Literally taken, the art of painting is the process of applying color onto a supported surface – such as paper, wood, glass, or canvas. When taken in an artistic sense, painting is meant to create an image or an expression through this color application, representing and documenting various intentions and subjects according to the artist’s desire. Since there are infinite explanations of what painting can be and what it represents to each individual artist, it is worthwhile taking a look at where painting began – thus shedding some light on why the art of painting is such an integral component of human artwork and culture.
The oldest known paintings in the world come from the Grotte Chauvet cave in France, believed to be around 32,000 years old. These paintings began as engraved images into the rock face, with the color being painted on afterward – red ochre and black pigment were carefully placed, creating images of horses, buffalo, lions, mammoth, rhinos, and even some images of humans going on a hunt.
Interestingly enough, the cave in France was not the only place where cave paintings were found – independently of each other, humans came up with this notion of creating colored images to represent things that were important to them, documenting it so that others could learn and understand. Other examples of cave paintings have been found at such diverse locations as Australia, Spain, Portugal, India, and even China!
Of course, there are plenty of ideas as to why humans decided to paint, with one of the most prevalent theories centering around the idea of creating pictures as a means of ‘catching’ an animal’s spirit. In this sense, a hunter or warrior would have painted an image of the animal that they wished to hunt and kill, and by capturing that animal in a picture, they believed they were essentially ‘capturing’ that animal’s spirit and condemning them to their fate – or at least making them easier to catch!
Other ideas focus on the more simplistic notion that early humans simply wished to pay homage to the nature that surrounded them, either as a display of devotion to their nature gods or just in appreciation of the surrounding beauty. This idea also gives way to the scientific speculation that all humans have an innate desire to express themselves in one form or another – and just as modern day society contains people who express themselves through various means, such as painting or architecture or sewing, humans in ancient times probably followed the same basic pattern!
Either way, there is no doubt that there is a human need to create and express one’s self, and it certainly appears that this desire – this drive to capture images and display them though modes of expression, using various colors and patterns – comes from the earliest roots of human history. Thus, painting is an innate part of human nature: it is the appreciation of beauty, however it is expressed in visual form.