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9. SHADOW, REFLECTION, AND THE ORIGINS OF ART

Throughout the whole discussion thus far, it has been maintained that footprints literacy is the most probable origin of art, because, among other reasons, we see here the beginning of very sophisticated thinking processes utilizing figurative symmetries between sign and signified. On the face of it, it could be argued that there are other origins of thinking by graphical symmetries and that they are perhaps the origin of art–such as shadow, and reflection in water, which also exhibit visual symmetries of figures and objects. It is indeed highly probable that these two phenomena, which we shall discuss only very briefly here, made a very important contribution to the development of thinking by visual symmetries. Nevertheless it would appear probable that their contribution to the realization of art is secondary in the case of the shadow, and marginal in the case of the reflection.

Firstly, shadow and reflection are inseparable from the figure or object that generated them, and there is thus no clear duality here between sign and signified, and in most early cultures the shadow, for example, is perceived as a totally integral part of the body or being of its owner. In certain cultures this matter is so clear that a threat to one’s shadow is considered a threat to the person himself, and is sufficient cause for battle. Because of the unique linkage between shadow or reflection and a specific person or object, these two phenomena are unlikely to have been the origin of the most important attribute of all symbolization and also of symbols in art. This is, that the symbols are class-names for classes of unlimited extent, and not the representations of specific entities. This problem does not hold in the case of footprints, of course. Secondly, if the origin of art had been reflection, it is unlikely that the earliest pictures would have depicted mostly hands and feet–mostly as negative images–and parts of animals in contour. If the shadow had been the main origin of art, it is likely that the first pictures would have represented silhouettes of the whole body and not only silhouettes of the hand or parts of animals; for there was full cognizance of the appearance of the shadow of a whole person and animals, both in sunlight and in firelight. We know that the mastery of fire has existed for some seven hundred and fifty thousand years at least, so that for hundreds of thousands of years human beings saw 'shadow shows' every evening by the light of the fires outside their rock shelters and caves. It is true that there are pictures of hands made by imprinting so that the hand is seen as a positive image like a shadow, but these are a minority compared with the majority of pictures of hands and feet depicted, like footprints, as negative images. Secondly, if the shadow had been the origin of art, the image-makers would not have been content with drawing the contour of the figures, and it is unlikely that they were economizing in black color, which they had in abundance from their fires. True, at much later stages of prehistoric art, images resembling shadows are found, and images lengthened like shadows, as may be seen in Bushman paintings, for example; but this phenomenon is very recent compared with the first pictures, which were based upon negative and contour. Thirdly, as we have seen, one of the most important attributes of figurative symbols is their hypothetical aspect. In the case of the reflection, this aspect is minimal since a reflection is perceived either as linked to an entirely specific entity, or as an independently existing entity. In the two cases, not much hypothetical thinking is required, since there was no duality here between a sign and a signified object or being. By and large, this argument holds in the case of the shadow as well, although in this case more hypothetical thinking is required, since the shadow supplies far fewer details of the object to which it is connected than does the reflection of the same object. Despite these reservations regarding the supposition that reflection and shadow are the direct origins of art, it is very likely that these phenomena had a very important influence upon the development of thinking by visual symmetries. That is to say, the visual thinking that was entailed in reading shadows and reflections included several cognitive mechanisms that were displayed in a far more sophisticated manner in footprints literacy and in image making. Perhaps it was here that human beings learned for the first time the possibility that an object is liable to have two different modes, one of which is concrete in the full meaning of the word, and the second somehow elusive. It is likely that they recognized the great similarity between the two modes of the object and learned to connect them. Again, in this duality there is a certain measure of preparation for the generation of abstraction entailed in the duality between sign and signified. It is possible that the skill of millions of years in identifying shadows and reflections served as a preparatory stage for thinking in symmetry in the context of footprints, which is infinitely more sophisticated; and it is therefore very probable that this skill made an indirect contribution to the emergence of image making.



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