Painting Monsters – What Fuels Our Need to Do It?

Humans made images – scored into stones, daubed onto cave walls, carved from wood or bone or horn, molded from clay or mud – long before we invented writing as a way of passing information and ideas to each other. The earliest human art is seen on cave walls sited in remote areas of North-West…

Humans made images – scored into stones, daubed onto cave walls, carved from wood or bone or horn, molded from clay or mud – long before we invented writing as a way of passing information and ideas to each other.

The earliest human art is seen on cave walls sited in remote areas of North-West Australia. The people who made these enigmatic images pose a mystery to anthropologists who can only say they are not of the same origin as the people known as Australian Aborigines.

Both peoples, however, included in their paintings depictions of monstrous beings, half-human, half-animal, sometimes other-worldly. Other strange images, seen in the prehistoric art of African deserts and Aztec America, were described as creator spirit-beings until 1968, when a hugely popular novel by Erich von Daniken upset the chariots of science.

Why this mish-mash of half-facts and pure nonsense is such a chord with the public is due, I think, to the underlying reason why some artists are fascinated by monsters (think Picasso and the Minotaur) and why humans in general enjoy scary tales and images.

People have always looked out to the night sky linging for some sign or signal to answer that ancient question: 'Are We Alone?' Yet the answer is all around us, right here on the planet. Leaping, loping and wriggling, purring and grunting or chirping, our fellow animals somehow make us feel fully human – and comfort us for that knowledge.

Anyone who has lived with an animal companion has learned to recognize that intelligence is not limited to us humans. Personality is not unique to h.Sapiens Sapiens. Respect and affection can be mutual between our species and another.

Today, as in all times past, philosophers have agonised over human willingness to make war against each other. Biology shows us it is programmed in our DNA. Games Theory shows how it works.

Not only in humans but in all groups organized by a system of hierarchy – the kind of social structure leading power down from a leader at the top – violence is inevitable. This is because with a leader to share out the spoils of war or the hunt, each member of the group gets something, no matter how little. In the absence of a leader, the strongest grab what they can, the rest get nothing.

Some idealists think a heightened invasion by alien beings might be the only way to bring an end to war against each other. Of course, such a war would be waged by both sides for the same old, old reasons.

For me, there seem more than enough enemies – biological and ethical – right here and now to take up our energies. Leave the Horror Fantasy to those artists and audiences who enjoy it.