Is being an artist the oldest profession?

Sheila Chandra - Thursday, January 25, 2018

We all know what the oldest profession is commonly reckoned to be. But is human beings’ need to make art even older than that?

How old is the oldest art?

In Cantabria, in El Castilloin Southern Spain there are caves now reckoned to house art even older than the art at Lascaux – having been made approximately 40,800 years ago. So humans have been making art for a very long time. Incidentally those early hand prints are usually relatively small – indicating that the first muralists were probably women. And as to why? Who knows? Of course, making art at that time can’t properly be regarded as a ‘profession’ as that term implies that money would have changed hands. And it was to be many thousands of years later that money came into existence.

The need to be creative seems to be basic to humans

Humans are pretty much all born creative. It’s an essential tool for us – and likely why we developed such large brains. Creativity in the way we approached and adapted to the natural environments available to us is what has made us one of the most successful species on the planet. So naturally every child is curious and creative. It’s their birth-right. If it doesn’t seem like that, it’s maybe because the modern world – particularly modern schooling which came out of the need to train factory workers and middle managers – that seems to knock it out of us. What’s important in school, is knowing the ‘right’ answer, not the most creative one.

What made primitive human people create?

Nature tends to make the functions we have to carry out to survive, enjoyable. A good thing too, or we’d never have survived. To eat, to sleep, to run, to stretch, to swim, to bathe, to get warm or cool, to breathe deeply, to drink when thirsty, to have sex and to bond with others may be basic things, but they remain some of the most fundamental pleasures in life. And the need to create seems to be no different. Most of us need a creative outlet of some kind even if we regard ourselves as ‘uncreative’. It might be growing vegetables or knitting or baking – no great shakes when compared with ‘fine art’ – but they’re creative activities nonetheless.

Why do we need to create in the modern world?

We may live in the 21st century but we still have the need to create built into us. It makes us feel better, feel fulfilled and as though our lives mean something. Some of us need to go further and dedicate our whole lives to creating. Maybe that’s not surprising – after all, it’s a very old instinct.

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