Saturday, March 18, 2017


Mammoth engraving from Abro
Cellier, France. Photo and
drawing by R. Bourrillon.

I  have commented on recent discoveries by Randall White from New York University and his team of researchers, and their discoveries in the French rock shelters Abri Blanchard, Abri Castanet, and Abri Faravel. Now another article adds Abri Cellier to the list of their discoveries of remarkably old rock art. Lorraine Boissoneault, writing in, has detailed their discoveries in her column "Prehistoric Pointillism? Long Before Seurat, Ancient Artists Chiseled Mammoths Out of Dots."

Aurochs engraving from Abri 
Blanchard, France. Photo and
 drawing by R. Bourrillon.

The same story was well covered by Laura Geggel, a senior writer for on February 24, 2017, in her article "Just Like Van Gogh: Prehistoric Artists Used Pointillist Technique."

These articles illustrate 38,000-year-old imagery carved into blocks of limestone from the above mentioned locations with animals portrayed in patterns of dots, and both authors liken these images to the "Pointillism" used by George Seurat and some other impressionist artists. One example, found in 2014 at Abri Cellier, has been identified by White and his team as a wooly mammoth, and another from Abri Blanchard as an aurochs.

Sketch for Sunday Afternoon on
Grande-jatte, Georges Seurat.
1886, Public domain.

The problem is that neither of these images, nor any others that they have identified have anything to do with Pointillism. As I have written elsewhere this problem occurs when non-art historians use artistic terminology without really understanding it. The Impressionism movement of the late 1800s was essentially motivated by an attempt to reproduce the effect of light on the surface of the subject, relying on the eye to mix areas of color to form the bright, colorful image. As an offshoot of Impressionism, Pointillism was also driven by the goal of providing areas of pure color and pigment which were then mixed in the viewers eye to provide the other hues. In basic Impressionism the colors were applied loosely to the surface of the canvas (thus, an area intended to be green might include yellow and blue and rely on visual mixing) , while in its purest form, Pointillism, they were patterned much more regularly leading to a painted surface that consisted essentially of ordered dots of pure color. These artists were aiming for the same effect that we perceive today when we view a color half-tone picture in a book or magazine, or now on the television screen.

Pointillist color wheel.

The color wheel above illustrates this in the orange, green, and purple secondary colors. They are composed of mixed dots of the primary colors red (magenta), blue (cyan), and yellow.

                   Georges Seurat, 1886.
                        Public domain.

I am certainly not disputing any aspect of the discoveries of Paleolithic imagery composed of dot patterns, I am only addressing the misuse of the term Pointillism as a description of those dots. While I cannot determine what the Paleolithic artists were attempting to do with their patterns of dots, it cannot by definition, be anything related to Pointillism. Lacking color, an image constructed by a pattern of dots might be likened to the black-and-white half-tone pictures in our books and magazines, or on an old black-and-white television. I do not personally think that even this is, however, an accurate representation. Half-tone reproduction essentially required the invention of photography before it was conceived, and I am not a believer in the Paleolithic camera obscura. Indeed, while I am vastly impressed by the many sophisticated effects and images produced by these artists, I cannot credit these dot-covered images with being attempts at half-tone reproductions of the animal. 

What do the animal images comprised of dots actually imply? I do not know. But I am very confident that I know what they are not.

NOTE: Images in this posting were retrieved from the internet after a search for public domain photographs. If any of these images are not intended to be public domain, I apologize, and will happily provide the picture credits if the owner will contact me with them. For further information on these reports you should read the originals at the sites listed below.



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