I think we should all look at cave paintings more often. They should be the centerpieces of our cities and the images our religious texts begin with. Human beings are terribly forgetful about their own ancestry, especially when it favors us to do so. I think it takes courage to look at cave paintings and understand that yes, that was me too. It will humble us, make us more grateful for everything we have, and hopefully kinder to our world.
What did cavemen think the purpose of their life was? What of your tenth generation ancestor? The farmer who wrote stories with the stars. His daughter. What sounds did they make with their mouth to share their thoughts with one another? Do traces of their smile find their way into your lips? Does your laugh sound oddly familiar to theirs? They were confined as we are by their terrible awareness of the sheer unfairness of it all.
Life must have seemed like a cruel joke to everybody at some point of their story. They were dropped here, into their narrative, and offered none of the tools authors get. They had no villain, no call to action. Nothing to do and a deeply frightening world outside.
To make art, in the face of that black meaninglessness, is the bravest thing anyone could do. To stare into the punch line of the meanest joke ever told, and to make music. To paint. I wish I could have told them how far their children would get, and how the glint in their eye lives on, six thousand years later, in their lineage.
With smartphones and satellite dishes, we’ve lost touch with that common past. We should look more at cave art. Looking at something someone made tens of thousands of years ago reminds us of our vulnerability.
Monkeys. Hairless, smarter, but ultimately primates. That’s our whole character arc. Male monkeys, female monkeys, little infant monkeys with adorable little infant fists that grab adult monkey fingers! Our societies need to humble us by reminding us from who we came, and even in our lowest moments, we had ancestors who went through worse.
And perhaps, in the face of this reality, some of us would behave differently. We wouldn’t stress about the little things.We wouldn’t give each other up so fast. We’d build more beautiful things.
Cave paintings remind us our needs are simple, our fortunes are miraculous, and our time here is brief.