INDIGENOUS AESTHETICS: Universal Circles Related and Connected to Everything Called Life

By Ballengee-Morris, Christine | Art Education, March 2008 | Go to article overview

INDIGENOUS AESTHETICS: Universal Circles Related and Connected to Everything Called Life


Ballengee-Morris, Christine, Art Education


Dealing with diversity components when designing and implementing units can be challenging. How does one know if the approach is appropriate, or the images authentic, or the interpretations suitable? Some art educators propose to widen the scope to include curricula and approaches that are outside the traditional aesthetic-based art education (Desai, 2000; Ballengee-Morris & Stuhr, 2001; Taylor & Ballengee-Morris, 2003). This can be challenging when engaging with indigenous artforms because of the historical, generic, stereotypical identity, and non-Native approaches. Indigenous arts, historically, are either relegated to the field of anthropology or marginalized by dominant, European derived systems of aesthetics (Allen, 2006). "No otherethnic group in the United States had endured greater andmore varied distortions of its cultural identity than American Indians"(Mihesuah, 1996, p. 22). Reactions to external political actions and social misinterpretations add a great deal of complexity to Native cultural formation and understandings. * I am Cherokee (Eastern Band) and Appalachian; therefore, I face the challenge of trying to explore indigenous constructs and theories in a way that non-Natives will understand. I also recognize that aesthetics differ within each tribe. In realizing these differences and in writing this for a mass audience. I recognize the possibility of generalizing. What may seem obvious and clear to me may seem foreign to others, and in an attempt to explain, there is a danger of simplifying and/or continuing misinterpretations and misrepresentations. In art education we must understand multiple identities, * understandings, aesthetics, complexities, and ambiguities. This is important to take into account when reading this article. I present my view and do not represent all Native Americans.

Spiraling

Early historians of Native American art privileged only artistic traditions that were seen as untainted by Western influences. Hybrid forms were dismissed as inauthentic, assimilations, but due to self-determination movements beginning in many American Indian communities in the '60s and nationally in the 70s, Native art is viewed according to transcultural conditions that define modern Native American experiences. Steven Leuthold's (1998) book, Indigenous Aesthetics: Native Art, Media and Identity provided multiple views with a common transcultural thread. There are many complexities and contradictions found in art and media of indigenous people today. "Transculturai" refers to the ways that Native American aesthetic experiences inform, enrich, and challenge non-Native cultures both politically and creatively.*

Aesthetics

Although aesthetics' history developed from Western ideology, the transition and the need to communicate with [the] non-indigenous in ways that can be understood, requires appropriating and changing the term. Building on this, I suggest the possibility of an interpretation of indigenous arts that is informed by multiple, distinct systems of indigenous aesthetics across tribal, national, geographic, and cultural borders-analysis based in understandings of aestheticsthat are trans-indigenous. We must understand that tribes (Nations) have their own aesthetic systems. Engaging indigenous systems of aesthetics expands appreciation and refines understanding of how arts can produce meaning for multiple audiences. What I suggest is that there are some indigenous components that may be shared to inform viewer questioning and inquiry.*

Identities: Individual and Collective

Native art is closely related to cultural identity and development of individual identity within a collectiveidentity. Two major themes, religion and nature, shape the relationship between indigenous aesthetic/cultural expression and American Indian individual and collective identification(s). It is also how nature is expressed through indigenous art thatconnects space and spirituality, which provides the conceptual basis for understanding place and space within traditional Native cultures. …

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