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Cave Painters Better than Modern Artists

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The artist who drew this bull at Lascaux got the motion of the legs right. Most artists from recent times get it wrong. In fact, the artists who worked in caves more than 10,000 years ago had a better understanding of how four-legged animals moved than their counterparts today. [readon]

Gabor Horvath, a biological physicist  at Eotvos University in Hungary, compared 1,000 examples of art and concluded that the cave painters did a whole lot better at depicting animals in motion than did artists from the last few hundred years.

Horvath explains that when four-legged animals walk, they always move their legs in the same sequence. First, the left-hind foot hits the ground, then the left-front foot, followed by the right-hind foot and finally the right-front foot. Only the speed at which four-legged animals complete this sequence differs. But in a study he did three years ago, Horvath found that 63.6 percent of the animals depicted in anatomy textbooks were drawn in impossible gaits. (Even Leonardo da Vinci got it wrong.)

And the new study shows that even today,¬†artists aren’t doing much better.

In the 1880s, photographer Eadweard Muybridge used motion pictures to show how horses and other quadrupeds really walked. And artists since then have been getting it better in their paintings. The new study concludes that before Muybridge, artists got it right only 16.5 percent of the time. In the 130 years since then, they’ve done better, getting it right 42 percent of the time.

But the prehistoric cave artists got it right about 57 percent of the time.

The full study is here.