The artist has always been a special breed. Looking for answers, asking questions, the artist has never been content to let things be. What Picasso calls "the sun in my belly" has always compelled him to invent, to create something out of nothing. To make magic. Wood, stone, clay, metal, charcoal, paint becomes, under his hand, the whole world. The heavens and hell, gods and goddesses, the seven seas, the beasts in the field and the birds in the air, all mankind, the artist creates again and again. He has even made the invisible visible, giving visual form to what he has thought, what he has felt. It is no wonder then that artists for centuries have been the priests, teachers, explorers, experimenters, and magicians.
The artist-priest among primitive peoples was a potent instrument for survival. As doctor who cured ills with his masks and incantation, his fetishes and magic objects, he was charged with averting disasters and attracting good luck. As master of tribal ceremonies, he provided the consolations of community rituals, and the bonds of common belief. He was, in fact, the earliest insurance agent-- one who could protect his people against the uncertainties of life and help them face the finalities of death.
The prehistoric artists who painted the walls of Lascaux and Dordogne were probably such artist-priests. Their brilliantly painted friezes of bison and deer were perhaps created to insure good hunting by identifying the prey. The artist's tasks were to create objects that could readily be identified, which would, at the same time, be symbols that conveyed to man the wonders and mysteries of the universe. Every artist, then, in Africa, Mexico, India, China, and Alaska, had to become familiar with the outward forms of their subjects-- man, trees, animals, birds, fishes. This compelled them to be keen observers, turning them, so to speak, into the first scientists.
--Charlotte Ward, from "The Role Of The Artist", published in Famous Artist Schools Annual vol.1, 1970.