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Native American Art – Origin and Different Traditions

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No written records of Native Americans exist before the 1500s,
when the European seamen discovered the American continent. The
period before 1500s is considered by scholars as prehistoric.
During that time and after, Native Americans had created their
own states, history and art. Native American art is thought to
be the link between natives and Europeans, the only way to
communicate ideas between the two cultures. When the Europeans
came, slight changes in Native American art resulted, due to the
new way of life that native people had to take.

Native American art is our way to reach the native Americans’
views and history, to learn more about them. That’s why culture
researchers explore Native American art and make it an object of
many scholastic discussions. There exists a qualification of the
Native American culture, branching off into five main culture
districts or zones, which is done for easier interpretation of
the works of art and culture. They are, namely, the East, the
Plains, Southwest and Northwest coast, and the Arctic. The forms
of Native American art differ considerably regarding different
districts. That depends on the different weather conditions,
various traditions among different groups of natives, natural
environment, social order, different religious beliefs, and so

The difference of Native American works of art in different
districts is so astounding that we may even wonder if they came
from one continent. The basic reason for this is about the
purpose of art in the lifestyle of Native Americans. Native
American art served many purposes, and most of all it was meant
to be the visual representation of different myths and religious
beliefs. The mythological origin of Native American art gives
some reason why the forms of art differ significantly in
different parts of the continent: because of the different myths
and religions that existed between tribes. Native American art
is done to meet various needs; to be a traditional linkage
between generations (like the carved totem poles); to serve
practical necessities( Natives created beautifully painted pots,
vases, utensils, woven mats, rugs, blankets, coverings,
home-made clothes and jewelry in astonishing combinations of
colours); to be a symbol of rituals (for example art was used in
the ritual for rain, and in healing ceremonies, for which
different masks and rich garments were produced.)

Native American art is so various and hard to categorize also
because of the materials used for the creative activities. Many
artists used materials, which they found in their natural
surroundings. Feathers, porcupine quills, tree bark, wood,
animal skins and hair were all combined in the artistic
creation. Different artists used different technologies for the
making of beautiful things. Native American art is composed of
artworks, made by carving, painting, weaving, sewing, or
building. And different technologies tend to slightly vary in
different regions, so that artworks are not the same, even if
the same materials are used for their making. Many Native
American artworks were intended both for ceremonial purposes and
for home usage in the daily life of people. Garments and
different bowls served many functions. Rituals and ceremonies
were so various that many artworks were produced for their
accomplishment. Native Americans had rituals for almost
everything: and a large part of their works of art was used for
different ceremonies. Totems from Pacific Northwest were a
family value and represented the people from the clan, and a lot
of effort was put into making those magnificent big poles. Masks
were used for communication with the spirits in healing
ceremonies. To serve its purpose to the point, a work of art was
expected to be beautifully done, so that artists had to make the
best they could to produce majestic artworks. For more
information click Native
American Art

Nowadays there are two branches of Native American art- artists
gone into the mainstream of making contemporary art-like
photographs, paintings on canvas or performances, and others who
continue to work using traditional Native American art


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  • Posted On August 11, 2006
  • Published articles 283513

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