Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Picasso and Cave Art

First, let me tell you about a curious incident regarding Picasso, from the time when one of my sons was about 3 years old. A traveling exhibition came to town, a showing of Picasso art, and we went and took the kids. We had two at the time, two boys, seven and three.

The line of people passed by the paintings hanging on the wall behind the rope, puzzling over the cubist creations. We would look at the painting, then peer at the small card telling us what it was. Then our three-year-old started piping up. I don’t remember the exact paintings we saw, but it went something like this, for instance.

“Dere’s a lady,” he would say and the title would be “Ma Jolie” My Pretty Girl.
“Dey habbing a picnic.” That would be for “Luncheon on the Grass.”  

This went on and people started to notice our little savant. Pretty soon, everyone was waiting for him to tell us what the paintings were. He didn’t have years of culture and conditioning and standardization to get in the way of his understanding of Picasso’s primitive meanings. He immediately understood each painting, even though none of the adults could.

Now, on to cave art.

I recently learned of a book about some 32 symbols found in Ice Age caves, symbols widely used in many places. The theory is that everyone must have understood what they stood for, but their meanings are mostly lost today. I ordered the book, The First Signsby Genevieve Von Petzinger.

So, here’s my solution. I have the book. All we need to do is to find a three year old to tell us what they mean. We’ll never discover it for ourselves.

photos from
symbols from


  1. Through the eyes of a child... think of all the things we could see.

    1. I guess it's too much to ask that we could keep that freshness of view and yet learn about the world.

  2. Cute story! But what would we say if your son looked at the first painting and said "dogs and cats" or something off like that? My problem is with the brown shapes with the symbols or "letters" in them. They all look the same because of the typesetter -- they aren't the real images. This is not real!

  3. LOL! That's the point. He DID see what the paintings actually were. The symbols are abstract, in the way that Picasso's are is. If you read the book, the photographs are there--this is just to show you the distribution, which I though fascinating. You can find photos of them all over the internet. Anyway, my point IS that a child can see abstract art much better than an adult can.

  4. Well, I guess I can call myself an adult now (though I'm not sure my kids would, heh) because while the picnic is fairly clear, I still can't see a "lady" in Ma Jolie.

  5. I see a snake and a hashtag. Maybe one of your grandsons could crack the signage code? In Ma Jolie, I see nothing but brown.

    1. My youngest grand is 6, so I need to find younger young 'uns for this!