Primitivism  

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-[[Image:Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston to an Art Deco-styole background.jpg|thumb|right|200px|[[Josephine Baker]] dancing the [[charleston]] at the [[Folies Bergère]] in Paris for ''[[La Revue nègre]]'' in [[1926]]. Notice the [[art deco]] background. <br>(Photo by Walery)]]{{Template}}+[[Image:The Sleeping Gypsy (1897) - Henri Rousseau.jpg|thumb|200px|''[[The Sleeping Gypsy]]'' ([[1897]]) by [[Henri Rousseau]]]]
-:See also ''[[Primitivism in 20th Century Art]]''+[[Image:Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston to an Art Deco-styole background.jpg|thumb|left|200px|[[Josephine Baker]] dancing the [[charleston]] at the [[Folies Bergère]] in Paris for ''[[La Revue nègre]]'' in [[1926]]. Notice the [[art deco]] background. <br>(Photo by Walery)]]{{Template}}
-'''Primitivism''' refers to a) an artistic movement in particular which originated as a reaction to the [[Age of Enlightenment|Enlightenment]], or b) the general tendency to idealize any social behavior judged relatively simple or primitive, whether in the arts, social sciences or elsewhere. +
-[[Rousseau]] was the first to draw attention to the concept of the '[[noble savage]]'. What 18th Century culture lacked, he argued, was nature, passion, emotion, instinct and [[mysticism]]. The [[romanticism|Romantics]] developed this idea further. They believed that 'modern' society was moving away from its traditional roots, losing touch with its true 'primitive' condition. Out of this came ''[[Wuthering Heights]]'', ''[[Frankenstein]]'', [[Byron]] and [[Wordsworth]], and later [[Joseph Conrad|Conrad]] and [[Picasso]].+'''Primitivism''' is a [[Western art movement]] that borrows visual forms from [[non-Western]] or [[prehistoric peoples]], such as [[Paul Gauguin]]'s inclusion of [[Tahiti]]an motifs in paintings and ceramics. Borrowings from primitive art has been important to the development of [[modern art]].
-Primitivism could also be seen as a set of modern European and Euro-American representational conventions inspired by non-Western art and artifacts. These conventions were first developed by Europeans and Euro-Americans who were dissatisfied with a variety of aspects of European culture, and sought to find what they were missing in other parts of the world. What emerged was a simplistic understanding of other cultures, structured by the primitivists' own desires, their lack of knowledge of other societies (e.g. Moroccan), and the racism of European society. Their work has contributed to an ongoing belief in the multitude of non-western societies as fundamentally similar in their "primitiveness," supposedly meaning their irrationality, closeness to nature, free sexuality, freedom, proclivity to violence, "mysticism," etc. Such artists, especially Picasso, are still popularly understood as somehow escaping European conventions and expressing "primal" impulses within themselves.+The term "primitivism" is often applied to other professional painters working in the style of [[Naïve art|naïve]] or [[folk art]] like [[Henri Rousseau]], [[Paul Klee]] and others.
- +
-[[Paul Gauguin]] (painting) and early [[Igor Stravinsky]] (music) are two of the important examples of primitivist art. A prime example of primitivism in music is Stravinsky's ''[[The Rite of Spring]]'', whose "[[Dionysian]]" [[Musical modernism|modernism]] he abandoned for a more "[[Apollonian]]" [[Neoclassicism|neo-classicism]].+
== Philosophy == == Philosophy ==
 +:''[[back to nature]]''
Whether and to what extent we should simplify our lives and get "back to basics" is a debate that has been going on since the invention of writing. In antiquity the superiority of the simple life was expressed in the Myth of the [[Golden Age]], depicted in the genre of European poetry and visual art known as the [[Pastoral]]. The debate about the merits and demerits of a simple, versus a complex life, gained new urgency with the European encounter with hitherto unknown peoples after the exploration of the Americas and Pacific Islands by Columbus and others. Whether and to what extent we should simplify our lives and get "back to basics" is a debate that has been going on since the invention of writing. In antiquity the superiority of the simple life was expressed in the Myth of the [[Golden Age]], depicted in the genre of European poetry and visual art known as the [[Pastoral]]. The debate about the merits and demerits of a simple, versus a complex life, gained new urgency with the European encounter with hitherto unknown peoples after the exploration of the Americas and Pacific Islands by Columbus and others.
During the [[Age of Enlightenment|Enlightenment]], arguments about the supposed superiority of indigenous peoples were chiefly used as a rhetorical device to criticize aspects of European society. In the realm of aesthetics, however, the eccentric Italian philosopher, historian and jurist [[Giambattista Vico]] (1688–1744) was the first to argue that primitive man was closer to the sources of poetry and artistic inspiration than "civilized" or modern man. Vico was writing in the context of the celebrated contemporary debate, known as the great [[Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns]], over which was better, the classic poetry of Homer and the Bible or modern vernacular literature. During the [[Age of Enlightenment|Enlightenment]], arguments about the supposed superiority of indigenous peoples were chiefly used as a rhetorical device to criticize aspects of European society. In the realm of aesthetics, however, the eccentric Italian philosopher, historian and jurist [[Giambattista Vico]] (1688–1744) was the first to argue that primitive man was closer to the sources of poetry and artistic inspiration than "civilized" or modern man. Vico was writing in the context of the celebrated contemporary debate, known as the great [[Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns]], over which was better, the classic poetry of Homer and the Bible or modern vernacular literature.
-In the eighteenth century, the German scholar [[Friedrich August Wolf]] identified the distinctive character of oral literature and located Homer and the Bible as examples of folk or oral tradition (''Prolegomena to Homer'', 1795). Vico and Wolf's ideas were developed further in the beginning of the nineteenth century by [[Herder]]. Nevertheless, although influential in literature, such arguments were known to a relatively small number of educated people and their impact was limited or non-existent in the sphere of visual arts.+In the 18th century, the German scholar [[Friedrich August Wolf]] identified the distinctive character of oral literature and located Homer and the Bible as examples of folk or oral tradition (''[[Prolegomena to Homer]]'', 1795). Vico and Wolf's ideas were developed further in the beginning of the 19th century by [[Johann Gottfried Herder|Herder]]. Nevertheless, although influential in literature, such arguments were known to a relatively small number of educated people and their impact was limited or non-existent in the sphere of visual arts.
-The nineteenth century saw for the first time the emergence of [[historicism]], or the ability to judge different eras by their own context and criteria. A result of this new historicism, new schools of visual art arose that aspired to a hitherto unprecedented levels of historical fidelity in setting and costumes. [[Neoclassicism]] in visual art and architecture was one result. Another such "historicist" movement in art was the [[Nazarene movement]] in Germany, which took inspiration from the so-called Italian "primitive" school of devotional paintings (i.e., before the age of Raphael and the discovery of oil painting). +The 19th century saw for the first time the emergence of [[historicism]], or the ability to judge different eras by their own context and criteria. A result of this new historicism, new schools of visual art arose that aspired to hitherto unprecedented levels of historical fidelity in setting and costumes. [[Neoclassicism]] in visual art and architecture was one result. Another such "historicist" movement in art was the [[Nazarene movement]] in Germany, which took inspiration from the so-called Italian "primitive" school of devotional paintings (i.e., before the age of Raphael and the discovery of oil painting).
Where conventional academic painting (after Raphael) used dark glazes, highly selective, idealized forms, and rigorous suppression of details, the Nazarenes used clear outlines, bright colors, and paid meticulous attention to detail. This German school had its English counterpart in the [[Pre-Raphaelites]], who were primarily inspired by the critical writings of [[John Ruskin]], who admired the painters before Raphael (such as Botticelli) and who also recommended painting outdoors, hitherto unheard of. Where conventional academic painting (after Raphael) used dark glazes, highly selective, idealized forms, and rigorous suppression of details, the Nazarenes used clear outlines, bright colors, and paid meticulous attention to detail. This German school had its English counterpart in the [[Pre-Raphaelites]], who were primarily inspired by the critical writings of [[John Ruskin]], who admired the painters before Raphael (such as Botticelli) and who also recommended painting outdoors, hitherto unheard of.
-Two phenomena shook the world of visual art in the mid-nineteenth century. The first was the invention of the photographic camera, which arguably spurred the development of [[Realism (arts)|Realism]] in art. The second was a discovery in the world of mathematics of [[non-Euclidean geometry]], which overthrew the two thousand year-old seeming absolutes of Euclidean geometry and threw into question conventional Renaissance perspective by suggesting the possible existence of multiple dimensional worlds and perspectives in which things might look very different.+Two phenomena shook the world of visual art in the mid-19th century. The first was the invention of the [[photography|photographic camera]], which arguably spurred the development of [[Realism (arts)|Realism]] in art. The second was a discovery in the world of mathematics of [[non-Euclidean geometry]], which overthrew the 2000 year-old seeming absolutes of Euclidean geometry and threw into question conventional Renaissance perspective by suggesting the possible existence of multiple dimensional worlds and perspectives in which things might look very different.
-The discovery of possible new dimensions had the opposite effect of photography and worked to counteract realism. Artists, mathematicians, and intellectuals now realized that there were other ways of seeing things beyond what they had been taught in Beaux Arts [[École des Beaux-Arts]] Schools of Academic painting, which prescribed a rigid curriculum based on the copying of idealized classical forms and held up Renaissance perspective [[Renaissance painting]] as the culmination of civilization and knowledge. Beaux Arts academies held than non-Western and tribal peoples had had no art or only inferior art. +The discovery of possible new dimensions had the opposite effect of photography and worked to counteract realism. Artists, mathematicians, and intellectuals now realized that there were other ways of seeing things beyond what they had been taught in [[École des Beaux-Arts|Beaux Arts]] Schools of [[Academic painting]], which prescribed a rigid curriculum based on the copying of idealized classical forms and held up [[Renaissance painting|Renaissance perspective painting]] as the culmination of civilization and knowledge. Beaux Arts academies held than non-Western and tribal peoples had had no art or only inferior art.
-In rebellion against this dogmatic approach, artists began to try to depict realities that might exist in a world beyond the limitations of the three dimensional world of conventional representation mediated by classical sculpture. They looked to Japanese and Chinese art, which was learned and sophisticated and did not employ Renaissance one-point perspective. Non-euclidean perspective ([[Cubism]]) and tribal art fascinated Western European artists who saw them as portraying the reality of the spirit world. They also looked to the art of untrained painters and to children's art, which they believed depicted interior emotional realities that had been ignored in conventional, cook-book-style academic painting. +In rebellion against this dogmatic approach, artists began to try to depict realities that might exist in a world beyond the limitations of the three dimensional world of conventional representation mediated by classical sculpture. They looked to [[Japanese art|Japanese]] and [[Chinese art]], which was learned and sophisticated and did not employ Renaissance one-point perspective. Non-euclidean perspective ([[Cubism]]) and [[tribal art]] fascinated Western European artists who saw them as portraying the reality of the spirit world. They also looked to the art of untrained painters and to children's art, which they believed depicted interior emotional realities that had been ignored in conventional, cook-book-style academic painting.
Tribal and other non-European art also appealed to those who were unhappy with the repressive aspects of European culture, as [[pastoral]] art had done for millennia. Imitations of tribal or archaic art also fall into the category of nineteenth-century "historicism", as these imitations strive to reproduce this art in an authentic manner. Actual examples of tribal, archaic, and folk art were prized by both creative artists and collectors. Tribal and other non-European art also appealed to those who were unhappy with the repressive aspects of European culture, as [[pastoral]] art had done for millennia. Imitations of tribal or archaic art also fall into the category of nineteenth-century "historicism", as these imitations strive to reproduce this art in an authentic manner. Actual examples of tribal, archaic, and folk art were prized by both creative artists and collectors.
-[[Paul Gauguin]] (painting) and [[Igor Stravinsky]] (music) are sometimes cited as examples of primitivism in art. Stravinsky's ''[[The Rite of Spring]]'', is "primitivist" in that its [[Program music|programmatic]] subject is a pagan rite: a human sacrifice in pre-Christian Russia. It uses dissonance and loud, repetitive rhythms to depict "[[Dionysian]]" [[Musical modernism|modernism]], i.e., abandonment of inhibition (restraint standing for civilization). Nevertheless, Stravinsky was a master of learned classical tradition and worked within its bounds. In his later work he adopted a more "[[Apollonian]]" [[neoclassicism]], to use [[Nietzsche]]'s terminology, although in his use of [[serialism]] he still rejects nineteenth-century convention. In modern visual art, Picasso's work is also understood as rejecting Beaux Arts artistic expectations and expressing primal impulses, whether he worked in a cubist, neo-classical, or tribal-art-influenced vein.+[[Paul Gauguin]]'s paintings, [[Pablo Picasso]]'s paintings and [[Igor Stravinsky]]'s music are sometimes cited as examples of primitivism in art. Stravinsky's ''[[The Rite of Spring]]'', is "primitivist" in that its [[Program music|programmatic]] subject is a pagan rite: a human sacrifice in pre-Christian Russia. It uses dissonance and loud, repetitive rhythms to depict "[[Dionysian]]" [[Musical modernism|modernism]], i.e., abandonment of inhibition (restraint standing for civilization). Nevertheless, Stravinsky was a master of learned classical tradition and worked within its bounds. In his later work he adopted a more "[[Apollonian]]" [[neoclassicism]], to use [[Nietzsche]]'s terminology, although in his use of [[serialism]] he still rejects 19th-century convention. In modern visual art, Picasso's work is also understood as rejecting Beaux Arts artistic expectations and expressing primal impulses, whether he worked in a cubist, neo-classical, or tribal-art-influenced vein.
-== Some characteristics of primitivism ==+==The Origins of Primitivism in Western Art of the Modern Age==
-Primitivism is associated with:+Primitivism gained a new impetus from anxieties about technological innovation but above all from the “[[Age of Discovery]]”, which introduced the West to previously unknown peoples and simultaneously opened doors for [[colonialism]] and the direct scrutiny of radically different peoples. As the European [[Age of Enlightenment|Enlightenment]] and the collapse of [[feudalism]] ensued, philosophers started questioning many fixed medieval assumptions about the nature of man, the position of man in society, and the dogmatic Catholic cosmology. They began questioning the nature of humanity and its origins through a discussion of the natural man, which had intrigued theologians since the European encounter with the [[New World]].
-# A concern with cultural phenomena on the periphery of European society--particularly sexuality, madness, spiritual punishment, violence, and [[alterity]].+From the 18th century onwards, Western thinkers and artists continued to engage in the retrospective tradition, that is "the conscious search in history for a more deeply expressive, permanent human nature and cultural structure in contrast to the nascent modern realities". Their search led them to parts of the world that they constituted as representing alternatives to modern civilization.
-# Celebration of the "unconscious," often with the implication that non-western cultures are more "in touch" with the unconscious. A concern with [[dreams]] and [[symbols]], often assumed to be "universal."+
-# Abstraction of the figure, particularly facial and bodily proportions. Inspired by "non-Western" arts, particularly African masks. [[Occidental]] primitivist artists were inspired by the visual abstraction of [[African art]]works, which tend to favor it over naturalistic representation. This is because many African artworks, regardless of medium, tend to represent objects or ideas rather than depict them.+
-# Focus on rhythmic and percussive elements, especially in music and [[ritual]] performance. +
-# Overt sexuality, particularly when combined with exaggeration and exposure of the genitals. The assumption is that "non-Western" cultures have a greater appreciation of sexuality or sensuality than European and European settler societies. In the U.S., this movement was often associated with [[Africans]] or [[African-Americans]]--particularly the popularity of Josephine Baker, jazz, and the broad characterization (esp. in France) of Africans as "soul of rhythm."+
-# Flatness and geometric designs inspired by "non-Western" art forms.+
-# Application of paint in a rough, manipulated style, so as to connote "rawness."+
-# The history of [[Anthropological]] theory.+
 +Up until the 19th century only very few explorers were able to travel and bring back objects. But the 19th-century invention of the steamboat made indigenous cultures of European colonies and their artifacts more accessible to the direct observation and analysis of art lovers. European-trained artists and connoisseurs prized in these objects the stylistic traits they defined as attributes of primitive expression: absence of linear perspective, simple outlines, presence of symbolic signs such as the [[hieroglyph]], emotive distortions of the figure, and the energetic rhythms resulting from the use of repetitive ornamental pattern. These energizing stylistic attributes, present in the visual arts of Africa, Oceana, and the Indians of the Americas, could also be found in the archaic and peasant art of Europe and Asia, as well.
 +
 +==Paul Gauguin==
 +Painter [[Paul Gauguin]] sought to escape European [[civilization]] and technology when he took up residence in the French colony of [[Tahiti]] and adopted a simple lifestyle which he felt to be more natural than the one he had left behind.
 +
 +Gauguin’s search for the primitive was manifestly a desire for more sexual freedom than was available in 19th-century Europe, and this is reflected in such paintings as''[[Spirit of the Dead Watching|The Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch]]'' (1892), ''Parau na te Varua ino'' (1892), ''Anna the Javanerin'' (1893), ''Te Tamari No Atua'' (1896), and ''Cruel Tales'' (1902), among others. Gauguin's view of Tahiti as an earthly [[Arcadia (utopia)|Arcadia]] of free love, gentle climate, and naked nymphs is quite similar, if not identical, to that of the classical [[pastoral]] of academic art, which has shaped Western perceptions of rural life for millennia. One of his Tahitian paintings is even called "Tahitian Pastoral" and another "[[Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?|Where Do We Come From"]].
 +
 +In this way Gauguin extended the academic pastoral tradition of Beaux Arts schools which had hitherto been based solely on idealized European figures copied from Ancient Greek sculpture to include non-European models.
 +
 +Gauguin also believed he was celebrating Tahitian society and defending the Tahitians against European colonialism. Feminist [[postcolonial]] critics, however, decry the fact that Gauguin took adolescent mistresses, one of them as young as thirteen. They remind us that like many men of his time and later, Gauguin saw freedom, especially sexual freedom, strictly from the male point of view. Using Gauguin as an example of what is "wrong" with primitivism, these critics conclude that, in their view, elements of primitivism include the “dense interweave of racial and sexual fantasies and power both colonial and patriarchal”. To these critics, primitivism such as Gauguin's demonstrates fantasies about racial and sexual difference in "an effort to essentialize notions of primitiveness” with “[[Other]]ness”. Thus, they contend, primitivism becomes a process analogous to [[Exoticism]] and [[Orientalism]], as conceived by [[Edward Said]], in which European [[imperialism]] and monolithic and degrading views of the "East" by the "West" defined colonized peoples and their cultures. In other words, although Gauguin believed he was celebrating and defending the Tahitians, to the extent that he allegedly saw them as "[[other]]", he participated in the outlook of his time and nationality to a greater extent than he realized and in the guise of celebrating them victimized the Tahitians all over again.
 +
 +==Pablo Picasso==
 +During the early 20th century, the European cultural elite were discovering [[African]], [[Micronesia]]n and [[Indigenous peoples of the Americas|Native American]] art. Artists such as [[Henri Matisse]] and [[Pablo Picasso]] were intrigued and inspired by the stark power and simplicity of styles of those cultures. Around 1906, Picasso, Matisse, [[André Derain]] and other artists in Paris had acquired an interest in primitivism, [[Iberian sculpture]], [[African art]] and [[African tribal masks|tribal masks]], in part because of the compelling works of [[Paul Gauguin]] that had suddenly achieved center stage in the avant-garde circles of Paris. Gauguin's powerful posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the [[Salon d'Automne]] in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on Picasso's paintings.
 +
 +From 1906 to 1909 [[Pablo Picasso]]'s paintings explored the impact of Primitivism through [[Iberian sculpture]], [[African sculpture]], [[African traditional masks]], and other historical works including the [[Mannerism|Mannerist paintings]] of [[El Greco]], resulting in his masterpiece ''[[Les Demoiselles D'Avignon]]'' and the invention of [[Cubism]].
==See also== ==See also==
-*[[Tribal art]]+*[[Anarcho-primitivism]]
-* [[Ethnology]]+*[[Decadence]]
-* [[Naïve art]]+*[[Ethnology]]
-* [[Neo-primitivism]]+*[[Paul Gauguin]]
-* [[Outsider art]]+*[[Les Demoiselles D'Avignon]]
 +*[[Naïve art]]
 +*[[Noble savage]]
 +*[[Neo-primitivism]]
 +*[[Outsider art]]
 +*[[Orientalism]]
 +*''[[Primitivism in 20th Century Art]]'', a 1984 exhibition at the MoMA
 +*[[Social progress]]
 +*[[Social regress]]
* [[The origins of primitivism in western art]] * [[The origins of primitivism in western art]]
 +*[[Tribal art]]
 +*[[Henri Rousseau]]
 +*[[Jean-Jacques Rousseau]]
 +*[[Xenocentrism]]
 +*[[John Zerzan]]
 +
{{GFDL}} {{GFDL}}

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Josephine Baker dancing the charleston at the Folies Bergère in Paris for La Revue nègre in 1926. Notice the art deco background. (Photo by Walery)
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Josephine Baker dancing the charleston at the Folies Bergère in Paris for La Revue nègre in 1926. Notice the art deco background.
(Photo by Walery)

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Primitivism is a Western art movement that borrows visual forms from non-Western or prehistoric peoples, such as Paul Gauguin's inclusion of Tahitian motifs in paintings and ceramics. Borrowings from primitive art has been important to the development of modern art.

The term "primitivism" is often applied to other professional painters working in the style of naïve or folk art like Henri Rousseau, Paul Klee and others.

Contents

Philosophy

back to nature

Whether and to what extent we should simplify our lives and get "back to basics" is a debate that has been going on since the invention of writing. In antiquity the superiority of the simple life was expressed in the Myth of the Golden Age, depicted in the genre of European poetry and visual art known as the Pastoral. The debate about the merits and demerits of a simple, versus a complex life, gained new urgency with the European encounter with hitherto unknown peoples after the exploration of the Americas and Pacific Islands by Columbus and others.

During the Enlightenment, arguments about the supposed superiority of indigenous peoples were chiefly used as a rhetorical device to criticize aspects of European society. In the realm of aesthetics, however, the eccentric Italian philosopher, historian and jurist Giambattista Vico (1688–1744) was the first to argue that primitive man was closer to the sources of poetry and artistic inspiration than "civilized" or modern man. Vico was writing in the context of the celebrated contemporary debate, known as the great Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns, over which was better, the classic poetry of Homer and the Bible or modern vernacular literature.

In the 18th century, the German scholar Friedrich August Wolf identified the distinctive character of oral literature and located Homer and the Bible as examples of folk or oral tradition (Prolegomena to Homer, 1795). Vico and Wolf's ideas were developed further in the beginning of the 19th century by Herder. Nevertheless, although influential in literature, such arguments were known to a relatively small number of educated people and their impact was limited or non-existent in the sphere of visual arts.

The 19th century saw for the first time the emergence of historicism, or the ability to judge different eras by their own context and criteria. A result of this new historicism, new schools of visual art arose that aspired to hitherto unprecedented levels of historical fidelity in setting and costumes. Neoclassicism in visual art and architecture was one result. Another such "historicist" movement in art was the Nazarene movement in Germany, which took inspiration from the so-called Italian "primitive" school of devotional paintings (i.e., before the age of Raphael and the discovery of oil painting).

Where conventional academic painting (after Raphael) used dark glazes, highly selective, idealized forms, and rigorous suppression of details, the Nazarenes used clear outlines, bright colors, and paid meticulous attention to detail. This German school had its English counterpart in the Pre-Raphaelites, who were primarily inspired by the critical writings of John Ruskin, who admired the painters before Raphael (such as Botticelli) and who also recommended painting outdoors, hitherto unheard of.

Two phenomena shook the world of visual art in the mid-19th century. The first was the invention of the photographic camera, which arguably spurred the development of Realism in art. The second was a discovery in the world of mathematics of non-Euclidean geometry, which overthrew the 2000 year-old seeming absolutes of Euclidean geometry and threw into question conventional Renaissance perspective by suggesting the possible existence of multiple dimensional worlds and perspectives in which things might look very different.

The discovery of possible new dimensions had the opposite effect of photography and worked to counteract realism. Artists, mathematicians, and intellectuals now realized that there were other ways of seeing things beyond what they had been taught in Beaux Arts Schools of Academic painting, which prescribed a rigid curriculum based on the copying of idealized classical forms and held up Renaissance perspective painting as the culmination of civilization and knowledge. Beaux Arts academies held than non-Western and tribal peoples had had no art or only inferior art.

In rebellion against this dogmatic approach, artists began to try to depict realities that might exist in a world beyond the limitations of the three dimensional world of conventional representation mediated by classical sculpture. They looked to Japanese and Chinese art, which was learned and sophisticated and did not employ Renaissance one-point perspective. Non-euclidean perspective (Cubism) and tribal art fascinated Western European artists who saw them as portraying the reality of the spirit world. They also looked to the art of untrained painters and to children's art, which they believed depicted interior emotional realities that had been ignored in conventional, cook-book-style academic painting.

Tribal and other non-European art also appealed to those who were unhappy with the repressive aspects of European culture, as pastoral art had done for millennia. Imitations of tribal or archaic art also fall into the category of nineteenth-century "historicism", as these imitations strive to reproduce this art in an authentic manner. Actual examples of tribal, archaic, and folk art were prized by both creative artists and collectors.

Paul Gauguin's paintings, Pablo Picasso's paintings and Igor Stravinsky's music are sometimes cited as examples of primitivism in art. Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring, is "primitivist" in that its programmatic subject is a pagan rite: a human sacrifice in pre-Christian Russia. It uses dissonance and loud, repetitive rhythms to depict "Dionysian" modernism, i.e., abandonment of inhibition (restraint standing for civilization). Nevertheless, Stravinsky was a master of learned classical tradition and worked within its bounds. In his later work he adopted a more "Apollonian" neoclassicism, to use Nietzsche's terminology, although in his use of serialism he still rejects 19th-century convention. In modern visual art, Picasso's work is also understood as rejecting Beaux Arts artistic expectations and expressing primal impulses, whether he worked in a cubist, neo-classical, or tribal-art-influenced vein.

The Origins of Primitivism in Western Art of the Modern Age

Primitivism gained a new impetus from anxieties about technological innovation but above all from the “Age of Discovery”, which introduced the West to previously unknown peoples and simultaneously opened doors for colonialism and the direct scrutiny of radically different peoples. As the European Enlightenment and the collapse of feudalism ensued, philosophers started questioning many fixed medieval assumptions about the nature of man, the position of man in society, and the dogmatic Catholic cosmology. They began questioning the nature of humanity and its origins through a discussion of the natural man, which had intrigued theologians since the European encounter with the New World.

From the 18th century onwards, Western thinkers and artists continued to engage in the retrospective tradition, that is "the conscious search in history for a more deeply expressive, permanent human nature and cultural structure in contrast to the nascent modern realities". Their search led them to parts of the world that they constituted as representing alternatives to modern civilization.

Up until the 19th century only very few explorers were able to travel and bring back objects. But the 19th-century invention of the steamboat made indigenous cultures of European colonies and their artifacts more accessible to the direct observation and analysis of art lovers. European-trained artists and connoisseurs prized in these objects the stylistic traits they defined as attributes of primitive expression: absence of linear perspective, simple outlines, presence of symbolic signs such as the hieroglyph, emotive distortions of the figure, and the energetic rhythms resulting from the use of repetitive ornamental pattern. These energizing stylistic attributes, present in the visual arts of Africa, Oceana, and the Indians of the Americas, could also be found in the archaic and peasant art of Europe and Asia, as well.

Paul Gauguin

Painter Paul Gauguin sought to escape European civilization and technology when he took up residence in the French colony of Tahiti and adopted a simple lifestyle which he felt to be more natural than the one he had left behind.

Gauguin’s search for the primitive was manifestly a desire for more sexual freedom than was available in 19th-century Europe, and this is reflected in such paintings asThe Spirit of the Dead Keeps Watch (1892), Parau na te Varua ino (1892), Anna the Javanerin (1893), Te Tamari No Atua (1896), and Cruel Tales (1902), among others. Gauguin's view of Tahiti as an earthly Arcadia of free love, gentle climate, and naked nymphs is quite similar, if not identical, to that of the classical pastoral of academic art, which has shaped Western perceptions of rural life for millennia. One of his Tahitian paintings is even called "Tahitian Pastoral" and another "Where Do We Come From".

In this way Gauguin extended the academic pastoral tradition of Beaux Arts schools which had hitherto been based solely on idealized European figures copied from Ancient Greek sculpture to include non-European models.

Gauguin also believed he was celebrating Tahitian society and defending the Tahitians against European colonialism. Feminist postcolonial critics, however, decry the fact that Gauguin took adolescent mistresses, one of them as young as thirteen. They remind us that like many men of his time and later, Gauguin saw freedom, especially sexual freedom, strictly from the male point of view. Using Gauguin as an example of what is "wrong" with primitivism, these critics conclude that, in their view, elements of primitivism include the “dense interweave of racial and sexual fantasies and power both colonial and patriarchal”. To these critics, primitivism such as Gauguin's demonstrates fantasies about racial and sexual difference in "an effort to essentialize notions of primitiveness” with “Otherness”. Thus, they contend, primitivism becomes a process analogous to Exoticism and Orientalism, as conceived by Edward Said, in which European imperialism and monolithic and degrading views of the "East" by the "West" defined colonized peoples and their cultures. In other words, although Gauguin believed he was celebrating and defending the Tahitians, to the extent that he allegedly saw them as "other", he participated in the outlook of his time and nationality to a greater extent than he realized and in the guise of celebrating them victimized the Tahitians all over again.

Pablo Picasso

During the early 20th century, the European cultural elite were discovering African, Micronesian and Native American art. Artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso were intrigued and inspired by the stark power and simplicity of styles of those cultures. Around 1906, Picasso, Matisse, André Derain and other artists in Paris had acquired an interest in primitivism, Iberian sculpture, African art and tribal masks, in part because of the compelling works of Paul Gauguin that had suddenly achieved center stage in the avant-garde circles of Paris. Gauguin's powerful posthumous retrospective exhibitions at the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1903 and an even larger one in 1906 had a stunning and powerful influence on Picasso's paintings.

From 1906 to 1909 Pablo Picasso's paintings explored the impact of Primitivism through Iberian sculpture, African sculpture, African traditional masks, and other historical works including the Mannerist paintings of El Greco, resulting in his masterpiece Les Demoiselles D'Avignon and the invention of Cubism.

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