Art and Architecture, Biology, Books for the News

Guthrie in the New Mexican

jacket imageLast week, the New Mexican featured an article about R. Dale Guthrie’s new book, The Nature of Paleolithic Art. Guthrie’s book has been eliciting media attention because of his theory that many Paleolithic era cave paintings were done by "testosterone-laden" young boys. From the Associated Press article by Dan Joling:

Most books on Pleistocene art focus on the best of the era, images produced by highly skilled hands. The Mammoth Steppe, the portion of the northern hemisphere that stayed ice-free while much of the Earth was covered by Ice Age glaciation, was rich in deposits of earth pigments, such as red, orange and yellow iron oxides. Paleolithic artists sometimes applied them by brush, sometimes by chewing and spitting in a fine, dry spray, producing a stipple.
"Most prehistorians think of adults doing all these things," Guthrie said. Many scholars also contend that most of the art was done by shamans for religious purposes—pictures to please the gods, or bless a hunt or dramatize a shaman’s vision.
Overlooked, Guthrie said, are thousands of less sophisticated drawings that he believes have a more mundane origin. More than half the population was teenage or younger. With artists tools available, Guthrie said, it’s highly likely youngsters were artists too, and their work just as likely to be preserved as works by experienced painters.
Instead of photographs, Guthrie illustrated his book with his own line drawings of Pleistocene art. His renderings allow comparisons between paintings, carving and etchings and focus the eye away from artistic qualities toward content, he said.

But what about female artists? Guthrie acknowledges that the book is biased toward art produced by males. This is because males happened to choose a medium that lasted. Female artists, however, likely worked in more ephemeral mediums, such as furs, leather, lace, braiding, weaving fiber and wood utensils—art that has been "lost to the ravages of time."
We have several excerpts from the book available. You can read the preface, an excerpt on what a handprint can reveal about its maker, and an excerpt on missing fingers in handprints.