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Art in the Upper Paleolithic Era: Examples & Style

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  • 0:00 The Upper Paleolithic Era
  • 0:54 The Styles of Upper…
  • 2:03 Examples of Upper…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Juliao

David has a bachelor's degree in architecture, has done research in architecture, arts and design and has worked in the field for several years.

In this lesson, we explore one of the earliest forms of creativity in the history of mankind: Upper Paleolithic era art. Discover some of the most relevant examples of art from this time, as well as the main styles of art that have been found.

The Upper Paleolithic Era

The Upper Paleolithic is a prehistoric period, considered the last time of the Stone Age. It started about 50,000 years ago and ended approximately 10,000 years ago, with the beginning of agriculture.

The world was different back then. The Last Glacial Period occurred during this era and ice allowed humans to migrate into the Americas, and lower sea levels allowed them to get to Australia. The Upper Paleolithic was a period marked by important survival-related innovations, like fishing and the developing of first archaic settlements.

Primitive forms of art date from this period, like bone carvings and cave paintings. However, there might be older human artistic manifestations but their dates have not been confirmed. Those pieces could be as ancient as 100,000 years old.

The Styles of Upper Paleolithic Art

The art from this period was mostly practical, focused on daily occurrences and the creation of utilitarian objects. The creation of artistic pieces representing more abstract concepts, like hunting or family, represents a giant development in human evolution. Scholars also tend to believe that humans of the Upper Paleolithic created some objects as early attempts to use magic or rituals to influence their environment.

Art from the Upper Paleolithic can be classified into two main groups or styles: geometric and naturalistic. Geometric art consists of stripes, lines, and other basic geometric shapes that were used mostly to decorate daily items, like tools or jewelry, and naturalistic art was focused on nature, events of the daily life, the weather, and related phenomena. These artistic objects can be categorized as:

  • Figurative: These were pieces that represented daily life; things, like different animals or humans.
  • Non-figurative: These were art objects that were focused on more abstract concepts, like family or hunting. Examples of this type of art are less common.

Examples of Upper Paleolithic Art

Art pieces from the Upper Paleolithic have been found in many places and they are diverse in nature. In terms of types, the examples of visual arts found are often categorized into portable and stationary art.

Portable Art

Portable art consisted of elements small or light enough so that they could be easily carried around. They were mostly functional and survival-related. However, there are also some examples of objects serving supernatural purposes. Portable art includes clay figurines, carvings, and jewelry.

Clay Figurines

These small pieces were figurative, so they depicted easily recognizable objects, like humans and animals. Most likely they were intended to have some supernatural abilities related to protection and fertility. Most of them represented women, possibly during pregnancy. These figurines are known as ''Venus'' for their female attributes. An example of clay figurines is the Venus of Dolni Vestonice, depicting a nude woman with large breasts. It was found in the Czech Republic, together with many other pieces in what could have been a primitive crafts workshop.

Carvings

They were small objects carved out of stone, antler, or bone. Although examples are common, their purpose is still subject to debate. These small objects possibly served supernatural purposes as well. Functional tools like axes and spearheads also belong to this category. The Venus of Willendorf, found in Austria, is a good example. It is a figurine made out of limestone, depicting a woman.

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