What a fascinating piece of news announced this week - that German archaeologists at the University of Tuebingen have found a minute but powerful sculpture of a female figure that dates from some 35,000 years ago! The six centimeter ivory figurine, so voluptuous as to be almost pornographic, has caused a sensation ever since it was found last September in many tiny pieces in a cave at the archaeological site of Hohle Fels in the Ach River Valley. Art and passion were mingled from a very early time in man's existence, it seems, and this sculpture tells of man's capacity for creation in most eloquent ways.
The image of this figurine reminds me of another most powerful and diminutive sculpture which left a lasting impression on me. At the wonderful exhibition, Rings - Five Passions in World Art, that the late J. Carter Brown curated to celebrate the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, I saw a 4 1/2 inch dark clay "Man from Cernavoda". Much later than the newly discovered Venus, the seated Man dates from 5500 - 4700 B.C., but again its expressive, simple forms speak of timelessness and the continuity of man's emotions. Seated on a tiny stool, his head supported by his arms resting on his knees, the Man is sturdy, still, eternal and deep in thought. This Neolithic statuette was found in a grave near Cernavoda, Romania, and in the same grave was also found a similar-sized figurine of a seated woman.
Such amazing archaeological finds remind us all that our artistic heritage goes back an incredibly long way. Artists have always wrestled with two or three-dimension depictions of subjects that are supremely important to individuals and to groups of humans. The paring down and distillation of a subject to its vivid essence has been of concern since man began sculpting, drawing or painting - that is a hallmark of every artist's endeavour. We now know that we artists have been involved with this venture for even longer than we previously thought!