INTRODUCTION

PRIMITIVE ART IS PRODUCED BY PEOPLE WHO HAVE NOT DEVELOPED ANY FORM OF WRITING. THE WORD "primitive" applied to art commonly means Negro African sculpture, aboriginal American art, the arts of the South Seas, and other tribal arts in different parts of the world. There is no one primitive style, but many styles ranging from simple patterns to portrait sculpture that would rank as masterpieces anywhere. Primitive does not mean crude and is used in the sense of undeveloped only in certain specific instances.

The history of art is not a straight-line progression advancing from early imperfections to late fulfillments. There are, instead, cycles of development, with early, mature, and late stages. Of the more developed styles, some flourished a few centuries ago, others thousands of years ago, and still others fairly recently.

Primitive art uses materials provided by nature, derived from plants and animals or taken from the earth, such as clay and various kinds of stones and metals. Often these materials are used in the natural state, but sometimes they are refined by man.

On the level of simple ornamentation in such techniques as braiding, basketry, weaving, pottery or pictographs there is a good deal of similarity. Simple patterns have been developed independently in various parts of the world, or in some instances have been diffused from common centers.

Geometric design and pictorial representation occur in primitive as in all art. Basic principles of design, such as sequence, rhythm and balance, and simple modes of representation, such as straight line and line with flat tone, are common to many styles. Symbolism-by which a part suggests the whole-is as widely used in primitive art as in our own.

Primitive craftsmanship at its best is superior. In the making of tools and utensils, early man applied his mind to the solution of practical problems. Coordinating hand and eye, he made tools out of the hardest stones, thinned out clay into vessels without loss of strength, and made threads into textiles of the closest weave. The posture of an ancestral figure may be purely frontal with arms closely attached to the torso in the simplest possible manner, but the carving is often excellent and the surface carefully finished. Even in difficult processes such as casting of bronzes, as in Benin, the work is as well executed as in the best European practice.

What may appear to us as the limitations of primitive art are not necessarily due to any lack of skill or of industry, nor are they due to a lack of devotion or of a sense of beauty. They can be con-

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Primitive Art
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 5
  • Introduction 7
  • I - Africa 11
  • II - Alaska and the Pacific Northwest Coast 60
  • III - The United States: Forests, Plains and Deserts 105
  • IV - Mexico and the Andean Region 157
  • V - The South Seas and Australia 265
  • VI - Europe and Africa: Cave Paintings, Carvings and Rock Engravings 313
  • Acknowledgments 365
  • Selected Bibliography 367
  • Index 377
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