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Primitive Art: Ethnography

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Slide One

Primitive Art: Ethnography

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            Shelly Errington presents a critique of the appropriation of non-western object into art with discourses that include descriptions of these objects. She asserts Primitive Art, also known as naïve art, is defined by its simplicity and untrained aspect. It is strongly concerned with patterns, and is sometimes characterized by unrefined and awkward use of color. However, the definitive aspect of Primitive Art is represented as its lack of refinement and finish. The above mask from 19th- to 20th century Ivory Coast represents the crude form of expression that is characteristic of Primitive Art.

This ancient relic of Old English civilization represents art in the truly primitive sense, untainted by extensive training. The cow on the left is an Altamira Cave Drawing done by the untrained hand of early Spanish men. This genre is featured in William Rubin’s Primitivism in 20th Century Art. The cover images (shown above) demonstrate how primitivism techniques and ideas also infiltrated the work of modern artists such as Picasso and Gauguin.


Slide Two

Navajo Sand Painting

The article “What became Primitive Art” by Shelly Errington outlines several major exhibits of the 1980’s that marked the maturity of Primitive Art. Out of the Mists: Northwest Coast Art was an exhibition held in 1984 at the IBM Gallery of Science. Related to the subject of Northwest Coast Art exhibit is the sand paintings of the Navajo Indians. Sand Painting is a ritualistic form of painting that is done for certain ceremonies such as healing or other religious services. The paintings were done as rituals and in sequential form (as in the picture above). They were done as an accompaniment to the various sequential sections of each ceremony. Paintings are done with colored sand, which occurs naturally. However, artificial coloring is also done using such agents as charcoal, gypsum and ochre. The image of Native Americans Dancing is taken from the exhibit, England’s First View of America, which also depicts the Primitive Art of Native Americans. This is definitively Primitive in its reference to the ritualistic aspect of Native American culture. The Buffalo Dancer Warbonnet Headdresses pictured above give an example of Navajo Primitive Art that reflects the warrior aspect of their culture. The head unit gives and example of the use of foam in Navajo art (Sam, 2007).

Slide Three

Art by Metamorphosis

The Kava Bowl shown here represents the form of art that has changed from being of use within its culture to becoming a cultural artifact. This is also true of the Native American Headdress and Warrior Spear. Historically, Primitive Art objects were created primarily for specific uses within the ethnic cultural household, workplace, or for war or religious purposes. Shelly Errington introduces the term “Art by Metamorphosis” as one that represents a metaphorical motion of these objects in question out of the realm of utility (everyday use such as kava bowls and ritualistic use such as ancestral effigies) into the realm of art (1994). The term also represents another form of motion—the artistic movement itself, which takes on a motion in a cultural sense. This is where the art becomes removed from its own culture in Mesoamerica, Africa, New Guinea and other areas into the mainstream museums within the major countries of Western Civilization (such as MoMA, United States and The Louvre, France). This is also true of this particular bowl, which has been taken out of its culinary context and is now placed on display as “art”. The kava bowl is traditionally used for drinking the beverage kava juice made from the kava plant found in the western Pacific. The Headdress was used as a head ornament representing its wearer as a prominent person in the tribe, such as a chief. The warrior spears were weapons used in time of war and were therefore created for that utilitarian purpose and only appropriated as art after the end of the warrior period. Such terms as Art by Appropriation have also been used to describe this type of art, as the kava bowl (created for meals) has been appropriated by the art world. This is opposed to Art by Intention, which is art created primarily for the sake of being viewed as art.

Good, and add more image about Art by Metamorphosis.

Slide Four

Iconicity in Primitive Art

In her section of iconicity, Shelly Errington points out that painting and sculpture have always had the role of being representative of something. Such symbolism may occur on multiple levels and subjectivity vastly multiplies the number of referents to which each symbol may point. The Marada Figure, from the Art from Tribal Cultures Exhibit (2007) is straightforward in its iconicity, as it demonstrates a clear representation of a bird, an egg and a man’s head. The term Optical Iconicity refers to the tendency of an art form to point toward the physical appearance of a given object—that is, to represent it realistically as is the case for the Marada Figure. This figure shows how the iconicity of much primitive art attempts to “depict precisely the way something looks” (Clifford, 1988, p. 208). Degrees of Realism is a term developed by Bill Holm of Burke Museum to describe the work of Northwest Indian Artists (Errington, 1994). The Configurative degree refers to a very physically representative form of art, where the object depicted appears very physically similar to the real-life object (Clifford, 1988). The Marada Figure would fall into the configurative category. The 19th century mask from the Fang tribe of West Africa represents a less configurative degree of realism, as is the case for the whale-like creature portrayed in the icon above it.

Slide Five

Collecting Ourselves: The Pitts Rivers Museum, Oxford

The figure represented in the center is one of the exhibits found at the Pitt Rivers museum. James Clifford’s book chapter on “The Predicament of Culture” describes James Fenton’s poem “The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.” It is based on the collection of ethnographic pieces from all over the world contained at that site. This poem delves into the reasoning that caused these objects to become collectibles. It also expounds on the childlike nature of the works in this collection, with its fairytale characters and curious gadgets whose sole purpose for existence appears to be aesthetics and entertainment (Clifford, 1988). The playful aspect of this doll-like figure demonstrates the childlike quality described in the Fenton poem. It also has the wild and out-of-this-world look of a creature that might be found in a fairytale, and this also connects it very well to that which is described in Clifford’s chapter on culture. The Shell Necklet is also found in the Pitt-Rivers museum, and is made from shell-like or “turtleshell” ornaments that bead and shake, and which may easily have been picked up by a child. This is representative of the childlike nature of the images in Fenton’s poem and the adventures they represent. The third image are Shields from the Molucca Islands on display at the Pitt-Rivers Museum. These protective armaments are representative of the utilitarian aspect of primitive art, as well as its appropriated nature, as these useful objects were converted to art after their use was spent.

Slide Six

Collecting Ourselves: The Pitts Rivers Museum, Oxford

James Fenton’s poem “The Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford” mentions the displays that are likely to be seen in such an exhibition that focuses on Primitive Art. He writes, “Entering, you will find yourself in a climate of nut castanets  [and view] from Mirzapur a sistrum called Jumka.” Above is represented a castanet made from nuts strung by craftsmen. To the right is found a sistrum, which actually originated during the high point of the Roman Empire (DK Images).

Cite this Primitive Art: Ethnography

Primitive Art: Ethnography. (2016, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/primitive-art-ethnography/

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