Volume 1, 2008
Aesthetics and Philosophy of Arts
Jason J. Howard
Schelling and the Revolution of Paleolithic Cave Painting
Unveiling the Power of the Aesthetic
My paper utilizes the insights of F.W.J Schelling’s work on aesthetics to explain the unique appeal and power that aesthetic experience held for people of the Upper Paleolithic. This appeal is revealed most dramatically in the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux. According to Schelling, genuine artistic activity expresses a fusion of the unconscious (der Bewußtlosen) and the symbolic (die Symbolik), which is irreducible to any other experience or product. This fusion creates a unique experience of self-transcendence and reintegration that affirms the continuity between consciousness and the natural world. Consequently, genuine aesthetic products never have any simple pragmatic or utilitarian motive, but result from reconciling the deepest contradictions of the human experience. I argue that it is this experience of continuity and re-integration that is captured in the cave paintings of Chauvet and Lascaux, and which confirms the irreducible power of the aesthetic.