I have been captivated by a question posed by Joseph Campbell in The Power of Myth interviews, wherein he discusses the cave paintings at Lascaux…
MOYERS: Do you ever look at these primitive art objects and think not of the art but of the man or woman standing there painting or creating? I find that I speculate — who was he or she?
CAMPBELL: This is what hits you when you go into those ancient caves. What was in their minds as they created these images? How did they get up there? And how did they see anything? The only light they had was a little flickering torch.
And with respect to the problem of beauty — is this beauty intended? Or is it something that is the natural expression of a beautiful spirit? Is the beauty of the bird’s song intentional? In what sense is it intentional? Or is it the expression of the bird, the beauty of the bird’s spirit, you might say? I think that way very often about this art. To what degree was the intention of the artist what we would call “aesthetic” or to what degree expressive? And to what degree is the art something that they had simply learned to do that way?
When a spider makes a beautiful web, the beauty comes out of the spider’s nature. It’s instinctive beauty. How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive? How much of it is conscious and intentional? That is a big question.
Every word that Campbell speaks is golden, and I urge you to read (US / UK) or listen to (US
/ UK) the interviews in their entirety. If you’ve seen Werner Herzog’s documentary on the more recently-discovered Chauvet Cave, I think you’ll have an even deeper appreciation of the discussion.
How much of the beauty of our own lives is about the beauty of being alive?
How much of it is conscious and intentional?