There are a number of concepts that extrapolate very specific reasonings behind the creative act. What is it? Why does it exist?
At the most base level, the purest of all these extrapolations is that of function. Our antiquities, as I have talked about previously, present function as a means to an end. The consequences of creation from times past are rooted in a functional spectrum. To our modern eye, the objects crafted are done so anonymously. Rarely can we identify the individuals who intervene the order of nature from ages past. It is within this context that I’d like to extrapolate on the act of creation.
Human ingenuity is utilitarian and artistic regardless of intent. Representation is an inherent form of expression regardless of intent. When an object is made for an explicit, utilitarian purpose, its aesthetic is established by mere human intervention. A tool can be beautiful in its utilitarian function because it is a representation of an ordered system. The system is held in permanence by the visual structure established by said tool.
When we try to articulate the purpose of an object, it is held to an understanding of its historical context, geographical context, and its utilitarian function. While these all define an object to modern standards, our awareness and reflection of an object allows for a conceptualization of its beauty.
As in all great art, the artist is the bestower of beauty and a personal, astute awareness. We learn from the artist that subjects of individual veneration are indeed worthy of group veneration. For if not the artist, then who? Within the spectrum of function, the subject is not a designation for the sake of veneration until it is crafted beyond its utility. Utility is the ultimate purveyor of purpose, and the aesthetic directly correlates to it.
The individual hands that crafted the objects of antiquity are unique in that so often, they are anonymous. As purpose is parsed out through the identification of the object, its historical and geographical contexts, and its utilitarian function, we can neglect the thoughts of the individual who created the object in the first place. What decisions were made and how? What physical acts in the creation process were mindfully guided?
The Shape of Time
In one of my favorite books ever written, The Shape of Time , George Kubler identifies the differences between biological time and historical time. In biological time, the intervals of time between events are disregarded while historical time laces through the intervals between existence. Biological time presents a periodic spectrum represented by natural organisms and their life cycles, while historical time presents intervals deduced from meaningful human interactions.
In good company: Ad Reinhardt’s annotated copy of The Shape of Time
I cite this distinction laid out by Kubler because he puts forth an incredibly interesting idea that biological time placement is a scientific afterthought while a scale of human history is intrinsically produced through visual objects.
Historical time is a recollection of our own footsteps. Markers along our timeline are specified by meaningful human interaction. So often, when that interaction is incomplete or partially understood, we can only impose our own narrative. Antiquities are unique to the identifying of purpose in that only they truly know why they are a footstep on the human path.
Antiquities are Specifically for Identifying Historical Time
In many respects then, it can be said that antiquities exist solely for the identification of historical time. Their contextualization only serves to legitimize our history. We pull objects out of the ground, thousands of years old, and can only guess at why and by whom they were made. How can historical time ever be complete?
When we identify, we parse out the story of our ancestors. When we achieve a historical timeline extending to our origins, we will involuntarily project it into the future. The path of our existence can only be cyclical.
I believe our origins are shrouded in so much incompleteness and mystery that each new historical marker brings us ever closer to the awakening that made us conscious beings in the first place. Whether it was a singular event, or a conflation of perfectly timed, perfectly placed moments, our historical timeline is an innate structure designed, like consciousness, to become self aware. An awakening will come again.