Paint is wonderful. It’s true that without it our dwellings would more honestly reflect the materials from which they’re built, like concrete, or chipboard, or (in the case of my house) granite mortared with yellow soil. All very neo-brutalist, but not particularly pretty.
Early paint wasn’t white emulsion (or magnolia), it was more likely ground charcoal, ashes from the fire, ochre, plant pigments, and so on, nor was it strictly decorative. The cave paintings at Lascaux might appear attractive to our eyes, but they were probably more to do with the painters’ beliefs than an attempt at beautifying the family cave. Icons rather than wallpaper.
By the late BCs and early ADs, decoration was more established. The Etruscans and the Romans painted walls all over the place: tombs, bath houses, brothels, and villas. It was presumably just for the wealthy, with the slaves’ quarters given a lick of whitewash at the most. Today, however, painted walls are widely available, with paints in colours the people of Lascaux (or Rome) could never have imagined.
Unfortunately, paint carries a sting in its tail. If you get it on your clothes, and it dries before you notice it, it doesn’t come out. Lots of people keep a special set of decorating clothes, a pair of paint spattered trousers and an old shirt, stuffed in the bottom of the wardrobe until the utility room starts to look a bit mouldy. It’s possible the painters of Lascaux kept an old beaver pelt specifically for painting, but there’s a simpler solution. Just take your clothes off. Paint the wall, wipe the soles of your feet on a bit of kitchen paper, and head for the shower. Any wet emulsion will wash off, and any dried on paint will be shed with the skin, which (unlike clothes) renews itself continuously. Then the old clothes in the bottom of the wardrobe can be used as pipe lagging, or rags to wipe your dipstick. Job done.