Western and Non Western Art Essay

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 5 January 2017

Western and Non Western Art

For many years the work of non-western peoples, was not considered art. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that the European world began classifying works from non-Western cultures as “primitive art. ” Ironically, among these traditional cultures, there was no distinction between “art” and “non-art”. In the slideshow, we first see Michelangelo’s David, a masterpiece of sculpting – every cut is perfection, down to veins in his skin. The piece carries the blank-eyed stare that conveys a connection of the mind to something otherworldly.

Despite the fact this is depicting a young warrior heading to his first battle, instead you get a feeling of serenity and contemplation more in accordance with a monk. This same theme follows all of the Western works. Even the discus thrower projects the feeling that he is contemplating the virtue ethics of Aristotle and that throwing the disc is a secondary occupation. None of these statues live in the real world- they are in some misty, contemplative spot with their perfect bodies. Even the broken body of Christ pictured in the various pieces is perfected.

All of this points to the fact that we accept so little of ourselves as we are, and shows that while we wish a perfect body, the importance of contemplation over physical pursuits is to be preferred. The culture shock of the non-western or primitive art is interesting to observe in the art world. In what I prefer to term, as traditional art (the terms primitive art sounds too biased, and non-western art too stodgy) you experience emotions and life. The imperfections of the bodies are exaggerated and the emotions are extreme.

Love, nurture, fear, anger, even dare I say insanity are all celebrated and recognized as something about ourselves that should be remembered. So many of the traditional pieces are masks that represent what we unconsciously wear daily as we go about our roles in life. In comparison, the features of most of the Western art are mask like- depicting instead what we wish to hide. In the Western art, the nudity is there to show the perfection, in the traditional art it is there because it is what we are. There are great differences in these two kinds of art, but there are many things they have in common as well.

Both are connected with religions or the supernatural, and are related to social structure. In both cases, the art does reflect the cultures from which it is derived. They both also use symbolism- the difference being that traditional art symbolizes what we are and Western art symbolizes what we would like to be. This whole acceptance of themselves as they are, more than likely was the factor in European colonists branding these cultures as unsophisticated and childlike. This attitude let them justify the colonization and subjugation of these primitive peoples.


Gell, Alfred. Art and Agency: An Anthropological Theory of Art

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