I despise recreational drug use. Not because I’m some kind of moralist. It’s just that, when you’ve struggled for as long as I have trying to get your brain to function in something resembling normal parameters, the idea of deliberately ingesting chemicals that will alter your brain chemistry just for a short-lived transient pleasurable sensation, for something of such little worth, in other words, I just don’t get it. But when I think of Sam Coleridge and his KUBLA KHAN or some of the works of Percy Shelley, which were written by the artists while they were under the influence of opium, I can’t deny that getting high has had, historically, an effect on artistic genius. The degree to which it has had an effect is arguable, but one thing’s for sure—it’s nothing new.
Why are so many of the most striking cave paintings located deep down in the bowels of the caverns? A new study says it’s because the cavemen wanted to induce hypoxia (lack of oxygen), and thus hallucinations brought about by the same. They wanted to get high to paint, says the study. “It appears that Upper Paleolithic people barely used the interior of deep caves for daily, domestic activities. Such activities were mostly performed at open-air sites, rock shelters, or cave entrances…While [artistic] depictions were not created solely in the deep and dark parts of the caves, images at such locations are a very impressive aspect of cave depictions…[oxygen deprivation] was used to get connected with things…It was not the decoration [found within the caves] that rendered the caves significant but the opposite: The significance of the chosen caves was the reason for their decoration.”
I don’t know if I buy it. Seems to me it could be that there were works of Art just as impressive created in sites closer to the surface, but those works have not survived to the present. The ones down deep in the caves simply were better preserved. Or maybe the hypoxia and the getting stoned happened unintentionally, the result of burning torches deep underground.