(Shared Places): Tribal Cultures and Histories
isem 101 (42)  

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Indigenous Aesthetics
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From Native American Studies:

Chapter 7:  Indian Art

Glossary of Art Terms







Producing beautiful objects or performing in beautiful ways is a marker of cultural identity that is still important to Native people.
It is in the field of aesthetics, the study of the beautiful, that Indian people have demonstrated perhaps most profoundly their ability to survive and to adapt their sense of innate beauty to new media in their own cultural ways (Velie & Kidwell 117).

While Indian art has multiple artists and thereby multiple intentions, the Indian cultural worldview is the essence of Native American painting, whether the style is traditionalism or individualism. All speak to an Indian experience in an Indian idiom (Reynard Strickland in NAS 118).

There are regional, tribal and stylistic differences, yet similarities outweigh differences so it is possible to make valid generalizations:

Rock paintings
are the beginnings or Indian painting, and remain strong in contemporary Indian art.
Rock art is pictographic; the animals and objects are depicted in a way that is more symbolic than representational (see Fig. 7.1)
Animals are stylized, men are depicted symbolically with sticklike  limbs, and trunks, and sunlike heads.

Animal Hides
Coronado recorded seeing these in 1650. In 1805 Lewis and Clark gave Pres. Jefferson a buffalo hide painting of a battle.
Hide paintings are generally pictographic,  a "form of picture writing" in which aesthetic effect is less important than conveying historical information.
In the early 19th century, Plains Indians  had contact with American and European artists and their style began to change, moving away from pictography towards mimetic realism.
Indians artists still retain a good deal of stylization: they generally depicted horses with very small heads and very long necks. Often the horses were green or crimson, as well as brown and black.

Ledger Books
When Indians were removed and settled on reservations, paper, particularly ledger books, replaced  animal hides. (see Fig. 7.2 by Kiowa  artist Silverhorn).  This piece typifies the characteristics of first Indian easel paintings in early 20th century:  strong sense of line, careful attention to detail, absence f background, a variety of colors, and a developed sense of composition (119).

The ledger books were not trying to reproduce photographically. These artists are 'reductionists,' painting symbols that go to the essence of being.
Indian art may seem clumsy and ineffectual if the viewer believes the Native artists is trying to paint a real horse in the style of a European salon painter.
Indian art becomes highly sophisticated abstraction when the viewer understands why the painter draws transparent horse stacked upon transparent horse. It is not childish gibberish, but a language of philosophical metaphor, where the artist communicates at a different level of reality (119).

Easel Art
Ledger art inspired easel art of early 20th century.
The Kiowa 5: these Oklahoma artists combined techniques of ledger art with the Art Deco illustrative style popular in mainstream America at time.  They attended the University of Oklahoma and studied with Edith Mahier and Oscar Jacobson.
Kiowa 5 style: flat, two-dimensional pictures with 'opaque colors, clear outlines,  sinuous curves, and an emphasis on line.' (See Fig. 7.3).
The Kiowa 5 became well known in US and Europe and their paradigm become dominant in the Indian art world, until Fritz Scholder and the Santa Fe school  began the American Indian art renaissance.

"Traditional Style" (Oklahoma) see Fig. 7.4: monochrome background, symmetry and centrality of dominant figure, geometric patterns evident in he plant life; more details in figures moves away from the Kiowa simplicity of line toward more complicated patterns.

Santa Fe "school" also part of "Traditional Style". The "Studio School" drew on Pueblo traditions which were substantially different from Plains Indian traditions,  with more  emphasis on design and less on narrative content. Pueblo Indians had a long tradition  of sand painting connected with religious rituals, but sand paintings were essentially designs with little narrative content.
Dorothy Dunn (an Anglo) of the Santa Fe "Studio School" encouraged students to get inspiration from  abstract forms painted on pottery, figurative rock  art, and geometric beadwork and basketry patterns.
Santa Fe Studio style is dramatically different from the Oklahoma style. Santa Fee artists typically fill their canvases with more figures, and use a great deal more detail  in depicting costumes,  features, and things in the background. See Figure 7.6 and 7.7.

Most distinctive graduate of Santa Fe Studio is Sioux artist Oscar Howe. Began painting in  traditional style but after stint in  Europe as soldier during World War II he got an MFA in painting and made a departure to a style that looks like Cubism, but which he insists draws on Sioux traditions (see Fig. 7.9).
Howe claims that his inspiration is primarily the Sioux trickster, Iktomi, or Spider, and that the pictorial surfaces are a spider web. (121).

Indian Art Renaissance
Howe's student Fritz Scholder revolutionized Indian painting in the 1960s, involving stylistic changes as radical as that of the European Renaissance from the Middle Ages.

Institute of American Indian Arts founded in Santa Fe, 1962. Students at IAIA established a style of painting that combined techniques of Euro-American modernism with traditional Indian subjects. IAIA hired Fritz Scholder, who is known for "vibrating color and messy gesture" along with a  Pop Art sensibility.
Scholder brought irreverence to Indian art (turned his back on "Bambi Art"), and smashed stereotypes of Indians in art by shocking and amusing viewers and forcing them  to recognize that Indians are Americans living in the present (see Figure 7.10)

Twenty-first century art has given way to Post-Modernism and often has a political edge and is invasive (see Edgar Heap of Birds' Fig. 7.17). (126).

Indian Aesthetic
Relationship to land
connection to tribal traditions
relationship to nature in particular and animals in general
the cyclical nature of time.

From Native American Studies, Clara Sue Kidwell and Alan Velie