African Art: Its Beauty, Form, and Function

By Andreae, Christopher | The Christian Science Monitor, April 15, 1996 | Go to article overview

African Art: Its Beauty, Form, and Function


Andreae, Christopher, The Christian Science Monitor


African Masterworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts

Essays by Michael Kan and Roy Sieber

Text by David W. Penney, Mary Nooter Roberts, and Helen M. Shannon Smithsonian Institute Press 180 pp., $34.95 The Western world's appreciation of traditional African art has grown and deepened throughout the 20th century. On its face, it seems ironic that this development coincides with the disruption by foreign influence (often but not always from the Western world) of the very African cultural beliefs and practices that brought these "works of art" into existence in the first place. These outside influences - often religious and of the missionary stripe - have been opposed to exactly the same "primitivism" (as it is perceived by non-Africans) that appeals so strongly to the modern Western art world. Indeed, it was often the fact that African art was so completely alien to Western art and its religious roots that made it seem radical, daring, and enigmatic to 20th century pioneers of modern art such as Matisse, Picasso, or Modigliani. The result of one continent's long tradition appeared utterly modern to another; it provided a basis for upsetting a tired conventionalism. Yet interestingly, the fetishistic systems of African witch doctors, for example, were as much anathema to orthodox Christian missionaries in Africa as they are to more recent waves of religious persuaders from the world of Islam. As the outsiders' ideas have taken root, many of the carved works that Africans once believed to be invested with magical potency - either benign or malignant - have become irrelevant to their very creators. (Although even when still considered powerful, they were prone to be discarded - and replaced with a frank disregard for their importance as "permanent" material objects.) Roy Sieber, an American authority on African art, points out that wood has long been the "medium of choice for most sculptural art of Africa." He adds that unlike "stone or metal, wood is easy prey to the climate and insects. "With few exceptions, the life span of a wooden object, even when carefully protected, was limited to a generation or two. Once it had succumbed to the elements, it had to be replaced.... "The preciousness we attribute to the works is our evaluation, for the African owners and users, despite their respect and often awe of them, were more practical minded." Sieber writes this in a thought-provoking essay for a fine book, "African Masterworks in the Detroit Institute of Arts." As this book's elegantly photographed and lucidly presented plates indicate, Detroit is the proud owner of one of America's finest collections of African art. African art has become a subject of academic study and aesthetic admiration in the Western world. And the history of the Detroit Institute of Arts collection demonstrates how attitudes have changed in the last century: What were at first seen as "ethnographic materials" or "exotica" - the 19th century equivalent of the "curiosities" accumulated by antiquaries and travelers in earlier centuries - have now taken their revered place in Western art galleries such as the DIA. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

African Art: Its Beauty, Form, and Function
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.