Thursday, August 23, 2007

Our Need for Imagery

Attention, Cave Persons!

The summer blockbuster cave painting is coming your way soon. Roast your nuts and bring some bones to pick your teeth while you enjoy the latest offering from Norman Rockgood in the Cave of Lascaux. Yes, the pitchfork is missing.

Ah, but 'tis true: throughout human history, we've been enamored with the visual image. We use images for communication, recreation, relaxation, and well bad things, too. Humans don't have the keen hearing of a rabbit, of the ability to smell things like a wolf, but we see pretty darned well.

So first we drew on the walls of our caves, and then we drew on the walls of our houses and temples. Here's a Greek fresco from the 1st Century BCE called Polyphemus and Galatea in a landscape. The Minoans had been painting frescoes nearly two millenia before this. After that, the Egyptian artists created wonderful paintings on the public buildings, pyramids, and any place they found a blank wall. Today, they'd get arrested. :)

Of course, anything the Greeks did, the Romans had to do, too. Only bigger, if at all possible. Some of the Roman frescoes would be a bit racy by today's standards. Best hide your great-aunt Tillie's eyes. On the right is House of Venus and Mars from Pompeii. Mars is removing Venus's dress, while Cupid is being somewhat of a pest. This is a very tame painting compared to many found in Pompeii. The Romans weren't as sexually uptight as we are today, suffice it to say!

Fast-forward 1,000 years . . .

The entire tale of William the Conqueror and his knights meeting the leader of the Saxon army, Harold of Wessex, is told in the Bayeax Tapestry, a wonderful piece of stitchery that is divided into thirteen panels. It chronicles the setup, the execution, and the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings in 1066AD. So the Normans didn't write on their walls, but they found a way to express themselves, nonetheless.

Time-Travel Another 1,000 years . . . to 2003

Yes, we could've spent a lot of time on the imagery throughout the ages--savoring the timeless and beautiful Mona Lisa, marveling at Edison's moving pictures, sending a salute to Louis B. Mayer, and landing in Peter Jackson's lap to watch the three wonderful movies, Lord of the Rings. Okay, so I'd rather land in Aragorn's lap. Most any red-blooded female would.

Of course, most of Middle Earth would take us right back to the bison in the cave paintings, so we never strayed far from our roots. Whether we paint on our walls, or flash lights at our walls in our home theaters, humans have an incredible ability to escape into a fantasy land, where we are victorious and live Happily Ever After.

And the incredible thing about images is that even storytellers of the old school--that is, those of us who write down our tales instead of setting the words to sounds and images like Peter Jackson does, even we scribes are using images to catch readers' attention. How many writers have made book videos?

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And there you have it. Images throughout time. Always different--always the same.


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Jacquie Rogers
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