Original Research - Special Collection: Challenging Building Blocks

The building blocks of art and its accompanying role and meaning

Chris Jones, Juri van den Heever
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 78, No 2 | a7572 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v78i2.7572 | © 2022 Chris Jones, Juri van den Heever | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 29 March 2022 | Published: 23 June 2022

About the author(s)

Chris Jones, Department of Systematic Theology and Ecclesiology, Faculty of Theology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
Juri van den Heever, Department of Botany and Zoology, Faculty of Science, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa


In this article, focusing on the building blocks of art with its concomitant role and meaning, we commence with a brief evolutionary overview of the origin of land vertebrates, which culminated in the rise of our species as we view it. We then review three iconic phases of human evolution, colloquially designated as the Neanderthals, the San and the Cro-Magnons, as manifested by their artistic endeavours. We are well aware that the Cro-Magnons are currently regarded as not sufficiently distinct from modern Homo sapiens to be separately designated. Therefore, the terms ‘anatomically modern humans’ (AMH) or ‘early modern humans’ (EMH) are suggested for these inhabitants of the Upper Palaeolithic as they shared an anatomical resemblance with us but still lacked the full complement of behavioural attributes that typify ourselves. This particular selection was chosen because these groups have partially overlapped historically, yet each represents a distinctive approach to the artistic impulse. Subsequently, we consider more contemporary developments regarding human art intertwined with our interpretation of art’s role and meaning. Then, we briefly discuss a broader account of the evolution of art in which these three phases are firmly based and through which our understanding of and engagement with the evolutionary development of these stages are elucidated and complemented. In conclusion, particular views about language and the role and meaning of art are confirmed. Particular views about language and the role and meaning of art are endorsed and supplemented by an extensive body of relevant literature.

Contribution: This article explores the evolution of art and its accompanying role and meaning in an intersectional and interdisciplinary manner that fits well with the intention of this unique collection on the building blocks of our past, present and future and with the nature of this journal and our ongoing engagement with HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies.


evolution; art; Neanderthal; San; Cro-Magnon; early modern humans; Upper Palaeolithic


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