Anthropoligists¹, who have attempted to interpret primitive art – for example, the rock paintings of the Bushmen of South Africa, have determined that these works were done by shamans working in a trance-like state. The resulting paintings may have been intended
to have religious meaning.
Lewis-Williams’ conclusions are based on the presence of Entopic Forms in the paintings (dots, zig-zags, semicircular forms, etc.) which seem to be universally used in primitive or aboriginal art. Entopic Forms also can appear to anyone practicing such mental activities as meditation and contemplation. These forms are not limited to artistic activity.
This phenomenon is called Entopic Vision. There is nothing mystical about it, nor is it a purely psychological manifestation. Entopic Vision, when induced as a preliminary to the shaman’s art activity or to the individual’s seeking “mind expansion” for any purpose is a physiological (or mechanical) exercise. Possibly with practice it can lead to a trance-like state producing more sophisticated visions connected with the individual’s social environment.
Entopic² means “lying or originating within the eyeball; especially visual sensations due to the shadows of retinal blood vessels or of opaque particles in the vitreous humor falling upon the retina”. This state can be induced by closing the eyes tightly, being in a totally dark space, or (more painfully) receiving a sharp rap on the head – which is hardly advisable.
The matter of opaque particles in the vitreous humor (floaters) is a condition for which there is no safe repair. Those of us who have such a condition must either put up with it, or make good use of it as this writer/painter has.
For me, the simple dot is the Entopic Form that is continually present in my visual system. I use it as my basic brush stroke – not with any intention of “optical color mixing” as in the pointillist persuasion.
Finally, the discovery of the Entopic Vision phenomenon connects two basic interests that I have pursued in my formal education – language and art. I think that it is more than mere speculation that Entopic Forms in primitive art may indicate the emergence of prehistoric forms of written communication – be they only symbols of vocalizations of chants or musical utterances.
Written by Max Yoder
¹ Lewis-Williams, J.D. and T.A. Dowson; 1988; The signs of all times: Entopic
Phenomena in Upper Paleolithic Art. CURRENT ANTHROPOLOGY 29:201-17.
² Webster’s Third International Dictionary; 1986; 758.
Cave Painting, Lasaux, France; 15,000-10,000 B.C.
New Yorker Cartoon Poster Print by Lee Lorenz