M.A. Theses: Jenifer Gustavsen, 2014

Developing a method for assessing the skillfulness and practice time for Upper Palaeolithic artists


Archaeologists have tended to approach Upper Palaeolithic art in the way that art historians and critics approach modern art—with a focus on meaning. While this approach has yielded interesting results, its dominance has led to the neglect of another important aspect of art—the skill required to produce it. Research on the acquisition of skill across a wide range of activities suggests that an individual’s level of skill in a given activity is primarily determined by the number of hours they have practiced that activity. I developed an experimental approach for the evaluation of skill in representative drawing, a common form of Upper Palaeolithic art. First, I devised a set of criteria that can be used to evaluate drawing skill. Then, I asked 30 subjects with varying amounts of experience to produce drawings and to provide an estimate of their hours of practice. Next, the subjects’ drawings were scored with the evaluation criteria. Lastly, I regressed the scores for the drawings on hours of practice. The results indicate a strong, significant relationship between drawing skill and number of hours of practice. The rate of the participant artists skill acquisition increased steadily in congruence with their increased practice time, until they reached approximately 10,000 hours, and their abilities plateaued. With this result and a reliable set of criteria for the evaluation of skill in drawing, I am prepared to move onto the second phase of this study, which is the evaluation of skill in representative UP art.