African Art is perhaps one of the most original forms of art in the world, mainly because of two important reasons. The first reason is the fact that the generic term “African Art” represents, in fact, the coagulation of regional art forms from people across a vast and diversified continent. From that point-of-view, the art of the continent, or the “African Art,” will bear and contain all these different representations at a continental level.
The second reason is that African Art is also a combination of “visual imagery, spiritual beliefs and social purpose” (Gluckman, 2007). From this perspective, African Art is functionally diversified, which means that each of these approaches (the religious, the spiritual or the social ones) will have, as final result, a different output, each valuable in itself, especially if one adds the fact that many of the art objects also had an utilitarian value.
Despite this diversity, there are still elements that are common in African Art throughout the continent (Blier, 2001). One of these characteristics is that African Art generally tends to be based on an abstract rather than a naturalistic approach to the represented object (Blier, 2001). Without wanting to necessarily build an explanation for this, one should point out that this may occur because of an absence of generally available stylistic norms, but also because the abstract representation allows for a much greater freedom
On the other hand, African Art is better represented in its sculptural works than it is in its paintings or other manifestations of art. Beyond this actual conclusion, one should also point out towards the observation that sculptural forms are also more resistant, especially those in wood, and, as a result, it may be that more artistic representations of this kind have survived. In terms of painting, this sometimes takes on an utilitarian dimension, with painted houses or cloth.
Many elements of African Art are also interconnected with a common denominator, that of performance art. For example, dancing is quite often a significant part of African Art, but this usually comes associates with special dancing clothes and dancing masks, which are often properly decorated to receive the embodiment of what they are supposed to represent (quite often, the dancing may be associated to a ritual or a religious ceremony and the art objects in the ceremony will reflect this).
As dancing masks have been mentioned in the previous paragraph, it is necessary to go into more detail in terms of the importance of the mask in African Art as one of the most common artistic representations on the continent. The masks are part of rituals that go a wide spectrum, covering anything from religious ceremonies to war ceremonies to communicating with ancestors. As already mentioned, there is usually a ritual dance involved, during which the communion with ancestors is ensured, as well as, occasionally, a moment of reflection on future events. The masks themselves are often adorned with shells or other decorations, as well as occasional paintings.
African Art has also been influential for some of the modern art, especially the Western developments in art. Western artists are often willing to adopt patterns, ideas or ornamentations from African Art in their attempt to express their artistic perception.
1. Monica Blackmun Visona et al. History of Art in Africa. Prentice Hall, New York. (2001)
2. Gluckman, Jason “Ancient African Art.” Ancient African Art. 7 Jan. 2007 EzineArticles.com. 4 Dec. 2009 .
3. Blier, Suzanne. Africa, Art, and History: An Introduction. In A History of Art in Africa. Pearson. 2001.
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