Mimbres Bowl.The area of tribal art which we will study next is one of the most inspiring and overwhelming topics, too vast to cover in our survey course; however, by touching on some of the highlights (particularly in Africa and Native America), some universal concepts and understandings of all tribal peoples may be gained. The title "Tribal Art" is a "catch-all" phrase used by many to refer to hundreds of different cultural groups, differentiated by language, custom, folklore, tradition, art and spiritualism.

Most of these cultures (although there are exceptions such as the Ife, Benin and Asante Kingdoms); are tribal and egalitarian in structure. And for lack of a better method, we reluctantly and unfairly are forced to connect these diverse groups under this label. Although they are usually described as "non-western" (the supreme oxymoron, which usually means non-Euro-American, or going against the "Western Heritage" or the western canon of acceptance) the links to prehistoric European (thus Western?) art are numerous in function as well as in style. This is the area which shows us how labels-most of which originated in the nineteenth century, colonialist era-are relatively worthless and prejudice our opinions on culture in general.
QUESTION: (Online students answer on the Etudes discussion board, and remember, online students, you do not have to answer every question, but should have at least 3 responses before the Midterm):

If you disagree with the above statement that labels such as "western heritage", "tribal" and "non-western" have an underlying effect which prejudices and biases us, please respond including the source of one article from an art historian or historian to support your position.

If you agree with the statement, also you may respond in why you agree and must include an article in support. (Articles may be from the Internet--give exact URL or address, or from a library source, giving name and source.)

(Incidentally you may respond to each other as well, but write first your clear answer to my question. If it's not clear you will not get credit---see Syllabus for explanation of credit.)
Now that we have a debate going on what to call this area, (I hope) we can continue and since I am the teacher I have decided to call it "Tribal Art". When you get to be teacher you will have the opportunity to:

Mimbres Pottery:

Mimbres PotteryThe example on the top of this page and on the left is a Mimbres pot from a section of New Mexico near the Mimbres River. This is a culture, like many in this area, which has no written records (essentially could be called prehistory, yes?). It has been dated to a relatively early date for Native American art to c. 1000 AD. There are many beautiful examples of Mimbres pottery known today since they were found buried with the dead and have great significance to the people.

In most tribal societies their concept of ART as we know it does not exist. To them ART consists of images and decorations that give elation and deeper meaning to ordinary yet important utilitarian objects. These images make the art more valuable, not for sales as in our culture, but because they connect it to something beyond the material world, by using various signs and symbols which are often sacred and connect to their spiritual traditions. These abstract, revered symbols are often passed on for many generations, probably even many centuries.

The STYLE or manner of expression used in the art work (Mimbres Pot) above is most likely foreign to you due to its lack of representational or realism. As you will read more about this in the "Weekly Topics" through WebCT, the best term I believe to use for this style is CONCEPTUAL. This means that the artist deliberately chose to create an image with the concept or idea in mind, not a likeness. Often conceptual art is geometric and is closer to language. Since the main objective of this class is to view the art according to the values and functions of the specific era we are studying, we must learn both about the STYLE and the FUNCTION or CONTEXT of these works. The first lesson in understanding the art must come from careful looking and describing, that is, translating the visual coded message into verbal or written. (Transferring "right brain" material into "left brain", if you wish.) Thus, I will ask you questions such as the one below periodically which will seem to be "no brain", but I expect you to verbalize (to yourself, your dog, cat, or whoever) what you see. Please do this as an exercise.

QUESTION: (answer on the Etudes discussion board) What words would you use to describe the geometric quality of this work?

What do you think is represented in this piece, and how do you think it is related to the major concept or idea? How would this connect to the function of a tribal culture?

Look carefully at the face of the person. Some of you who are familiar with modern artists, such as Picasso, may see some similarities in style. If you wish you may comment on this briefly, however, it is a better topic for your mid term paper if you choose. (See Syllabus paper topics.)

Notice also the hole in the center of the body in the Mimbres pot above. This is common with Mimbres pottery and is not an accident, but, as we will find, it has a very important spiritual function.

Look at some of the other images of Tribal art to see similarities of style, values and function: (not part of the above question--just for your observation)

Ivory Charm, Tlingit. Antelope Headdress, Bambara Tribe, Mali Supernova Painting, Chaco.

What else will we study in Tribal Art? Well, as Californians, I feel, our direction should be toward the two areas of Native American which most impact us, that is, some of the Southwest tribes (especially those which reveal an extensive ancient tradition like the Anasazi) and a few of those of the Northwest coast, such as the Tlingit and the Kwakiutl. In addition we will study some African art, most important for its richness of conceptualism, and for its influence on modern art. Part of it is tribal and some of the images we will see show the ancient traditions leading up to the more recent art.
In studying these works you will recognize also the great need for research and preservation. Since most African art is done in wood, the problems of preservation are enormous-wood if it is not kept in a controlled environment-temperature, humidity, etc.-will start to deteriorate within about 50 years. I hope a new hobby and interest will be formed where you may help preserve and research in this field. Our study of SW "rock" art also may get you searching for signs and symbols in the most unexpected places. Who knows? It may spark a new hobby of hiking, rock climbing, or exploring and certainly of searching the web for answers to the puzzles of their conceptualized messages.

(NOTE: To get back to this site after you have viewed the following links, you must minimize or close their window completely. The ARTII site stays open underneath for cross referencing.)    

 Last Published 7/14/16