Humans, as a species, are not anatomically adapted to many of the environments we inhabit.
We have survived by means of the micro-climate strategy—clothing and shelter. The building
of shelter has accidentally created camera obscuras throughout historic times, documented in written records back to
the fifth century B.C. The micro-climate strategy, however, extends deep into prehistory. The archeological
record shows that Paleolithic peoples fashioned hide tents in cave mouths, rock overhangs, and in the open.
Our field reconstructions show the inevitability of camera obscura formation when using generally opaque but puncturable
materials in these locales.
A camera obscura is a dim room (of any size) with a hole (or holes) that allow light to enter and
project an upside-down image of the outside world onto an interior surface, the simplest of optical principles.
Viewing the moving image inside a room size camera obscura is much like watching a movie. The image holds shape, value, and movement—just like reality only flat. The horse on the wall stands for a horse, it's recognizable and yet it is not a real living, breathing animal. Inside a tent camera obscura a person cannot see the living animal outside at the same time they see its image inside. In that perceptual moment the animal on the wall is independent of any real object—it is a representation. The seed is planted in the human brain and a floodgate of possibility opens.
Comparison to other origin of art theories:
Origin of art theories can be divided into three categories: interpreted purpose, mental capacities, and recognition.
1) Interpreted purpose
A) Hunting Magic (Reinach, 1903; Breuil 1952)
B) Coping with Fear (Worringer, 1906; Shlain, 2003)
C) Totemism (Frazer, 1910)
D) Sanctuary (Bégouën, 1929)
E) Sexual Dichotomy (Leroi-Gourhan and Laming- Emperaire, 1958)
F) Time Systems (Marshack, 1972)
G) Body Covering (Bahn, 1998)
2) Mental Capacities
A) Eidetic Imagery (Galton, 1883)
B) Art-for-Art’s Sake (Lubbock, 1904)
C) Art-for-Life's Sake (Dissanayake, 2000)
D) Neural Mutation (Klein, 2002)
E) Visions (Brown, 1928, derived from Wundt; Hodgson, 2006)
F) Trance Flashback (Lewis-Williams, 2002)
G) Dreams (Coolidge and Wynn, 2005)
A) Macaroni (Luquet, 1910)
B) Shadows (derived from Pliny the Elder, 77)
C) Bear Claws (Maringer and Bandi, 1951)
D) Worked Stones (Benekendorff, 1991)
E) Fossils (Feliks, 1998)
Each one of these theories has a degree of plausibility, a kernel of truth. Unfortunately these theories have traditionally been viewed as antagonistic, each theory competing with the other as the one true universal origin of art theory. We would like to introduce the idea that these theories are not competitive, but are in fact collaborative, even cumulative, each theory providing a piece to a larger puzzle; researchers from a variety of disciplines (anthropology, biology, art, art history, psychology, sociology, archeology, theology, philosophy, and ethnology) arriving at a truth within their respective areas of expertise. By piecing these truths together we can gain a clearer understanding of how art arose.
The strength of the interpreted purpose based theories is that necessity is the mother of invention. Art has a job to do—communicate in the physical absence of the communicator—which is extremely useful and lends itself to a variety of applications. Likely all of the purpose theories came into play at one time or another.
The strength of the mental capacities theories is that they show how humans are biologically evolved and culturally shaped with the capacity for a multitude of communication forms. Clearly the neural wiring had to be in place for art to start. In a broad perspective these theories are unassailable.
The strength of the recognition theories is that they are very simple and are based on the day-to-day physical environment of Paleolithic people. These theories look for plausible experiences that could have helped to formulate the representational idea.
One way to look at the problem of the origin of art is that it was discovered in different places at different times by different people—a skill gained and lost and then gained again over vast reaches of time and distance. In any particular instance the art idea coming from not any one particular need or capacity or experience alone, but from a the combination of the three, the alchemy of beginnings.
Understanding how these theories work together provides a clearer picture of the origins of art. The Paleo-camera theory adds another piece to the solution of this puzzle, working in concert with the existing theories. The Paleo-camera theory is a recognition theory, offering a perceptually and anthropologically feasible experience that could have triggered the idea of two-dimensional representation.