arts and design

Jarvis Cocker on the cave art that moved him to tears


Creswell Crags is the kind of place that you get taken to on school trips when you’re a kid. I found myself there because I was back Up North looking for some activity to keep my son occupied one day. I went with no expectations, but I found myself pretty impressed by the place. It’s a little like a quarry, but there are caves set into the walls so it almost looks like a prehistoric version of high-rise flats, such as Sheffield’s famous Park Hill complex. There was something familiar about it.

Creswell Crags’ main claim to fame is that it has the UK’s only surviving example of cave art.

As I was looking at a small carving of a horse’s head, something strange happened to me. I began to feel quite emotional – to the extent that I thought I might actually shed tears. It took me completely by surprise. I suddenly got a strong mental image of somebody, back in prehistory, probably laid on their back in this cramped, dark space, using whatever was at hand to make these marks on the wall.

And the thought of someone doing that: going to all that trouble to make marks that another person could then look at and understand in some way – in other words, someone learning to communicate what was on their mind – that felt like I was somehow looking at the beginnings of human art. It wasn’t just lo-tech, it was no-tech, and yet here I was, thousands of years later, welling up whilst looking at it and not really being able to say why. It still worked! That unknown cave artist was moving me, right here in the present day.

Jarvis Cocker’s memoir Good Pop, Bad Pop is published by Vintage and out now



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