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Learn how the Ice Age produced some cool art

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By Kirsten Laskey

 Think art is just a pretty painting or sculpture? Look beyond the surface – there is so much more to learn than what can be gathered at first glance.

Barbara Olins Alpert, author of “The Creative Ice Age Brain: Cave Art in the Light of Neuroscience,” will give further insight into Ice Age art during her upcoming presentation at 7 p.m. Thursday at Mesa Public Library. The presentation is part of the Authors Speak series.

Her presentation, Olins Alpert explained, will “look at Ice Age in terms of new developments and well-known developments in an attempt to enter the mind of artists, to reach them as living human beings. So my take on this is that we can approach these artists through their art as if they were living people.”

These developments include taking a neuroscience approach to ancient art. Additionally, Olins Alpert used the latest imaging technology such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerized tomography (CT) scans to examine this early art.

Olins Alpert said scientists have commented that art is a window into how the brain functions.

As scientist Adam Zeman said in the book, “When we create or experience art we have our clearest view of the mind.”

In gathering research for the book, Olins Alpert said she traveled to many different sites including Lascaux, France and Altamira, Spain. She also went to South Africa, India and Australia. Even New Mexico is rich in prehistoric art, although not Ice Age art.

The period for Ice Age art, she explained, was between 30,000 -10,000 years ago.

She became interested in this time period and its art while teaching art history. Olins Alpert said in textbooks, the Ice Age was left out. Many would begin with ancient Egyptian art.

“So I began researching on my own … (and) learned (Ice Age art) was just as sophisticated as the art mentioned in the books. I found it was very rich and sophisticated and it wasn’t there.”

She added, “I’m just so attracted to where something began. (Ice Age art is) one of the first origins of art. If you want to get into the origins of art, you have to go back that far.”

As she continued to study Ice Age art, Olins Alpert said she was able to understand contemporary art better. Art enthusiasts can find direct links, she said, and help people understand some of the mysteries of recent art.

A number of publications throughout the world have asked Olins Alpert to share her knowledge through articles. For instance, she wrote an article for, Anthropologie, a Museum of Man publication in Paris. People recommended that Olins Alpert write a book and as a result, she produced “The Creative Ice Age Brain.”

Olins Alpert recommends people come to the talk “if they have any interest in art or archeology or the application of science to these fields or just in the way the mind worked … I think (art) strikes an important note with many people,” she said.

Plus, Olins Alpert added, “I think if they have never seen Ice Age art, it will be an eye opener.”