In his book,'The Stuff of Thought', Steven Pinker makes a convincing case that the use of metaphor in language is a powerful instrument in creative thinking. We use potent metaphoric comparisons about the world as we understand it to think ourselves into more complex speculations and abstract thought. So how could this also be applied to visual thinking, and the development of humankind through time?
Carl Jung may have already approached this through his concept of Archetypes: powerful forms of basic imagery that underlie our thinking selves and surface imagery and are inherited as part of our genetic 'software'.Whenever we see something and the hair figuratively or literally rises on our neck we can be sure we are experiencing a visual metaphor. Whether this is a photograph of two children running into a darkening wood, Hansel and Gretel, or a renaissance painting, a cave painting from ten thousand years ago, or the paintings of Australian Aborigines on rock shelters, there is the probability that images too have been used to propel thought from the practical towards the theoretical. We are what we are today because we were able to imagine ourselves here.
With this in mind then, the role of 'Artist' was a pivotal one in the development of religions and religious imagery and a necessary stepping stone of visual thinking that lead to the sciences of today. At each step along the way visualization stood upon the imagery of the previous generations or rather the framework of thinking that came before. Once the idea of abstract thinking, the development of complex religions had been established, the stage was set for abstract thinking in Greek philosophy and eventually from there to the scientific method as we use it today.
Beside every set of words that changed our way of thinking were the statues and paintings that helped express parallel thought. The architecture of the past underlies the buildings of the present.