Scientists in 1994 discovered the world’s oldest cave paintings at two locations in southern France. It was a watershed moment for science, as well as for humanity. It represented modern man’s best glimpse inside the mind of his Paleolithic ancestors. Additionally, these cave paintings carry valuable lessons about the human mind that we can all apply to our everyday lives.
These cave paintings today are a work of ancient art that were drawn to convey ideas between artist and viewer. The scenes of horses fighting against rhinos and lions hunting bison, though drawn thousands of years ago, are instantly recognizable to us today. There is no barrier of language, education or culture. There is no text or caption, but when viewing these drawings, you can almost step inside the mind of the artist and feel the deep respect he or she had for these creatures that lived nearby.
The lesson here is the power of images to convey thoughts and emotions. Think about the last political cartoon you saw. It may have been funny, it may have enraged you, but likely it conveyed a clear message while using minimal or no text at all. Many political cartoons clearly portray the author’s personal beliefs. A good political cartoon can make you cheer at its simplistic ability to express a truth you’ve always believed but never were able to express.
Now, think back to a bad powerpoint presentation you had to endure. Odds are the speaker clicked from one text-heavy slide to the next and read what was on each one. Everybody hates this, even the speaker. Good presentations, by contrast, replace text with images, moving parts, sound effects and other evocative icons that convey ideas more effectively than text.
Finally, think of your favorite work of art. You likely find it visually appealing as well as emotionally evocative. You may even feel a strange connection with the artist, possibly a shared understanding or empathy toward the emotion they poured into their work. Most importantly, it likely needed no text at all to leave a lasting impression on you.
Vivid images can do amazing things to the human mind. That’s only one reason being surrounded by art can have all sorts of positive effects on the human psyche. We should never underestimate art’s ability to soothe and engage!