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Art 2018

Terms in this set (257)

We must always be mindful of the important distinctions between the arts of Africa and the West. For example, the Western tradition emphasizes evolution and progress in artistic practice—think of the development of the Renaissance from the Early period, through the High, and to the Late and Mannerist phases. African art, on the other hand, is generally more focused on continuity. Change, innovation, and adaptation are present, certainly, but essential cultural aspects endure through that evolution.
Additionally, African art has not been understood
as privileging authorship in the way Western art generally has. While we are very focused on the name, life, and production of individual artists in histories of Western art, these concerns are not as clear in studies of African art. This is no doubt a function of the way that many African objects were
collected—simply pulled out of context without
concern for understanding who had actually made
them—but it is an issue to consider nonetheless. Finally, many African objects are functional in
nature. From a Western perspective that has historically celebrated the concept of "high" art, or "art for art's sake," the "craft" nature of much African art may be a challenge. To see drums, textiles, and stools, for example, as art objects (even if they are used in ritual practice), is to stretch the traditional Western concept of art with a capital A. Indeed, in all of these ways, a Western viewpoint may inherently diminish the perceived value and importance of African objects. We must be constantly vigilant to these potential obstacles to our understanding and appreciation of the works we will examine here
While we have been at pains thus far to emphasize the wide variety of work produced under the "African art" label, many scholars have also considered and numerated what are often described as "Trans-African" aesthetics and characteristics. Such elements may be seen as somewhat consistent across the history of African art. Such aesthetic and conceptual issues are of interest in a study of historical objects, but have also proven to be central to contemporary discussions of art of the African diaspora. Some trans-African issues already mentioned include an emphasis on continuity, a lack of concern about individual authorship, and the stress on functionality. In addition, a central aspect of much African art that we will see repeatedly in this Resource Guide is the centrality of the human figure. Human representations, as well as objects used to adorn the human body, are extremely prevalent. Another central theme is a focus on visual abstraction. This does not necessarily express itself in the total abstraction seen in twentieth-century art in the West, but rather involves the distortion, stylization, and exaggeration of figures and imagery in African art. This abstraction lends a visual boldness to much of the work produced in Africa. Other visual and conceptual concerns that may be seen as fairly consistent in African art include an emphasis on sculptural forms—much African art is carved, molded, or constructed into three-dimensional forms. Finally, an emphasis on performance is immediately apparent in even a cursory study of African art. African ritual practices related to masquerade are most important in this context, as we will see
Our example presents a giraffe as well as a number of other animal forms. The giraffe is the largest figure, placed to the left of our illustration. To the right of the giraffe we see a series of other animals, of varying types and sizes. Most obvious are the small rhinoceros and medium-sized lion, standing on the same basic ground line as the giraffe. Other smaller hoofed animals are scattered above this major grouping, filling the rest of the rock face "canvas." The animals all appear to be oriented to the right. They are in strict profile, which provides us with the basic identification information we need to recognize many of them. Most of the animals are visible in flat silhouette form, such as the horse-like figure positioned directly to the right of the giraffe's head. Others, like those positioned below this horse-like form, are delineated primarily through outline. Finally, we see that some animals are illustrated through a subtler shading technique. For example, the horned animal positioned to the immediate left of the giraffe's head is outlined, but also has a de- gree of shading across its body. Overall, the animals appear to be presented in a fairly naturalistic, if simplified, way. The fascinating exception to the naturalistic renditions of these animals is the presentation of the lion, seen in the lower center area of our illustration. The lion is predominantly seen as a profile silhouette, though the area of its upper back and shoulder has a bit of shading. What is striking about the animal is the depiction of its feet and tail. The paws are seen not in profile, but as prints. These prints are further distorted as we see five digits, rather than the four of all feline species. The lion's tail is greatly elongated and extends straight away from the cat's body before angling sharply at a ninety-degree angle. The tail ends, not with a tuft of fur, but with yet another print. These details help us to understand that the artist's goal was not a strict presentation of reality, and they lend great visual charm and interest to the engraving