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Superbly Illustrated very Readable Masterpiece.
on 12 December 2013
This is a superbly illustrated work with very readable, descriptive text by Jill Cook, a senior curator at the British Museum who, whilst obviously steeped in the knowledge of her subject, has a pleasingly detached style that avoids any personalised slants of opinion. The reader is simply presented with the facts and, where there is uncertainty, it is acknowledged. All told, the reader is left with the overwhelming impression that the creators of Ice Age art were every bit as intelligent as modern humans and that the modern world had already dawned. It was simply a question of the accumulation of knowledge and skills, which were handed down and improved upon from generation to generation. The humans of twenty, even thirty, thousand years ago were already observing, interpreting and devising, one of the results of which is that the quality of both their art work and craftsmanship has never been surpassed. Equalled, yes, but not surpassed.
On page 178 there's an illustration of a masterfully crafted, laurel leaf shaped flint tool that perfectly illustrates how skilled these early people must have been. As we study their work we cannot fail to become aware of the relationship between craftsmanship and pure art and also become aware of the the differences between the two, epitomised by cave paintings on the one hand and flint tools on the other. It is said that, when Pablo Picasso was taken into the caves to see the paintings, he exclaimed: 'We have learned nothing!' In those far off days they already had both innovators and copyists: those with new ideas and those who copied and exploited them. Looking back over the past thousands years we can see how, whilst some art is original and innovative, other so called art is really no more than top quality craftsmanship. An innovator comes along and is followed by load of band wagon jumpers. The fact that it was the same then is so well brought out in this book.
The book has eight chapters: 1: Introduction. 2: Europe's oldest sculptures, 30,000-20,000 years ago. 3: Soft curves and full figures, 30,000-20,000 years ago. 4: Art and identity, 40,000-20,000 years ago. 5: Animals in art, 30,000-20,000 years ago . 6: Renaissance art in Western Europe, 22,000-12,000 years ago. 7: Sex of symbol? Images of women, 18,000-11,000 years ago. 8: Late drawings, sculptures and stories, 15,000-10,000 years ago. There's also an afterword, notes, further reading, picture acknowledgements and an index. A few illustrations of art from the past 2000 years, mainly very recent, have been included for comparisons. All told, this is one of those great works that will never fail to inspire the eagerly returning reader. Jill Cook and her helpers have done us all proud.