Paper “Discontentment” was originally written in 1972 when I was in high school. I did make some corrections, put drawings in text and updated the method for showing references within the text:
Cavemen had clubs & tools; we have bombs & machines. The Chinese eat with chopsticks while Americans eat with forks. The Romans wore togas; we wear overalls and blue jeans.
Throughout time & throughout the world man differs from his contemporary according to which society he was born into. Each society creates their own individual culture. This culture is made up of everything that was or is created by its members. When a new member comes into a society by birth or by migration, he must be socialized in order to be accepted. That person must accept the norms of expected behavior, morals & emotions; and many of the customs of the society or he will find himself in a clash with his surroundings. Culture can thus effect our emotions and even the way we think. We may deny these cultural effects but they are present no matter how much we deny our conformity.
A society’s culture is reflected in the every day lives of its members. The artist of his period expresses the mood, the values, the morals and the everyday lives of the people within his environment by his creations. The caveman’s mysterious and sometimes frightening surroundings along with his outlook on life and his culture were expressed in his paintings and sculptures. Today’s man, in a more modern setting, not only expresses himself on canvass but in a wider range of mediums. The modern artist also depicts his surroundings in his works and unlike his predecessor before him, he defines his world in a new form
Many thousands of years ago, man first appeared on earth. Then, too, a culture was forming and has been changing ever since. Prehistoric man found that by borrowing his neighbor’s invention of a spear he could be more successful in catching game. The discovery of fire widened the caveman’s world. Fire gave him warmth and when he heated his food by it, the taste was improved. These things may seem trivial but to primitive man, who had less intelligence than modern man, they were tools to his survival.
The cave artist expressed in his cave paintings his strange and harsh world. He painted a bison or deer on the wall perhaps for religious significance, but in any case a part of his everyday surroundings. There are mainly two schools of thought on why the caveman painted. One being that he drew for the love of art and the other for religious reasons.
The first school of thought explains that the caveman drew for pleasure and for no other reason than for enjoyment. Perhaps, he drew woman fat and grotesque as a sign of beauty (Drawing 1), and preferred to paint animals rather than man in a realistic almost perfect form. If this was true, the caveman painted to escape his harsh reality and needed a form of expression to do so.
Man began to create forms that reproduced the reality in which he lived and expressed the dark anguish and all pervading dread that dominated his existence (Pischel, 1968, p9).
I believe that the caveman needed an escape because mere existence and his need for survival was not enough for self satisfaction. Also his world was changing and he learned new things every day. Could it not be possible that with this new knowledge being thrown at him he developed cultural pressures known as culture shock? I believe he could have and in some small way did.
Culture shock is the experience of disorientation and frustration that occurs when an individual finds himself among people who do not share his fundamental premises. Acute culture shock is most likely to be experience when expectations. about personal feelings and interactions are violated. ( Broom & Selnick, 1968, p61)
If man in this period of time painted for religious reasons, proof of this can be found in almost every painting and sculpture created by prehistoric man. Most of the cave art was found in caves far secluded from the opening, many of them in the dark and sometimes hidden Most of the caveman’s art was of animals like those he hunted and when he drew man, he was a mere stick figure or very primitive (Drawing 2). In many drawings and sculptures the shape of the animal or woman was represented as fat and grotesque. For these reasons archaeologists will point that the art of prehistoric man was religiously influenced.
…as the Egyptians’ art was for the dead similarly the caveman, or no artistic skill than Egyptian priests and craftsmen responsible for our cathedrals, found thanks to belief in the magic of hunting, or reproduction, and of destruction, a social basis for practicing, developing and teaching their art. They were both artists and Magicians creating for love of art but also to increase and multiply the game they wanted to hunt fruitful, and to destroy harmful beasts (Brewil & Lantier, 1959, p177).
It has also been found that in other primitive cultures, they were universally sympathetic to magic and it can be assumed that the cavemen could have held the same beliefs.
A fat woman or bison (Drawing 3) may be significant of a pregnant female in fruitful state. Perhaps the caveman believed that by representing the female in this state, he could secure a good hunt and many children. As an artist the caveman painted his animals quite realistically but he portrayed man in a far inferior form. Even hands found on many cave paintings were malformed (Drawing 2). Again he may have done this because of superstitions and as a response to his beliefs. “Man was a far larger extent master of his fate, even if he lacked security in the face of forces of nature (Pischel, 1968, p12).
The artist himself may have been a sorcerer and painted a bison and a deer deep inside his sanctuary, the cave itself, as part of a ceremony or ritual. From drawing four (Drawing 4) one could conclude that if it is not a God or the sorcerer himself could it ever have been done as a joke or for pleasure? I myself doubt the latter.
If either school is right, I feel that the caveman in both cases can be considered to have been in awe of his surroundings. His constant search for food and shelter brought great pressures and through self expression he could find peace in painting.
His aspiration’s to make from nothing and from his desire to give visible form to some aspects of his confusion of mind and of the anguish that assailed him. In this sense, cave art expresses primitive man’s view of reality which surrounded him and the magical concept he had of his world. (Pischel, p10).
It is now 1972 and our world is much different than that of prehistoric man. Our culture far more advanced than primitive man, still has not alleviated and fears of living and surviving. Our insecurity and anguish, is still present. We may have come a long way, but we are still caught up in the confusion of our surroundings.
Times are evolving far faster than they did even a score ago. Our basic culture is rapidly changing and as it does many people, including myself, may not be able to accept our modern world. I see the US as a country run by machines, taught by machines and creating machine like people. I see how the machine can destroy a once unblemished earth, scarred and hurt beyond repair. I see people indifferent to each other and a society of people who live by the ticking of the clock. Heaven help us, if the clock ever stops. We are so conditioned by our society that we have forgotten how to express our deep emotions and think for ourselves. I see myself catching Toffler’s disease “future shock” (Toffler, 1970, p10); and not accepting the materialistic money conscious society today, but being caught up in it no matter how I try to avoid it.
In the three short decades between now and the 21st century, millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future. Citizens of the world’s richest and most technologically advanced nations, many of them will find it increasingly painful to keep it increasingly painful to keep up with the incessant demand for change that characterizes our time. For them, the future will have arrived too soon. (Toffler p9).
On canvass and in other mediums, the artist portrays the materialistic, machine conscious world of today. The pop artist developed a form in which he mocks our values, morals and our day to day existence. He takes ordinary objects we confront everyday and puts them on canvass or in a sculpture. The presentations offered speak as a means of discontentment with today’s modern world. Through the artist’s eye, one can see how our minds are thinking, and how we are being affected by our culture.
Andy Warhol’s works, which are mostly silk screen prints, remind me of our machine-like world, producing Brillo boxes and Campbell soup cans in duplicate, triplicate and ad infinitum (Drawing 5). Warhol has done various prints in which he repeats the same subject, with people such as his “Elvis” (drawing 6). I feel that as a machine produces the same products many times over, we ourselves act like we are made by the same machine, talking and even living the same homogeneous lives.
Machine like people are being stripped of our human emotions and deep feelings towards fellow man, as expressed in Carlo Carra’s painting “The Hermaphrodite Idol” (see drawing 7). The artist portrays a doll-like figure, divested of all emotion and feeling drained and brainwashed. Viewing Roy Lichtenstein’s “Woman with Flowered Hat” (Drawing 8) and can sense by the abstraction of the form, negative feelings toward the beauty of man himself. An abstract artist may be saying more in his work than just trying to be different.
Our culture effects our emotions in the extent that it is alienating us from our surroundings. Two contemporary artists Edward Hopper and George Tooker express this feeling in their paintings. Hopper, by painting places rather than people, projects a sense of emptiness and silence through bold patterns of light and shadow. In “Early Sunday Morning” (see drawing 9), the street scene is deserted and one feels a sense of desolation and isolation. Tooker, through the use of people, creates an atmosphere of alienation and lack of meaning in people’s lives (see drawing 10).
As Americans, we live in a materialistic society. We strive for success and lots of money. We baby our cars and other possessions. Many artists have done paintings of money itself. Examples are Warhol’s “Ten Dollar Bill” (Drawing 12). The collage by Anita Siegel (Drawing 13) presents a picture of our money-based economy and how each year we faithfully pay our taxes. In the plastic head (Drawing 14) one can see how our minds are cluttered with materialism.
The ocean of man made physical objects surrounds us is set within a larger ocean of natural objects, but increasingly individual. The texture of plastic or concrete, the iridescent glisten of an automobile under a streetlight, the staggering vision of a city-scape seen from the window of a jet-these are intimate realities of his existence. Man-made things enter into and color his consciousness. Their number expanding with explosive force, both absolutely and relative to the natural environment. This will be even more true in super-industrial society than it is today (Toffler, p52).
Our minds are being affected by our commercial society. Advertisements, such as billboard, hide our natural surroundings while television and other mass media probe into our minds. A sophisticated television commercials (Alka -Seltzer) produces less in sales than the inferior commercial (Charmin Bath Tissue). By thinking less our minds are conditioned to take in this poor quality media. The pop artist reflects this in his works. Bernie Kenmtz’s “Mrs. Karl’s Bread Sign” is an example (drawing 15). The huge painting of a loaf of bread is part of an actual city street, appearing like a billboard but it is only an imitation, not an advertisement. Lichtenstein using n actual newspaper advertisement as a subject of his painting “Girl and Ball” (see drawing 16).
Popists hold firmly that color, form and composition (as well as subject manner) can be taken from banal or commercial objects we see all around us in the supermarket, on billboards, in the newspapers and on television. Moreover, they are determined ‘coolly’ to accept the world of advertising and mass-media and so to fashion a language of popular culture today and the mysterious, often in comprehensible world of so called fine art (Amaya, 1970).
Creativity is not encouraged for everyone. Our hobbies, such as needlepoint, is now packaged in kits, predesigned as to color and content. Warhol’s “Do It Yourself” (drawing 17) illustrates a paint by number kit, a reflection of our lack of imagination.
Abstracts, such as happiness and love can be over analyzed in books and in other publications, lose its basic meaning. Lichtenstein’s analysis of Cezanne wife (drawing 18) lacks a sense of beauty when compared to an actual portrait of Cezanne’s wife (drawing 19).
From the time man first began to draw until the present day he has left a permanent memory of his era on canvass for others to view. The true artist is free to express any mood he wishes, make a statement, message, or moral, and can even predict the future. As a critic, the artist depicts from his surrounding the ills of the world and presents then to the viewer who interprets them as he wishes.
Since the beginning of man’s existence on earth to the present time, he has always had a grievance and reason for being dissatisfied with life time, but will hope that the future will be better. Through adversity true happiness is realized. With this knowledge man should be able to improve his life and contribute betterment for his fellow man.
- Picture in Peter J Ucko & Andree Rosenfeld. Palaeolithic Cave Art. p93. “Laussell Woman with Bison Horn”
- Picture in Dorothy & Joseph Samachson, The First Artists, intro page.
- Ucko and Rosenfeld, p162.
- Brewil and Lantier, p224.
- Coplans, p7. “Campbell Tomato Soup Can”
- Coplans, p79. “Elvis” 1962, 82″x60″ from Leo Castelli Gallery, NY
- Batterbery, p117. “The Hermaphrodite Idol” by Carlo Carra.
- Lippard, p69.
- Cover of Westchester Telephone Book, 1972.
- Batterberry, p173. “The Waiting Room” by George Tooker.
- Coplans, p36. “Dollar Bills” 1962, Myron Orlofsky, South Salem, NY.
- Lippard, p157. “Ten Dollar Bill”
- Ny Times Magazine 1972.
- Times Magazine March29, 1972. no author known.
- Lippard, p31.
- Lippard. p81. Clipping from resort section of Sunday NY Times 1963
- Coplans, p31.”Do It Yourself” 1962 Collection Dr K Strober, Germany.
- Lippard, p95.
- LIppard p95. Cezanne: Madame Cezzanne in the Grernhouse 1892-92.
Amaya, Mario. Pop Art and After. NY: Viking Press, 1965.
Batterbery, Michael. Twentieth Century Art. NY: McGraw Hill, 1969.
Broom, Leonard & Selnick, Philp. Sociology. NY: Harper & Row, 1968.
Brewil, H. & Lantier, R. The Man of the Old Stone Age. NY: St Martin’s Press, 1959.
Coplans, John. Andy Warhol. NY: NY Graphic Society LTD.
Lippard, Lucy. Pop Art. NY: Frederick A. Praeger Pub, 1966.
Pischel, Gina. A World Histoty of Art. NY: Golden Press, 1968
Samachson, Dorothy & Joseph. The First Artists. NY: Doubleday, 1970.
Ucko, Peter & Rosenfeld, Andree. Paleolithic Cave Art. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1967.
Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. NY: Random House, Inc., 1970.