Art And Artists Indigenous

The term "Arctic art" is used here to refer to the material culture of the Eskimo/Inuit and Aleut, and Northern Indians of North America, the Siberian Yupik of St Lawrence Island and the Chukotka Peninsula, and the Saami populations of Scandinavia. In the present as in the past, such small-scale societies have made objects that Westerners often classify as "art," although none of them appear to have used the term aboriginally. Thus, any survey of indigenous art of the Arctic must begin with an explanation of how and why the term is used.

Until recently, indigenous and westernized cultures conceptualized material objects differently with respect to aesthetics and function. As a rule, Westerners stopped making functional objects with an aesthetic dimension after the Industrial Revolution. In fact, the two have become so conceptually separate that historians, artists, and critics devised a special category of objects made solely for aesthetic purposes, that is, "art." By contrast, Arctic peoples continued to make objects that were functional as well as aesthetic for much longer. Until recently, the two were inseparable and the discrete category "art" —though by no means aesthetic sensibility—was unknown among aboriginal peoples.

If Arctic peoples did not separate function and aesthetics, how can we call their objects "art?" The anthropologist Jacques Maquet has provided a helpful definition as it is used in this sense. Maquet argues that art falls into two classifications according to the intentions of its makers: (1) art by metamorphosis or (2) art by destination. Art by metamorphosis refers to objects made for "nonart" purposes and later appropriated by Euroamericans and reclassified as "art." Art by destination, on the other hand, is used to mean objects whose makers intended them to be art all along (Maquet, 1971). In the case of Arctic art, then, the material objects made by earlier generations of Arctic artists are art by metamorphosis, whereas most of those made today are art by destination.

The concept of art was first applied to the material objects of indigenous peoples by the discipline of native (indigenous) art history, which emerged in the mid-20th century. Anthropologists and archaeologists have always marveled at the distinguished beauty of Arctic material culture, but they were more interested in functional dimension than formal (or aesthetic) properties. Arctic archaeologists looked to these objects as a source of evidence for now-extinct cultures or for the earlier adaptations of extant groups (e.g., Collins, 1937), and anthropologists approached material culture as one in a set of cultural categories to list in 19th and early 20th century ethnographies (e.g., Nelson, 1899). Initially, art historians focused on description and formal analysis of objects from indigenous peoples and paid little attention to their cultural context (e.g., Goldwater, 1986). In the 1960s, however, with the rise of structural and symbolic anthropology, material culture came to be viewed as the most tangible of a set of similarly organized cultural domains whose analysis could reveal the underlying thought processes of a group (e.g., Lee, 1985).

Structural and symbolic anthropology in turn gave rise to poststructuralism and postmodernism, which emphasized context including the perspective of indigenous peoples. Alternative, often conflicting, lines of evidence such as oral history are used to create a more balanced view (e.g., Fienup-Riordan, 1998). Archaeologists and Native art historians (e.g., Phillips, 1998) have borrowed structural, poststructur-

Inuit hunter figure carved out of walrus bone (artist unknown), Greenland.

Copyright Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography

Inuit hunter figure carved out of walrus bone (artist unknown), Greenland.

Copyright Bryan and Cherry Alexander Photography al. and other related anthropological theories and applied them to their own investigations. As a result, the lines separating the three disciplines have grown increasingly blurred.

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