III
UTILITARIAN ART AND "L'ART POUR' L'ART"

It is often said that primitive art differs from modern European art by being always utilitarian. But in primitive, communities there are many fewer human activities than in more highly developed stages of civilisation. The life of primitive people, and the social life of the past in general was much more of a unity, its component parts much more closely interconnected, than in modern civilised communities. In the simpler social structure of primitive tribes, the word utilitarian has an altogether different meaning. There is no clear contrast between "art for art's sake" and art in the service of a practical purpose.

In any case the definition of "purpose" opens a wide field for speculation. There is a sense in which all portraits can be called utilitarian, and the innumerable European masterpieces representing Christian saints and heroes are not without their purpose. Is the beautiful wooden portrait statue of Shamba Bolongongo, the Bushongo King of the Congo State--incidentally one of the outstanding masterpieces of African art in the British Museum--any more utilitarian because this great African ruler is now revered by his people not only as a patron of the arts and crafts but also as a man of peace, who is said to have abolished the use in war of dangerous weapons and to have instructed his soldiers only to wound and not to kill?

Various forms of primitive art have, of course, a practical purpose. The desire to convey information led to pictographic art, and the urge to record important events developed into what may be called historical art. (Compare the prehistoric picture shown in Fig. 14, the Australian paintings in Figs. 6 and 28, and the North American

-33-

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Primitive Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Pelican Books 1
  • Title Page 5
  • Foreword 7
  • Contents 9
  • Illustrations 10
  • II- Characteristics of Primitive Art 21
  • III- Utilitarian Art and "L''Art Pour'' L''Art" 33
  • IV- Primitive Religion 37
  • V- Primitive Art and Psychoanalysis 49
  • VI- Social Implications 53
  • VIII- Children''s Art 65
  • X- Northern Africa 79
  • XI- Bushman Art 85
  • XVII- Primitive Art and the European Artist 141
  • XVIII- European Art and the Primitive Artist 147
  • Notes 151
  • Index 158
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