Grotte du Font de Gaume (the cave)

I find as I write postcards chronicling this trip to France that I return to this cave, this quiet place, almost a sanctuary. I want to share it with the ones I love back home, but I doubt they will ever understand. Even I am beginning to forget, to let the world I returned to as I stepped out into the sunlight  muddy the clarity of those dark hallways cut into stone, the shadowy figures barely perceptible on the ancient walls. And they are ancient, not just the walls but the paintings and carvings …15,000 B.C. ancient. It is impossible, of course, to comprehend how long ago that was. How many generations have come and gone; that was the mystery and the magic of it. I stood where a man had stood that long ago, deciding what he wanted to create, what was special enough to make the enormous effort of drawing in that dark, cold space. And then he decided: From bison to reindeer to horses. He drew and carved what he knew, what he loved, what made up his external world. But in the doing he let us see into his internal life, the life of what we call soul -- of art, of perspective, of beauty. We now know that “those people” were not mindless hunters, but deeply artistic and practiced craftsmen; people who cared about their world and wanted, somehow, to share it with others. I doubt they had any idea that a 21st century dance professor would ever see their work and wonder at its complexity, its sheer beauty. I wonder if they would have cared. 


It is the essential question of the arts: is it enough to do it for ourselves, or does it have to be seen and appreciated by others to have meaning? I don’t have an answer. All I have is a feeling that I don’t want to lose. A feeling that can actually sense the stillness, the quiet, the sanctity of a gallery hidden deep within rock walls that at one time was a place of discovery and joy for men I will never know, but to whom, nevertheless, I am deeply grateful.

Note: Grotte (cave) du Font de Gaume is a prehistoric cave in the Dordogne region of southern France. It is, for the moment, open to scheduled tour groups but may have to close in the near future due to the deterioration of the paintings. I am grateful to have seen it.

Chaz WilcoxenThe Arts