The Art of the South Sea Islands, Including Australia and New Zealand

The Art of the South Sea Islands, Including Australia and New Zealand

The Art of the South Sea Islands, Including Australia and New Zealand

The Art of the South Sea Islands, Including Australia and New Zealand

Excerpt

At the same time, however, it must be borne in mind that we cannot understand exotic art completely unless we are familiar with its postulates and fundamental principles, which are not to be found -- or at least not exclusively -- in the urge to artistic creation itself. Art is a human activity, and as such is closely connected with the culture that gives rise to it. This applies with particular force to primitive peoples. For this reason, when studying the arts of Oceania, we must proceed from the people themselves and the character and history of their civilization if we are to understand their art in its essentials, and not simply take a superficial emotional view of it. This is why in this volume a good deal of space has been given to the study of environmental factors and the general principles involved. It seems to me that these are more important than detailed descriptions, which can after all never be absolutely comprehensive.

Even when one has become reasonably familiar with the general principles underlying Oceanic art, it is still quite a difficult matter to interpret such works of art correctly, and there are still many questions on which it is impossible for us to come to definite conclusions. Generally speaking, we have to rely upon collections in museums. But these are necessarily somewhat 'lifeless', or at least seem to give the works of art they contain an entirely alien character. Far removed from their natural location, and divorced from their original context, they stand there in total isolation, without any relationship to the community from which they sprang. Often their original significance is hardly known, or can only with difficulty be made apparent to the viewer. Moreover, in many instances their outward appearance has also changed considerably: thus it is not uncommon to find that the painted decoration characteristic of many works from the South Seas has disappeared, or has . . .

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