Abstraction, Symbolism & Spirituality


This work shall examine the modalities and evolution of art looking to clarify the relationship of abstraction to realism, the use of symbolism in abstraction as a product of spirituality; as well as the modern use of metaphor as a contextual parameter for direct meaning in contemporary art. I hope to draw correlations that will help students and laymen grasp an understanding of the enormous power and heritage found throughout art and its history.

Neolithic Paleolithic

The works considered to fall under Paleolithic periods is circa 32,000-11,000 years ago. Works first marking this time are typically known as cave paintings this also applied to objects found in or nearby these caves. Such as bone or antler typically carved with patterns or what are considered to be decorative motifs. I have looked to this period many times for many reasons, mostly to examine the first evolution of aesthetics and to ask some of the following questions along with others:

By looking at the need for early man to document day-to-day existence, we see the emergence of ritual as the first manifestation of expression. These first manifestations were based upon the relationship of man to his natural environment. It becomes easier to see modern civilization's relationship to this early understanding and subsequently understand its reciprocal admiration of this period. It is from these first early observations that we may begin to answer some of the questions listed above. I believe that the inhabitants living in the area of this time including Mesolithic, Neolithic with of course some variations, saw the use of marking there tools with symbols and inscriptions as a way of tribal identification or territorial marker. The symbols inscribed on tools found nearby these areas would signify to others that the territory had been marked. And by using the same inscriptions throughout the caves or objects let neighboring tribes see the extent of area or territory covered.

Once purpose was established in the marking of objects I believe associations of those markings started to acquire meaning for the individuals making the objects and the representation of how the markings where made also began to take on layers of meaning. What is in man that he feels the need to create? We first need to look to nature's role in relation to man in this time frame so that we may ascertain meaning if any, and begin to identify key elements those relationships appear to manifest. As with some artist today who explore the relationship of nature to materials and concept through art. It is my belief that individuals living in Paleolithic times began a similar relationship, though there are those who feel it as being unconscious to them at the time but in essence a spiritual relationship to nature. The same experience today that we now reserve for devote religious individuals. If these first markings began with spiritual relations to nature, it follows that the evolution of this process would not stray to far from its original intent. It seems logical that over time individual members (shaman) or (artist) where given the task of documenting the tribes identity and daily existence.

Lascaux cave. Paint on limestone, 15,000-13,000 BCE

Other archaeologist and historians such as Joseph Campbell have attributed the paintings to signify initiation rights of younger tribal members into manhood. I think this too deserves consideration having the benefit of studying rituals in present day tribal practice.











Photograhy & Captions courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of New York

18,000 b.
Central Russian mammoth bone settlements

12,000 b.

12,000 Domestication of dogs

10,500-8000 Natufian settlements

10,000b.85 00 Domestication of sheep

8500-5000 Development of farming in the Middle East

8,000 b.
Domestication of pigs, goats, cattle
7000 Full-fledged town at Jericho
6250-5400 Çatal Huyuk at its peak
6,000 b.
5600 Beans domesticated
5000-2000 Yangshao culture in North China
5000 Domestication of maize (corn)
4,000 b.
4000-3000 Age of  innovation in the Middle East: Introduction of writing, metalworking, the wheel, and the plow.
3500 Llama domesticated
3500-2350 Civilization of Sumer
c. 3100 Rise of Egyptian civilization
2500-1500Indus civilization in South Asia
2,000 b.
2000 Kotosh culture in Peru c.
1766 Emergence of Shang kingdom in China
1700 - 1300 Rise of village culture in Mesoa America
1000-500 Olmec civilization in Mesoamerica
400 Potatoes domesticated
7000–4000 Spread of agriculture through most of Middle East
5000 Farming along Nile River
4000 Sumerians settle in Tigris-Euphrates valley
3500 Early Sumerian alphabet
3100–2700 Initial kingdoms
3000 Introduction of bronze tools
2700–2200 Old Kingdom period
2600 First great pyramid
2400–2200 Akkadian empire conquers Sumer
2052–1786 Middle Kingdom period; civilization to Upper Nile
2000 Phoenician state
2000 Gilgamesh epic written
800 Babylonian empire; Hammurabi, 1796 –1750
1700 Hyksos invasion
1600 Minoan Civilization [Crete]
1600 Possible settlement of Jews in southeast Mediterranean
1575–1087 New Kingdom Period 1
1400–1200 Hittite empire; use of iron
1250 Moses and Jewish exodus from Egypt (traditional belief)
1100 Spread of use of iron
1000–970 Kingdom of Israel under King David
1000 Kush independent kingdom
1000 Indo-European invasion of Greece
1000 Spread of Phoenician settlements in western Mediterranean
800 Beginning of writing of Bible
730 Kushite rule of Egypt
721 Assyrian invasion conquers northern Israel
665–617 Assyrian empire
539 Persian empire
100 C.E. Decline of Kush and its capital Meroe
300 C.E. Rise of Axum [Ethiopia]