When Art Began

Stonehenge. Photo by Diego Delso.

People have expressed their needs, fears and desires through art since homo sapiens first appeared around 200,000 years ago.

Chauvet Cave, ca. 33,000 BCE; Cucuteni figurine, Romania, ca. 4,300 BCE; Carving at Göbekli Tepe, 9,000 BCE

In this course we take an in-depth look at the fascinating world of Paleolithic and Neolithic art, as resonant today as it was when first created. The cave paintings of magnificent animals found in Chauvet and Lascaux still captivate with their marvelous energy, while “Venus” figurines over 25,000 years old are charged with symbolic power. The beautifully carved pillars at Gobekli Tepe in Turkey, only discovered in 1994, have scholars rewriting theories about early art’s trajectory.

Vinca Culture, Serbia, ca. 4,500 BCE; Newgrange at Winter Solstice; Olmec Baby, 9-12th c. BCE

In the Neolithic period, we humans settled down and a wonderful explosion of art making, ranging from elaborately decorated ceramics, to wall paintings to massive stone structures, ensued. We’ll see the first large-scale human sculptures from ancient Jordan, the mysterious Olmec “baby” figurines from Mesoamerica, of course the awe-inspiring megaliths such as Newgrange in Ireland and of course the grandest of all stone circles, Stonehenge.

The Sitting Woman and the Thinker of Hamangia, ca. 4,500 BCE

We’ll also look at the Thinker of Hamangia, a masterpiece of Neolithic sculpture from an ancient Romanian culture that has only been seriously studied in the past few decades. Our knowledge of the art of the past is ever evolving, and with it our understanding of what it is to be human.

This course is offered through the University of Toronto's School of Continuing Studies. Future dates will be posted when available.