctness and enters into a comparison of the ancient European tribes with the 21st century still indigenous. Art originates as religious expression.. That’s his take and I agree, I really agree. It’s my dogma.

Think of a Shaman as a priest, a painter, a poet and a musician. Think of the Shaman as the MC, the DJ and the funkiest cat on the floor. Dig it. Before the division of labor that brought such benefits but made the Dreaming recede into the recesses of our consciousness, these jobs were all done by the same person. Naked in the face of Nature our ancestors felt the Spirit intense. It was more real to them then anything else in their world.

What has happened to our yellow bird folks. Religions die and are reborn as mere entertainment. Those these days that lyrically wax on about this:


Aren’t likely to be found in Church Sunday morning. And those that are will be looking at kitsch version of antique imagery, like so:


The serious Christian art still being done usually provokes hatred from the Faithful. Does that perhaps give pause for thought amongst those of us who still see the Light shining thru the true Art?

This is my mission statement. Before the career path strategy, before the maverick innovations, before the high style, the wit, the shrewd observation and the magnificent evocations, before the beauty of your shade of blue, before the chime in your beat – before all that – you’re a Shaman and that bears on you with a certain responsibility.

That was not always the creed. Time was it was an artist’s duty to spurn the way, the truth and the light. To be the Advocate.Some other time an artist was a Church propagandist. These days neither, no. These days we have made a wreckage of the meaning of life. The pieces lie all about us. And it’s the century for putting it back together again. As usual, architects lead the way. Now we need the images for the walls, the music bouncing off them and the words read inside. Words for humans to live by.

God is our witness.

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