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From "Reading the Signs," Native American Art Masterpieces

From "Reading the Signs," Native American Art Masterpieces
by David W. Penney

European-derived philosophies refer to "art" as common to the "family of man," as a kind of human universal in which the capacity for individual creativity transcends cultural content. It is not possible, however, to comprehend the significance of American Indian art without, to some extent, entering into culture, into a context of creativity that has origins entirely independent of the philosophies of art of European origin. The North American continent has nurtured countless generations of men and women. Its mountains, lakes, and forests witnessed with mute testimony the frail activities of the human beings who struggled against its challenges and rejoiced for its gifts. Long before visitors from across the ocean "discovered" North America, Native North Americans had experienced the rhythms of an ancient cultural history and developed a complex philosophical tradition to make sense of it.

. . . It is important to begin with the notion of visual language when approaching the topic of American Indian art because "art" as a category has no meaning within the strictly Native world view. This is not to say that Native American people did not make objects that can be understood as art today. But in Native languages there was no single term for a unique category of object or practice that was intended to isolate aesthetic experience as there was in the art traditions of Europe or the Orient. In Native cultures, the "aesthetic" value of an object derives from its significance within a system of visual language.

Source: Native American Art Masterpieces by David W. Penney, 1996. Hugh Lauter Levin Associates, Inc. Pages 9-10.


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