*Quotations taken from G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, published 1925
[The Cave-Man] seems to be quite familiar to us, not only as a public character but as a private character… So far as I can understand, his chief occupation in life was knocking his wife about, or treating women in general with what is, I believe, known in the world of the film as ‘rough stuff.’ I have never happened to come upon the evidence fothis idea; and I do not know on what primitive diaries or prehistoric divorce-reports it is founded.
The first thing we need do is separate ourselves from the common depictions of and biases toward cavemen that we have. Who’s to say that cavemen were the grunting, savage beasts we see in films and novels? Aren’t cavemen, by definition, cave-dwelling folk still in the stone age, and simply that? Adam and Eve were cavemen! And, to my understanding, the Britons who constructed Stonehenge, that engineering marvel, were cavemen themselves, with nothing but stone tools and such. They were still ingenious, productive people; but they were still discovering, unable to draw on the wealth of knowledge and authoritative information that we take for granted.
When the realist of the sex novel writes, ‘Red sparks danced in Dagmar Doubledick’s brain; he felt the spirit of the cave-man rising within him,’ the novelist’s readers would be very much disappointed if Dagmar only went off and drew large pictures of cows on the drawing-room wall. When the psycho-analyst writes to a patient, ‘The submerged instincts of the cave-man are doubtless prompting you to gratify a violent impulse,’ he does not refer to the impulse to paint in water colours; or to make conscientious studies of how cattle swing their heads when they graze.
I think it’s too simple to call cave-art “crude etchings.” I’m tempted to say similar things about a number of different artistic schools, but there are also a number of art critics who would take issue with my critique. Art, like so many other things, simply had not developed. Taken for what it is, I personally think they can be considered quite lovely. I think it notable, with Chesterton, that they actually had art. They were students of form, movement, and a number of other artistic disciplines.
ps. Read ch. 1 of The Everlasting Man