Tuesday, October 19, 2010


One of the questions that beginners in rock art studies often get passionately involved in is “is rock art really art?” Indeed, it often seems that the less the person actually knows, the more passionately they adopt and argue their positions on certain questions, and this question of “is it art?” seems to generate more steam than most. We hear endless facile (and ultimately meaningless) statements about people (the creators of the rock art) who do not even have a word for the concept of art and who strive to do everything well (italics mine), etc.

The truth is, of course, that it has never been left up to the creators of material to designate its status as art. Indeed, it makes no difference what their intentions were when producing the images. Historically materials have received the designation of “Art” if they proved of interest to collectors, and once notice had been taken of these materials they were quickly incorporated into the field of studies designated as Art History.

Indeed, except for a short period of time during the renaissance it really wasn’t until a little over a century ago that the creators of works designated as art were consulted much at all about what they did. The producers of “Modern Art” argued loud and long for the artistic legitimacy of what they produced. The truth is as it always has been that the designation of what is or is not art has never depended upon the intentions of the creator. It has always come from the collectors who were fascinated by the material, and the scholars who subsequently studied and classified it.

So, is rock art really art? Of course it is. It is art because of the large numbers of people who find it so fascinating, and because I, as an art historian, have devoted the last 30 years of my life to it - and I say so.

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