As the owner of Turner Carroll Gallery, I spend a lot of time talking and writing about artwork by the phenomenal artists I represent. Lately, I’ve been consumed by the destruction of some of civilization’s greatest artifacts. Ancient art is one of my passions, and I am devastated to see sites all over the Middle East, one after the other, lost forever. The Buddhas of Bamiyan, Nimrud, Aleppo, Palmyra–all contained visual information that helped us decipher the values and wisdom of the ancient civilizations that created them. With the loss of these artifacts comes the loss of our ability to understand the important messages contained in the history of the cultures that shaped our own. With these “irreversible acts of annihilation,…the entirety of humanity…loses a piece of its memory as surely as if a slice of our collective brain had been removed by a mad lobotomist.” (Simon Schama, 3/13/15, Financial Times).
Often people remark that they feel visual art is “an inside joke,” filled with its own lingo and mystique. In reality, visual art is (by nature) the universal symbolic language that can be understood not only by art critics trained in deciphering the meaning of its symbols, but by any human being who cares enough to engage with the image. To ignore the visual image is to make a conscious choice to close oneself to messages other human beings attempt to share.
Ancient cave painting,
Cave painting, Rock Shelters
of Bhimbetka, India
Throughout the history of civilization, humans have told stories visually, to communicate with other humans. Stone Age cave paintings, Mesopotamian cylinder seals, Egyptian tomb reliefs, Native American petroglyphs, religious icons, political propaganda posters, Communist Era Social Realism, and contemporary images of social empowerment all present themselves as creative manifestations of our shared human experience.