Does it make sense to consider cave “art”, the art of an immemorial time, as a challenge for contemporary visual culture studies? It might seem an oxymoron, or rather a boutade, a paradox. Yet there are many reasons to believe that this dive into the past in the age of new media, of digital literacy, can show us a way to the future of visual culture and art theory. My argument is basically that cave art, or, better, paleolithic pictures, devices and gazes can help us to answer some fundamental questions that contemporary visual culture has faced in recent years – mostly in connection with its stepmothers, the traditional art history and aesthetics – if only because cave art studies inevitably shift the research focus from the issue of Art to the issue of Picture, Media and Gaze. I will discuss in this paper the idea of a paleolithic dispositive (or assemblage) starting from the question of “surfaces”.
Michele Cometa is full professor in Cultural History and Visual Culture at the University of Palermo. He is also the Director of the international Phd “Studi Culturali Europei/Europäische Kulturstudien” of the same University. Among other grants by the German Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst and the Italian CNR, he recently received the Beinecke fellowship at the Clark Art Institute (2015) and was an Associate Research Scholar at the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies – Columbia University (2015-2016). He is currently working on the origin of “art” and on a cultural history of cave painting interpretations in XIXth and XXth Centuries. His most recent publication are on ékphrasis (La scrittura delle immagini. Letteratura e cultura visuale, Cortina, 2012), on conceptual history in painting (Il Trionfo della morte di Palermo. Un’allegoria della modernità, Quodlibet, 2017) and on the origin of narrative behaviour (Perché le storie ci aiutano a vivere. La letteratura necessaria, Cortina, 2017).