Great art has the “ability to simultaneously command attention and confound interpretation. Work like this draws us in but ultimately frustrates our attempt to reduce the experience to anything like a definitive reading. We might call it Zeno’s paradox of meaning: The closer we get, the more numerous and splintered our frames of reference become.” Jordan Kantor, writing about Jackson Pollock, Artforum, March 2016
The Art in Rock Art has been and will continue to be an object of subjective debate. Pointedly, is “it” Art ? Or Not? Or something else? If you are already feeling the déjà vu of circularity, then you know how these discussions usually proceed. You may wonder, Well?
I attempt to see the thingness, the raw materiality of the stone, the carved-away, the pigment, in various ways - as figure or field, as time or place, as mind or heart. Certainly my seeing and imaging is very different from the intent, action, and gaze of the creator-maker – the artist, if you will. Art. I do see and experience some rock art as Art. Some as Artifact. Some as mysterious, or ambiguous, or even random, lines and shapes. I often feel beauty in the relationship of the weathering markings to the aging, stained and patinaed stone, to the lights and shadows, the lichens and mosses.
The materiality of a petroglyph or a rock painting is exactly what it is. It simply is. How it appears visually will alter over time or with varying light and weather. Significantly, how it appears derives from the beholder’s imaginings. The image results from our beholding, culturally and personally engendered. Each of us brings a discrete frame of reference as we discover, look, and gaze. Move closer, embodied, and drift further away. As we frame – literally, as we decide where “it” ends and begins – we may recognize how arbitrary what we think we know and what we expect limits and constrains the elusive truth of the image.
Here's the crux: how I see and label in no way affects the original. It is free and so am I with respect for its inherent integrity and right to be. I will not touch it, I may photograph it (a reductive framing), I will go on my way often moved by what I’ve seen, that is, imagined. Later I may study and meditate on the visual image, with research, share my photo and thoughts with others. I may call it Art.
Regardless, as Robinson Jeffers observes in his early 20th c. poem Credo:
Passes, the eye closes, the spirit is a passage;
The beauty of things was born before eyes
and sufficient to itself; the heart-breaking beauty
Will remain when there is no heart to break for it.