When I was younger, my sister and I took small rocks that surrounded our house and painted them with acrylic paint and sold them to our neighbors, something I know realize was guilt tripping the neighbors into giving us money. While we mostly drew smily faces and cool designs, quite poorly, the early human cave painters drew images that rivaled the great painters of all time.
Some of the theories surrounding why this art was created, to me, seem a little far-fetched. The idea of the paintings as hieroglyphics, I feel, is a nice idea but doesn’t seem to fit with the images. Hieroglyphs were small symbols that were not very detailed so that they could be written quickly. The cave paintings are too detailed and too large to really “mean” anything. It would be as if you were painting graffiti and wrote one letter on each wall of the building to spell out a word. It just seems like there would have been a more practical way to use painting as a language.
I do like the gathering location theory that states that the paintings were used to mark where someone had been but once again, the details seem unnecessary. Why not just write a large black “x?” If this theory were true, it would have to suggest that the early humans would had to have been bored to create pictures of this detail which leads back to the art for art’s sake theory which is not generally accepted.
No matter what way you look at it, there was obviously a shift of the human mind for these “settlers” to want to paint images from their lives onto cave walls. I personally believe that for these humans to be able to render these images well enough to paint them, they had to have the ability to categorize and separate traits in their heads. Humans inherently want to categorize things. We make lists and judge all the time. Just take a look at scientific naming system, everything needs to have a place. These cave painters had to recognize that a rhino is different than a mammoth because a rhino has a horn, and they can remember what a horn is and looks like. My sister and I know that a smily face opens upward because that is what a smile looks like. By categorizing everything in the world, they can semantically decide what needs to be painted to make the image look like how its intended.