Primitivism in western art  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
See also primitivism, tribal art, prehistoric art, Western art

Western art has repeatedly searched for basic motifs to base art works upon, or to contrast with the normative world of day to day behavior, from the Greek satyr farces and use of older pottery motifs in architecture, through the acquisition of images from Ancient Egypt and Gothic revivals, the search for material from "before" has been part of the process of European art.

In the 18th and 19th century, many western artists took influences from other cultures, both European and otherwise, as a way of inflecting their work. Examples of this include the use of "Spanish" and "Turkish" sounds and "Egyptian" motifs. This tendency is labelled Exoticism in general and Orientalism when the culture was from the Islamic world or the Pacific Rim. Examples include the influence of Hiroshige on Vincent van Gogh.

In the late 19th century many European powers invaded and conquered large sections of Africa and Micronesia, and the United States established control over the native nations of Great Plains. These cultures were not, by and large, urbanized, and their art reflected a very different pattern of life and religion from the city based civilizations that Europeans had incorporated into artwork previously. The use of the exaggerated body proportions, animal totems, geometric designs and stark contrasts became fashionable. The first artist to systematically use these effects and achieve broad public success was Paul Gauguin; another important artist in the movement was Henri Rousseau.

It was with the rise of Modern art that primitivism gained a greater presence: in the context of the Modern, the "primitive" represented the libido, the "id" of psychoanalysis, as well as the unblemished and unrestrained sexuality associated with primitive tribes. This stood in marked contrast to European codes of behavior, which restricted sexual activity, and economic forces which resulted in later and later marriages.

Primitivism was adopted because many of the motifs and ideas associated in the minds of early 20th century Europeans - permissiveness, sexuality, the revelation of repressed urges - were associated with tribal culture, and pre-Christian religious practices, including Human sacrifice.

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