Primitivism

DEFINITION

A term descriptive of a style of artwork, it has several origins: 1) pre-historic art 2) art whose subjects are borrowed from non-western cultures such as Paul Gaughin's depictions of Tahitian people and Pablo Picasso's use of African motifs. 3) art by self-taught or unsophisticated artists and 4) a Russian form of Expressionism, which developed between 1905 and 1920 under the influence of Cubism, Fauvism and Russian folk art. Characteristic of the style were simple, block-like shapes that conveyed strength and power. These primitivist painters usually focused on laboring people. The general concept of Primitivism is tied to the sentimental image of the "noble savage", uncorrupted, naturally good, and uninhibited by western civilization's sexual mores. Jean-Jacques-Rousseau, 18th-century French philosopher, popularized this idea in his widely-circulated writings, as did imperialistic travel by westerners in Asia, Africa, India and the South Pacific. Many 19th-century fairs and expositions featured creative work by "Primitives". In art expression, much of the fascination with Primitivism related to the fact that it was such a contrast to the formal, prescribed academic art of western culture dating back to the Renaissance. Primitivism also allowed western artists to focus on their own emotional and spiritual interpretations that were not prescribed by tradition. However, some interpretation by western artists of Primitivism was misinterpreted such as fierce-looking African masks presented as reflecting the aggressions of its wearer, whereas in fact, they were made to scare away evil spirits who would thwart success in battle. Sources: "Phaidon Dictionary of Twentieth Century Art"; Robert Atkins, "Art Speak".

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