Where? The Geographical Dimension
The first concern with geography is a matter of identification: labeling a recognizable style in order to know where objects were made and used is necessary to be able to discuss what they may have meant in context. One learns to do this by stages. Certain styles are very distinctive, for example the woodcarving styles of the Northwest Coast of North America. Usually there are stylistic. features characteristic of' a whole culture area, and these are learned by familiarity with examples. Increasing knowledge and study means finer and finer discrimination -- the sub-area, the ethnic group, tribe or state, and eventually a village, school, or individual artist. This is true of the arts at all levels of complexity. Also, of course, identification is a matter of time as well as space, even down to the periods in the work of an individual.
The matter of identification is made difficult for the student by the fact that the labeling in books and museums is not standardized -- sometimes geographical names are used, sometimes the names of ethnic groups. For example, there are a number of examples of art forms from the Sepik*1 River area of New Guinea. When we look at the ethnographic literature, we find the names that are featured are Iatmul, Mundugumor, Arapesh, Abelam, Tchambuli, etc., and it takes careful attention to note the geographical location in these accounts. In the literature of art, the provenance of an artwork is likely to be given as "Yuat river, Sepik River region," and we wonder which tribal group produced it, particularly in view of the differences in personality and ethos that have been ascribed to each by Mead ( 1935). For this reason, both geographic and ethnic terms are provided for the examples here.
Neither styles nor cultures are as neatly bounded as students and scholars would like. Artists, works of art, and artistic ideas____________________