Saturday, 16 October 2010

Looking at Native Art through Western Art Categories: From the "Highest" to the "Lowest" Point of View (Emily Auger)

"Western categories of high art (such as architecture, sculpture, and painting) and of low art (such as prints and crafts) and the values associated with them were firmly established and promoted in Western art academies between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. [...] The greater value of the high arts was based throughout these centuries on the superior quality of their "artistic expression," which was generally identified according to classicist ideals of beauty. The academy upheld the belief that the representation of such ideals would improve society as a whole.

[...] All art, high and low, always serves the same basic functions. These functions include: 
- substitute imagery, or art made for the purpose of preserving the appearance of something or someone; 
- illustration, or art made for the purpose of recording stories or events; 
- conviction and persuasion, art made to articulate "the fundamental convictions or realized ideals of societies" or to convince people to embrace new convictions or ideals; 
- beautification, art made for the purpose of pleasing the eye and mind. 

Artistic expression is in itself another function of art, but according to Alan Gowans, is not and cannot be a "social function" of the same order as the preceding four. It is not something objectively identifiable that society cannot do without. Rather, it is a way of carrying out the other social functions, a particular skill or aptitude which becomes progressively more self-conscious as time and history moves on.

[...] Folk art, souvenirs, kitsch, camp, mass-produced art, and popular television and movies are some of the low arts which are popular today." (pp 89-92)

Retablo ayacuchano
Folk art: "Also called "naive" or "primitive" art, is a particular form of low art which thrives today as it has for centuries. It is often found on functional objects or made to be functional, as are rugs, quilts, clothes, storage boxes, jars, game boards, hunting decoys, and weather vanes.II The folk artist differs from the high or fine artist in that he or she does not use techniques associated with artistic expression in the academic tradition of art such as chiaroscuro, correct scale, perspective, or the placement of all elements in a unified and coherent space. Instead, the folk artist strives for a high degree of craftsmanship and artistic merit through the incorporation of as much detail as possible into his or her work." (p 93)

Popular arts: "Some kinds of folk art are marketed as souvenirs, especially those which possess a distinctive style associated with a region's tourist appeal. In this way folk art may become part of popular culture and art. Folk art, like all aspects of folk culture, is associated with small, local producers and audiences who know each other and who made what and when. In contrast, popular culture, particularly that of the twentieth century, frequently involves producers who are not named and an audience that is large and in search of entertainment or amusement, not moral or ethical edification, as is sometimes the objective of high art, or the cozy domestic context of folk culture. Popular arts include souvenirs, kitsch, and mass-produced art, as well
as popular television and movies." (pp 93-94)

Kitsch: "Often applied as a synonym for worthless art, artistic rubbish, or simply bad art... Kitsch is condemned by the world of fine art but it is also something that people like and are willing to pay for. For this reason it became the official carrier of ideology in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia and is flourishing in capitalistic advertising. How does one recognize today's kitsch? According to Kulka, kitsch is characterized by it subjects and its style:

(1) Kitsch depicts a subject which is generally considered beautiful or highly emotionally charged;
(2) The subject depicted by kitch is instantly and effortlessly identifiable;
(3) Kitsch does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject.

The usual style for rendering such subjects as kitsch is naturalistic or realistic, sometimes excessively so and to the point of sentimental artificiality. Artists of kitsch make no attempt to be innovative in any way." (pp 94-95).

Camp: "A sort of chic kitsch. [...] camp demonstrates an excess of aestheticism, an excess of style at the expense of content." (p 95)

Auger, Emily (2000) "Looking at Native Art through Western Art Categories: From the "Highest" to the "Lowest" Point of View". Journal of Aesthetic Education. Vol. 34, Nº 2. (pp 89-98).

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