In the course of human evolution, the transformation from Bhimbetka to Ajanta is a mere flash in the pan. If it took 4.5 billion years to get to the first cave paintings, it only took another 2000 years to blossom into the art of the Ajanta Cave paintings.
But note the presumptuousness here- I almost said it aloud- that Ajanta is more “evolved”.
Are we sure? What was the purpose of Bhimbetka? Instruction? Maybe. Celebration? Possibly.
We are not sure if the cave paintings were meant to guide young students in the art of hunting. If such was the purpose, then the first instruction manuals far predate accepted ideas regarding manuals. We normally accept that Geoffrey Chaucer wrote the first “manual” (yes the RTFM kind). It was a treatise on operating the Astrolable, written for his son.
Interesting. Some would consider the astrolable to be the first computer the world ever had.
Check this link:
So to get back to our early cave painting. Suppose they were instructions. Then this could be our first Audio-visual education system. Imagine the audio from the aged presenter, relating the process. And then, add to that his story of how he did it when he was young. And you’ve got storytelling, celebration, oral tradition, transfer of knowledge and graphic design all thrown into one neat little multimedia package.
In the degrees of abstraction, we accept that design, or plan, (as in floor plans) is the most practical form of art, moving through architecture, sculpture, painting, dance and music into more and more abstract forms. We also naturally tend to believe that the more abstract forms must have evolved later, the more practical forms having arrived earlier.
But if storytelling, visual communication, instruction and planning all came in one package, then those boundaries or degrees of abstraction that we ascribe to the arts may have been all fuzzy and meaningless in the context of history, time-lines and evolution.
In the early stone age, hominids would rely upon found pieces of stone or other objects to fulfill their objective. These were the first “tools”- no different from the kind of utilization you would find today amongst chimpanzees. In due course our ancestors learnt to shape flint into sharp objects for the purposes of scraping, cutting, digging. Thus the earliest stone age tools were so created. Even so, the stone tools remained stone pieces.
The transformation began when the first stone-age axe was built. For the first time, here was an example of a design. A plan that is now transformed into a constructed product. Stone + wooden handle. It is the implementation of an internal thought. It is no longer a stone, no longer a stick. It is far greater than the sum of the parts- it is the execution of a “plan”, a thought.
In the scale of “abstractness” that we use today, this “plan” and its realization, is pretty low- in the sense that it is a design, and a mere tool. But as a milestone in the evolution of human intelligence, it is a giant leap from “adaptation” to “creation”- a metamorphosis into abstraction.