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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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Non-Western Art: Major Cultures 4 PACE High School The Art of Central Asia Central Asia is a vast area of grasslands, mountains and deserts that stretches from the Black Sea in the west to the Sea of Japan in the east. The area now contains the countries of Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kirgizstan, Mongolia, Tadzhikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, (“stan” means “land of”) and much of southeastern Russia and northwest China.

Nomadic tribes inhabited the area as early as 3000 BC. Nomads are people who raise sheep, goats and cattle and travel from place to place to get their water and food. Their artwork was small and portable, mostly jewelry, rugs and pottery. The tribes controlled the mountain passes and caravan routes across the deserts and grasslands and extracted tribute from traders from Iran, India and western China.

From the 6th to the 3rd century BC the Scythians were the major culture. They had two styles of artwork. One was the native style based on animals, showing tigers, elk, moose, birds and rams from the area. It is bold and powerful, often showing animals fighting or leaping. The second style was from the workshops of Greek cities on the Black Sea. Greek gods and goddesses were the subjects but the works were made especially to the taste of the nomads – small and of gold. We know a good deal about the Scythians because they buried their rulers with many objects from everyday life.

Around the second century BC, cities such as Merv, Kashgar and Dunhuang grew as marketplaces as the Silk Road expanded west to the Mediterranean Sea and further east into China. Animals, silk, spices, slaves, gold and silver were the main goods traded on the Silk Road. Buddhist missionaries came from India and established monasteries that became shelters for travelers. They sponsored large artists’ workshops that created artworks for their temples.

In the 4th century AD, Central Asian tribes conquered the Roman Empire. They settled in Europe and their animal style artwork influenced medieval art. In the 8th century, Muslims from Iran conquered many of the tribes of Central Asia. The people converted to Islam and built magnificent mosques with bright, colorful geometric designs influenced by Persian art.

Calligraphy became important for artists who created copies of the Qur’an, the sacred book of Islam.

In the 12th century, Genghis Khan united the tribes from Central Asia and began the Mongol Empire. The armies of Genghis Khan’s grandson, Kublai Khan, conquered China and established the Yuan Dynasty. They were great patrons of the arts. In the 15th century the Mongols went on to conquer the subcontinent of India and establish the Mughal Empire. The Mughals promoted both the Muslim and Hindu religions and their artists.

An enduring artistic legacy of Central Asia is its magnificent carpets. The nomadic tribes used wool from their sheep and goats to create masterpieces of color and design. Each tribe has its own specialized patterns and color combinations. The looms are easily portable as the tribes move from one grazing area to another. Persian or oriental carpets were valuable commodities on the Silk Road and are still prized the world over for their unique designs. You can see oriental carpets in some Renaissance paintings.

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Southeast Asia is a large peninsula east of India and south of China that includes the modern countries of Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Thousands of islands south of the peninsula comprise the modern nations of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Brunei.

Not much is known about the people who lived in this area before 2,000 BC because very little archeological work has been done. No ancient cities have been found or monumental architecture. The climate is hot and humid and only stone and metal sculptures have survived. It is believed that there was a rich tradition of woodcarving, considering the skills needed for the intricate and delicate work that remains.

About 200 BC Southeast Asia became involved with India and China because of the trade in luxury goods along the sea routes of the Silk Road, the time of the Roman Empire in the West and the Han Dynasty in the East in China. The sea routes required many stopovers in Southeast Asia as the ships traveled between the two empires.

The area was strongly influenced by India. Indian merchants stayed in the area and married into the local kingdoms, forming states with divine kings. They brought Hinduism with them and the traditions of great temple architecture and sculpture. Buddhist missionaries also came and brought their religion, social structures, the Sanskrit alphabet and Indian literature. Leaders of both religions were great patrons of the arts. The identifying attributes and gestures of their gods were the same as in India. They were shown with straight posture, balanced forms, and serene expressions, emphasizing compassion, purity and introspection. Artists created physical perfection but now the gods had distinctly Southeast Asian facial types and their bodies showed natural muscles and bones.

The Kingdom of Java protected the sea-lanes from 770-855 AD. Large numbers of Hindu and Buddhist temples were built including Borobudur in Indonesia. The Khmer Empire of Cambodia was founded in 802 AD and lasted until the 1400s, expanding into Thailand, Northern Vietnam and Malaysia. Angkor was the capital of the Khmer court and it was a vast royal city.

There were thousands of temples; the most famous is now known as Angkor Wat built in the 12th century.

The royal courts of Java and Khmer commissioned narratives for temple walls to educate worshippers. Sculptures and reliefs showed events of Buddha’s life and scenes from Hindu legends and mythology. However, the artists showed the dance, music and customs of the court and local life. There was less emphasis on jewelry; smooth areas contrasted with patterns in dress and hairstyle. Gods and kings were represented as superhuman; less spiritual beings were shown smaller.

The Khmer empire declined about 1190. Tribal people from south China invaded the northern area and the Thai empire grew. They became Buddhists and ruled for the next four centuries. Chinese artistic traditions influenced the arts, especially ceramics. In the early 16th century Southeast Asia came under the influence of Muslim and European traders. The great classical sculptural traditions of Southeast Asia came to an end. Indonesia became Muslim and only Thailand remained independent.

Non-Western Art: Major Cultures 6 PACE High School The Art of Japan Japan is a nation of islands off the east coast of Asia. The Sea of Japan separates it from its nearest neighbors, China and Korea. Those two cultures influenced Japan during key periods of its development. But Japan blended those ideas with its native artistic aesthetic that stressed unspoiled nature, natural materials like clay and wood, asymmetry rather than symmetry and simple handmade forms.

The earliest culture in Japan is the Jomon (10,000 – 300 BC), a hunter-gather society that is the only one in the world to create pottery. Jomon pottery is distinguished by complex coiled clay designs that are asymmetrical and sculptural. The Yayoi culture (300 BC – 300 AD) began cultivating rice and developed a complex society that led to the imperial family. The Kofun culture (300 – 710 AD) built large hill-shaped tombs that were guarded by clay figures of warriors, singers and horses. The great Shinto shrine at Ise, built in the 4th century, shows a unique Japanese style of wooden architecture. Buddhism was introduced into Japan in the 6th century when contact with Korea and China began. New forms of art, government, Chinese writing, medicine, music and city planning changed Japan.

During the Nara period (710-794), Japanese traveled freely to Tang Dynasty China. Buddhist temples were built using Chinese architectural traditions. The Todaiji temple in the city of Nara was built on a grand scale to impress everyone that a strong government ruled Japan. The Heian era (794-1185) was the great flowering of court culture in the capital city of Kyoto. In 838 Japan closed her doors to China and made a determined effort to develop native forms of art and culture. Lady Murasaki wrote the world’s first novel “The Tale of Genji.” New styles of painting and calligraphy developed.

During the Muromachi Period (1392-1573) powerful clans outside of Kyoto rebelled against the taxes imposed by the emperors. A military shogun controlled Japan from Kamakura. The samurai warrior was now the hero. Daimyo, clan rulers, commissioned artists to decorate their castles and commemorate their military victories. The samurai adopted Zen Buddhism, which stressed mental and physical discipline and self-denial. Zenga, the art of Zen monks, aided meditation. During the Momoyama Period (1573-1615) Japan was unified after many battles.

But the Momoyama generals were great patrons of the arts. In public their artists built grand audience halls in elaborate castles, such as Himeji, but in private they preferred the rustic Shinto aesthetic and the tea ceremony.

The Tokugawa Shogunate brought peace to Japan during the Edo Era (1615-1868). The traditional arts, pottery, painted screens and religious art continued in Kyoto and Osaka, but new art forms developed in the new capital, Edo (Tokyo). Literacy was more widespread and illustrated novels, romances, travel guides and tales of the supernatural were published.

Woodblock prints quickly developed into a fine art. Colorful prints of fashionable women and famous male Kabuki actors replaced traditional images of Buddha, samurai, Zen masters and misty landscapes. Peace brought prosperity and more people traveled. The new middle class eagerly collected views of popular landscapes. America and Europe forced Japan to reopen its door to international commerce in the late 1850’s. Japanese art became very popular in the West and Japanese artists began adopting western artistic techniques.

Non-Western Art: Major Cultures 7 PACE High School The Art of Oceania Oceania covers a huge geographic area across the central and southern Pacific Ocean.

Melanesia (black islands) is the continent of Australia and the nearby islands of Papua New Guinea and the Solomons. Micronesia (small islands) includes the island groups of Marianna and Carolina. Polynesia (many islands) stretches from Hawaii in the north to the Easter Islands in the east and New Zealand in the south.

Each island group developed its own cultural and artistic traditions. But two ideas are central to the majority of the people of Oceania: mana, sacred power in individuals, works of art and a wide variety of objects and marae, locations that have unusually large quantities of mana. The mana in works of art made in the service of the gods come from the materials from which they are made, the mana of the artist and the correctness of the rituals when they are used. Sacred places with marae were focal points for rituals dedicated to the gods and ancestors.

Australia was settled about 40,000 BC. We now call the native peoples Aboriginals.

Aboriginal art and rituals link them with their ancestors who created the land and remain in its rocks, plants and animals. Aboriginal artists do not create art – the Ancestor spirits give the art to the artists who copy them for others to see. They call their spiritual world Jukurrpa that we roughly translate as “Dreaming.” Shapes and patterns that look


to us have complex cultural meanings, reflecting the spiritual powers of the Ancestors.

The Lapita culture in Melanesia created very intricate pottery designs, using many concentric circles, spirals and parallel lines. Elements of these designs can still be seen in the arts of Melanesia and Polynesia. In Papua New Guinea important village rituals took place in large communal men’s houses that had tall peaked roofs. Inside were elaborate altars with sculptures, paintings and feathered crests. In New Ireland, artists carve highly ornate poles, figures and boats for funeral rituals. Many are painted with contrasting colors and mix bird and fish designs.

Micronesia was settled about 4,000 BC. “Bai-ra-Irrai” is a communal meetinghouse built in

1700. The carvings on its soaring roof illustrate the clan history. Textiles, baskets and pottery were given as gifts to strengthen family ties or diplomatic bonds. The women who created these “portable arts” used geometric patterns, symmetrically arranged with straight edged forms.

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