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Primitive Art’s Influence on Modern Art

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Primitive Art's Influence on Modern Art "Primitivism" can be defined as the "interest of modern artists in tribal art and culture, as revealed through their thought and work" (Rubin 1). The term refers not to the art itself, but to the Western interest and reaction to the art (5). Over and over again, modern artists have drawn on the powers of tribal and primitive art because they are attracted to it authentic, timeless, magical, and innocent ideas -- values most artists felt were fading in the West. Relationships often exist between twentieth-century art and primitive art, whether it is an affinity or a literal borrowing from the past (Stevens 92). Some influences are absorbed, invisible, spiritual, and cannot be exhibited; others can be seen clearly in the artist's work (93). Losing faith in Western art traditions, many artists searched for something pure and real, something to redefine the true nature of art. Many, such as Pablo Picasso, Henry Moore, and Frank Lloyd Wright found this in the ancient art of the primitives. "In no other artist's career has primitivism played so pivotal and historically consequential a role as in Pablo Picasso's" (Rubin 241). With a continuous presence of tribal objects in his studio and his work from 1907 until his death, Picasso is described as the "key protagonist" of 20th century primitivism. ...read more.


While attending the traditional art schools, Moore catered to the demands of the classical coursework, but decided to pursue his real education elsewhere, seeking an alternative to the classical traditions. Moore thought of Greek and Roman sculpture as the enemy, and desired to "start again" like the primitives. The art of ancient Mexico grabbed his attention the most and began to greatly form his views on carving and sculpting (95). The Aztec sculptures had cubic shapes and features, which are subordinated into a whole, symbols which are relayed through various reliefs, and a bareness of surface - - all characteristics Moore could appreciate in sculpture. Pre-Columbian art became his primary model, and after spending much time in the libraries, pouring over books and photographs, he advanced to become a scholar of ancient Mexican sculpture (97). In 1921, he began drawing and sketching ideas for different sculptures. In these drawings were many copies of Pre-Columbian and primitive artwork. His first modernist carvings were executed in 1922, along with his first 3-D sculpture, "Mother and Child." This piece displays a great awareness of a similar Aztec seated figure. With characteristics of geometric simplification, muting of incidental details, and a formal clarity, this piece certainly points the ancient Mexican ideas (98). ...read more.


One of the most noted followers was Frank Wright's son, Lloyd Wright. He embraced his father's ideas and goals strongly, and declared own interest in Pre-Columbian architecture. His best example is seen in the 1926 John Sowden House in LA, where the younger Wright used adaptations of the ancient Yucatan Mayan Temples (166). Frank Lloyd Wright believed the Mayan designs to have a certain spiritual value and mystic feeling that he desired in his work. He thought they better grasped the geometric sense of form with symbolic meaning, and in essence, captured the "core of reality" (173). As William Rubin states, "ours is the only society that has prized a whole spectrum of arts of distant and alien cultures" (41). These examples are only a few of the many people that have been influenced by primitive art and methods. More than anything, primitivism has played huge role in the shaping and transforming of various modern art forms of the twentieth-century. It is understood that primitive objects have had less to do with the redirecting of modern art, than the reinforcing of changes and ideas already underway in the artist's mind and in today's world (Rubin 17). Society was looking for something new and better - - something unlike the traditions of the western world. Primitivism surfaced at a time when society needed it to, and remained a constant influence throughout the twentieth-century. ...read more.

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