Monday, December 29, 2008

Old Found Art

A wikipedia snippet about a controversial ancient human figurine, Venus of Tan-Tan, discovered in Morocco and claimed to date back to between 500,000 and 300,000 BCE, made me think of how old an idea it likely is to turn a found object (a rock) into an artistic expression (a figure).

According to the wiki entry, the Venus of Tan Tan figurine may have been created by natural geological processes but bears evidence of having been painted. If so, it may have been a found object that resembled a figure enough to be picked up and altered with paint to highlight the resemblance. Of course, it may not have been: the wiki entry also notes that the figurine appears to exhibit traces of human tool work.

Perhaps romanticism runs amok, or I just like the contrast between what's alive and what's not: I'm left supposing that the first object of art was made upon spotting resemblance between a natural inanimate form found on the ground and an animate form, perhaps even the self, and in that moment, having the identity of the inanimate form change. It's also possible that original appreciation was more abstract, the same way we have our eyes and/or our imaginations tickled and captured by cracks and pocks in the ground, though I wonder whether we've been schooled to appreciate random compositions.

Making art from a found object per se may not have deserve accolades as "original" when it came into vogue in the 20th century except that the found objects themselves were also manmade, which carried issues of whether use of the objects in art denies or does not deny the prior functional identities of the objects. Also, to the extent that such art made with found objects denies animation, modern and contemporary art made with found objects differs from finding resemblance between a rock and a human form.

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