15,000 B.C. - Cave of the Moon Bear
It was a big day for Urghluk. He
had been painting for a long time, in darkness, barely lit by torches, deep in
the spell of creativity. Now it was time to shake that off, be social, and show
the tribe what he had done. It was, at last, it was time for his art
The painted bear skulls were arranged at the mouth of the cave, the tops holding small long-burning torches. Many berries had been gathered and sent off to the drink maker. Ferns had been plaited and laid along the path. It was the 2nd night of the first moon. Word was spread around their little valley, and even into a neighboring one - it was time for his art to be shown to the tribe.
His good friend Phlarg headed into the cave, with a large hunk of roasted wild boar over his shoulder. Good for people to pick as they perused Ughluk’s new works. Ordinarily they might have cooked it in the cave, but Ughluk didn’t want it to distract from the work.
Phlarg plunked it down on a waiting slab. “Hey Urghluk! How’s it going?”
Urghluk grunted. “Weather looks good. Hope for a good turnout. Seen Alighya yet?”
Phlarg. “She was around the fire earlier. Did you invite her?”
“I left a map drawn in antelope blood at her cavestep. Maybe she got it after she was done gathering for the day. Very last minute. No big deal if she can’t make it. “ She was the one person he really wanted to show up tonight. “Just some stragglers so far,” said Urghluk, changing the subject. He pointed out a middle-aged couple considering his rendering of an aurochs hunt.
“More are coming, I’m sure.” Phlarg turned back to his friend. “I see you brought your new club.”
“Yes! Just had it made. Ghwargulog makes a good one. I promised to use him as a mighty hunter with an erect penis in my next series.”
“You’re wearing new fur too.”
“This is my last nice skin, I can’t wear what I painted in anywhere else,” sighed Urghluk.
“You look sharp as a tiger’s tooth,” Phlarg patted him on the shoulder.
“Thanks, hunt brother. Oh! Good. Here’s the winemaker.” Urghluk put his club aside and walked outside to help the old man and his children drag a sled up the entrance to the cave. He noted with approval that the sled was piled high with filled wineskins, and many drinking horns along the side.
“Ah, Urghluk! I have a good batch of wine. This time I left them out in the rain. Added a fresh zing! You will make me a good painting for my cave as we agreed?”
“Of course. And we will have many thirsty people tonight, so your fame as a winemaker will spread to many other tribes throughout the valley. ” Urghluk looked around. “Set up a slab by the front. Perhaps your children can also check people’s names against the list?” He unfurled a tree-bark roll with various marks on it. “Once they’re in, get a trade-bead from them and give them a trinket. Each trinket is good for a horn of wine.” The old man nodded and grunted to the adolescents, who took the list and wandered towards the door with bored expressions.
Urghluk left the old man to it, he seemed to know what he was doing. He looked down and noted a spot of wine on his fresh bearskin tunic, and screamed. He contained himself, and went to polish it out. It stayed stained. There was nothing he could do at this point - his home cave was too far away, and this was his best animal skin. Perhaps he could hold something in front of it for the rest of the evening.
People were starting to come in. Urghluk took a positions near his favorite new pieces, leaned on his new club and tried to look casual.
He looked over at the winemaker, and saw the old man's younger helpers now carrying small woven baskets of….
Urghluk ran over. “What in the name of the bear god is that stuff you’re bringing?”
“Oh, this!” One of the winemaker's children picked up up a chunk of dripping white stuff, that looked slightly reminiscent of bloated flesh. “That’s the milk fungus.”
“What??” Urghluk looked around. No one had heard them. “Why would you bring such things to an art show? And…from milk?”
“Yes, yes,” said the young man impatiently. “Don't you know, down at the tip of the river valley they've been keeping aurochs in pens and drinking their milk.”
“I know, I know, it seems disgusting. But they left some of it out and it turned solid and I tasted it, and...it's not bad.”
“Well actually it is bad. It went bad. That's the whole point. I don’t want it at my show.”
“You should try it,” the old man said.
“Get that stuff…”
“Just try it! If you don’t like it, the wine tonight is free. Here, as a matter of fact have it with the wine.”
Against his better judgment, Urghluk took a bit and then a swig of wine. He was about to demand it leave his show, when he paused.
“….huh!” The combination actually tasted really well.
“I told you,” said the winemaker. “And I think something about the two goes well with paintings.” The old man pointed towards the mouth of the cave. “You will need every impressive thing you can find, now that he’s here.”
Urghluk looked where he was pointing, and saw an older man approaching. He was about to ask who it was, when a hushed voice called from the crowd, “The seer!” Urghluk jumped in surprise. The Seer?? Could it be, the Seer coming to his paintings? Fear and hope ran through him like bolts of lightning hitting tree tops. The Seer was a wise man known for his wisdom, which was hard to understand at the time but which was always explainable later, usually by the seer. He had known many winters and many different kinds of paintings and creations. The Seer’s judgement could make him a famous painter, known throughout the land! It could also ruin his name forever, making him unfit for anything but decorating children’s training spears!
He had arrived with a couple of younger folk in two, who he referred as his “interns”. Such was the wisdom of the seer.
“If he likes my paintings, why - I could become a big cave painter. I wouldn’t have to join the hunt any more, I could make paintings full time!”
“What’s so bad about hunting?” his friend grumbled.
“Nothing, nothing - how do I look?”
“I don’t know. Say, is that Alighya?”
Urghluk looked where his friend was pointing, and cursed the sky. For walking arm in arm with the Seer, was Alighya. He watched helplessly as they went over to the drink maker’s table and procured a couple of horns of wine.
“It looks like - “ Phlarg began.
“They’re on a date,” said Urghlluk. He leaned against the wall in dismay, hiding his face in his hands.
“Don’t take it so bad!” Phlarg said. He rubbed his friend’s shoulders. “This is your big night! You can’t help but get some commissions for caves, your stuff looks great - and him even being here is a big thing. It puts you on the map!”
“I guess so,” said Urghluk, his voice sinking despondently.
“You’re a big important artist now. Don’t let it get to you-“
“Urghy!” Urhgluk heard a voice call out, and cringed. His parents had come.
“Mom!” he said. “Not so loud, okay?”
“Oh my darling! We’re so proud of you!” his mother loudly announced, embracing him like some kind of parental she-behemoth. “Urghy, Urghy. Such an artist.” She tried to pinch his cheek. He ducked.
“Mom, do you have to call me that?”
“What? I’m not supposed to say hi to my little baby? We’re so happy and proud of your big show! Isn’t that right, honey?” she turned to Urghluk’s father. His father returned a grunt indicating that he was in fact aware the show existed.
“Yes, yes of course,” said Urghluk, recovering. “Have you seen the wine? And there’s some interesting new food that seems to go well with it…” He forced his way through the pleasantries and directed his parents towards the winemaker’s table.
The cave was filling up now with interested people. Urghluk went back to what he considered his latest and most important series of cave-paintings, and waited for people to come over and talk to him. Or at least near him, so he could hear what they really thought about the art. Many liked it, which made him feel quite good. An older hunting couple who were aurochs enthusiasts chatted lightly about the different paintings and their periods and influences. How this series was from the Loose Eyes period, while those other paintings where the Blue Pigment period. Urghluk nodded. Yep, he’d had a concussion that nearly knocked his eye loose, and while wandering dazed he'd come across some stone to use for blue pigment. Inspiration, really.
Other people might as well have not been seeing the art at all, and just talked about their day. A couple of people compared it unfavorably to children’s scrawls, which made his club-hand itch. After a while he noted the Seer approaching. He appeared to be enjoying the milk fungus and wine as well, it was apparently a hit. Good, good for people to be in a good mood when looking over his work. The seer appeared to be rather satisfied, smug even, looking quite pompously smug with his arm around…
“Alighya!” Urghluk called out as a he stepped forward from the cave wall. “So good to see you!”
And there she was, so beautiful, and smiling. “Urghy! I wouldn’t miss it! Your paintings look so great in here!”
“Thanks! I’ve been working on them for so long. It’s great to have people finally able to see them.”
“These are your works?” asked the Seer.
“Oh yes,” said Urghluk.
“Tell me what you were thinking with this set.” The Seer waved his walking stick towards a series of antelope being hunted to the right.
“I call it ‘Hunt at Dawn’. They’re, uh, hunting animals….”
“At dawn? Interesting...” The Seer leaned in, and wrinkled his nose. “How are we supposed to know it’s dawn?”
“I painted an orange circle for the big light that comes out in the morning and then hangs over us all day. See how it’s low above the mountains there?”
“It could also be sunset though,” the Seer pointed out.
“It looks pretty,” said Alighya.
“Yes, but it has to do more than look pretty,” the Seer admonished.
“The painting has to draw in the spirits to accomplish a great hunt. It has to inspire us to live brave and free, and let go of the fear of the animals we pursue.” He looked at the paintings, and frowned. “I”m not quite sure about this. Let’s go on.” They walked over towards another series of paintings, the Seer’s interns scribbling marks on some scrolls of tree bark. A small crowd began gathering behind them as they walked, soon hanging on the Seer’s every word.
“I kind of like how things look,” Alighya persisted.
“And that’s what’s charming about you, my darling,” said the Seer. “Ah. This is interesting.” He stopped, and Urghluk realized that the entire cave had become quiet as everyone strained to hear as the Seer walked to a series that Urghluk had just barely finished before tonight. Urghluk almost wasn’t going to do them, but realized he simply needed more pieces in order to call this a decent-sized show. This was a series of hunters pursuing a herd of mammoths off a cliff while having huge erections.
“That's an intriguing choice...” said the Seer, leaning in.
For a moment Urghluk felt a flash of relief. “Yeah, I was going for the excitement of the hunt,” he explained. “It feels really like a horny rut. You want the…the meat,” he said.
“Wow, I never thought of it like that,” said Aliygha. She turned her eyes towards Urghluk with new respect.
“But that’s really nothing new,” said the Seer.
“What?” Urghluk sputtered. He had no idea how to even respond. “But…but it’s how it, it feels.”
“Also Seer,” his friend Phlarg jumped in. “Isn’t this an interesting new direction? Notice the erections on the hunters are no longer over their own heads.”
“Is it really new though?” The Seer sniffed. “I saw Galuklulk did the same thing in his installation at the Hill Valley Bear Clan.”
“Yes, but it didn’t catch on,” Phlarg pointed out. “They actually stretch try to their penises over their heads. They aren’t the brightest.”
“Anyway Seer,” Urghluk rallied. “What does it matter who has done what before, or why? These are paintings. What should matter is how they feel. How I felt when I made them too, and the feelings they bring to others.”
Aliygha stood between Urhgluk and the Seer. The Seer could see that this discussion was winning her over, and scowled. “You’re simply wrong, young one. That’s not what matters at all. What matters is that it is done right. This stuff about making people feel things, that’s not the point of art. The point is having a new way of doing things. That is the only way to appease the gods.”
Urghluk’s club hand was really itching. “I don’t agree.”
The Seer raised an eyebrow, and chuckled indulgently. “Well I can see how you might think that, being so new to things. But that’s just pretentious bearshit- not unlike your paintings.You see, ”
Urghluk’s new club smashed down on the Seer,’s head knocking him unconscious.
All the visitors looked over at Urghluk, Alighya and the fallen bloody body of the seer. The cave hung in silence for a second.
Then the cave filled with polite applause. The excitement of the moment over, the crowd returned towards the winemaker’s table. After a moment, the Seer’s interns pulled him aside, checked his breathing, shrugged and headed towards the wine as well.
Urhgluk turned just in time to see his father silently nod approval to him, and then reach over and grab another piece of milk fungus with his wine.
He turned towards Alighya. He found himself really enjoying the look in her eyes. “That was magnificent, how you crushed his skull,” she said at last.
“Really?” said Urghluk. “Just, you know, seemed called for.” He decided to lean in. This was, in fact, the hunt that most art was about. “So, what are you doing later tonight?”
And the rest of the show was also a smashing success.