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«This packet contains very brief summaries of the major geographic areas and cultures used by art historians to classify and analyze art works in ...»

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Assignments #6 – 25

Semester Two

Major Cultures


Non-Western Art

This packet contains very brief summaries of the major geographic areas and cultures used by

art historians to classify and analyze art works in Non-Western Art. That is the art created by the

civilizations and cultures in Africa, India, Central Asia, Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Oceania

and Native North and South America. This information has been gathered from many sources,

including “Art Beyond The West” by Michael K. O’Reilly, “Art History” by Marilyn Stokstad and “Art Across Time” by Laura Schneider Adams.

Non-Western cultures created art that was admired and set aside in a special place for protection; for instance, places of worship and ruler’s palaces. Western cultures also followed this tradition and in recent centuries created art museums where many people can see great art from the past and present. But art in Non-Western cultures is more often used every day, in the household and for spiritual rituals. As you learn about Non-Western art, you will learn about many of the world’s great religions that are important to billions of people around the world.

There are many other artists, art movements, and regional art that could not be covered in this short review. You are encouraged to explore widely and learn more about the beautiful, thought provoking, and exciting artworks created in the ancient and modern Non-Western World. If you are unsure if an artist or artwork is Western or Non-Western, please consult me.

This is just a beginning reference guide for your assignments #6 to 25. You are expected to do more research on the web as you study individual art works and artists, in books and magazines provided in the classroom, and in books, magazines and videos available at the Cincinnati and Hamilton County Public Library.

Words that are unfamiliar to you may be in the packet in the glossary provided to all students in this course. These summaries should be kept with your assignments #6 to #25 in your notebook. The glossary should be kept in your notebook in your reference section.

PACE High School Teacher: Helen Rindsberg Non-Western Art: Major Cultures 1 PACE High School African Art In many African cultures, art is an integral part of people’s lives. Objects are lavishly and beautifully decorated to satisfy the owners and because the object is fundamental to the community. These artworks, which are used in everyday and ceremonial settings, address individual and community needs and serve social, religious and political purposes. Artworks are an essential part of initiation rituals, planting prayers, harvest festivals, divination ceremonies and funerals. Humans and animals, the primary subjects in African art, depict desirable and undesirable aspects of human behavior.

Many African cultures believe in the power and importance of the spirit world. Ancestors and other spirits affect the way things happen in the daily world. By contacting these spiritual beings through rituals that include dance, music, prayer and displays of art, people can communicate with the other world and work with it to control the world around them. Masks, offering bowls, clothing, and ritual sculptures are all examples of this type of ceremonial art.

The earliest known African paintings are in caves in South Africa and are estimated to be over 25,000 years old. The same types of rock paintings are still created by some tribes in South Africa. Based on current practices, historians believe that rock paintings were part of community rituals to communicate with the spirits of dead ancestors and to ask for health, good weather, crops and peace.

The majority of African art was made of perishable materials – wood, clay, plant fibers and fabric. Most has not survived over the centuries. The Nok peoples (500 BC – 200 AD) of West Africa are one of the earliest cultures whose clay sculptures of the human figure still exist. The heads of the sculptures are large suggesting that culture may be the source of the later, widespread African belief that the head, as the site of one’s individuality, is the spiritual essence of the body.

Later the Ile-Ife and Benin cultures developed in West Africa (1200 – 1800 AD). They were experts at lost wax casting to create idealistic portraits of their kings. Olorum, their High God and Creator, was the source of all beauty. True beauty, they believed, is inner beauty, the person’s character and morality. Ideal art was symmetrical, balanced, had clear lines and forms and used decorations that enhanced its beauty. Today the Yoruba culture continues many of these artistic traditions.

Beginning in the 5th century BC northern Africa traded with the Greeks and Romans then later the Muslims. The great city of Djenne at the edge of the Sahara Desert was a powerful trading center in the 9th through 15th centuries AD. The Muslim influence, with its emphasis on geometric patterns and abstracted images of plants and animals was strong here. Ethiopia in Northeastern Africa converted to Christianity and created its own beautiful interpretations of the stories from the Bible.

Each cultural group in Africa has interesting traditions and beliefs and a rich story telling tradition. There are many different artistic traditions across the continent. As you do your research you will learn how each culture’s artists incorporated their unique spiritual beliefs and their social values into their artworks.

Non-Western Art: Major Cultures 2 PACE High School Indian Art The Indian subcontinent is surrounded on three sides by water and on the north side by the world’s tallest mountains, the Himalayas. Before modern times it was not a country but a collection of regional kingdoms, which produced and shared common forms of art, religion and culture. From 1000 BC to the 15th century AD, artists served the great religions, producing sculptures, paintings and architecture of great beauty.

A great urban civilization developed in northwest India in the Indus valley from 2700 – 1200 BC. They built well-planned cities with walled neighborhoods, broad avenues, granaries and baths. No royal tombs, palaces or large public art has been discovered yet. Images of powerful bulls and humans in yoga positions carried over from the Indus Valley civilization to later Buddhist and Hindu art.

The great religions of India - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism – developed around 1000 BC and have many common ideas. They all believe the world around us is an illusion and everyone should strive to reach the eternal spiritual reality that is everlasting. All three religions use meditation to reach spiritual enlightenment. Visualizing their gods helps meditation and religious leaders commissioned artists to produce images of gods in easily recognizable forms as humans and animals. Indian places of worship are built to be a map of the world of the gods and to help their followers ascend to heaven. Religiously inspired art and architecture were created to bridge the gap between the seen (unreal) and unseen (but real) worlds.

Early Buddhism artists showed only symbols of the Buddha – the wheel of eight laws or the footprint of Buddha. About the first century AD, artists began to show the human form of the Buddha, as a powerful man and the supreme meditator. His features are often smooth and idealized to show human perfection and spiritual purity. The pose of the statue and the gestures of the hands show different aspects of the Buddha, as teacher, healer or compassionate granter of prayers. Buddhist monasteries were great centers of learning.

The Hindus and Jains have many gods, but each is a manifestation of an important aspect of the supreme god. They show the body as a symbol of repose and detachment from the world.

The Indian sense of beauty is based on sensuous figures, rich ornamentation, pronounced textures and intense colors that delight in the world as a gift from the gods – filled with the energy of the gods themselves.

Muslim invaders from the west conquered India in the 12th century. Then Mongol tribes from the north conquered the Muslims and converted to their religion. They adopted the artistic traditions of the Persian court and the Islamic religion. Artists in the Mughal royal workshops created art for the kings, nobles and wealthy merchants that celebrated the life of the court and the achievements of the king as well as stories from the Islamic holy book, the Qur’an. Paintings were brightly colored and extremely detailed, showing magnificent palaces with rich rugs and hangings, lush landscapes and elaborate clothes and jewels of the court.

In the 19th century the British conquered India and made it part of their empire. Indian artists learned the Western artistic traditions. In the 20th century many Indian artists are looking back to their own artistic heritage for inspiration.

–  –  –

Chinese culture is extremely ancient. The first societies began about 7000 BC and by 2200 BC the country was united under its first dynasty. Over its long history, ruling dynasties built and lost great empires, often stretching into Central Asia. Trade along the Silk Road and invasions from the north constantly brought new ideas from many lands to the artists of China.

There were periods of peace and prosperity that alternated with periods of war. Styles of art changed over thousands of years, influenced by China’s contacts with many other cultures.

The earliest cultures practiced ancestor worship and believed in an afterlife. By 2000 BC wealthy people buried luxurious grave goods with their dead, including food, furniture and ritual vessels. We know much about early Chinese life and art from these “homes” for the dead.

By the 6th century BC the Chinese developed Daoism, a system of principles to direct their private spiritual lives. Buddhism arrived in China during the 1st century AD. Daoist and Buddhist religious officials commissioned art for their temples and rituals. Early Buddhism brought the artistic traditions of India for sculpture and painting. In the 6th century a new sect of Buddhism developed called “Chan” (later Zen in Japan) and stressed the importance of mediation and living in harmony with nature.

Chinese artworks are organized by the dynasty or time period when they were created. The Shang Dynasty (1700-1045 BC) tombs are known for their extremely skillful bronze castings and the first surviving examples of silk weaving. The Zhou Dynasty (1045 – 480 BC) developed an urban feudal society. Bronze ritual vessels became larger and more detailed and jade carvings were highly prized. The Warring States Period followed and it wasn’t until 221 BC that China was united under Emperor Qin Shihhuangdi of the Qin Dynasty (221-209 BC). The Emperor was buried with an army of over 10,000 realistic, life-size warriors, chariots and horses.

During the Han Dynasty (206 BC –220 AD) the Silk Road was established and connected China to India, Iran and the Mediterranean Sea. Paintings that survive from this time show long, flowing lines that outline forms with flat areas of bright color. Carved reliefs on the tombs are packed with figures and highly complex. From 220 – 589 BC there was another period of disunity. The Wei Dynasty (388 – 535 AD) controlled parts of northern China and commissioned Buddhist monks and artists to create monumental sculptures and religious centers in cave-temples. During this time, calligraphy became an accepted art form.

China was unified again under the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD). Traders from the Silk Road brought Greek, Roman, Indian and Iranian artistic ideas. The Dunhang cave shrines show Buddha and bodhisattvas in an opulent, courtly manner. During the Song Dynasties (960-1279) the merchant class grew and they began to collect art. Artists could be independent of the imperial court and they began to show solitary individuals in rugged landscapes. Mongols from the north invaded China and established the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368). Artists aimed to capture the spirit of the subjects they painted. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) distinctive blue and white ceramics developed to a high art form. Poetry was now an important part of landscape compositions. Manchurians from the north established the Qing Dynasty (1644They supported and encouraged the traditional forms of Chinese art. Some artists studied and adapted European technique as contacts with modern Europe increased.

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