Aesthetics-Criteria for Evaluating New Guinea Art-Oceanic Art Essay
Criteria for evaluating New Guinea art
I am adding this section to the website as a practical guide to viewing and evaluating New Guinea art as aesthetic objects. There are a number of excellent ethnographic accounts that detail how various New Guinea cultures produced and used their artifacts. But the artifacts themselves, so exhaustively explained, are assumed to be of uniform artistic merit. They are not...read more
There are many reasons why there is an almost fanatical focus on age when evaluating New Guinea art. First among these is the issue of authenticity. While the topic of authenticity gets batted around in academic circles as an outdated and vague concept, within the harsh reality of the marketplace, it is a clear-cut and essential factor. Authenticity boils down to artistic intention...read more.
The quality of clarity, like all of the aesthetic criteria I will undertake to describe, is very subjective. It is important to remember that pre-contact New Guinea cultures were without a written language, thus art served as a very real form of communication. The quality of clarity is the ability of a piece of art, through the power of its form, to communicate effectively. This results in a purity of composition and a lack of excessive surface decoration. In my experience many superior pieces of New Guinea art are able to communicate form through the barest essential sculptural elements. The following pieces are, in my mind, masterpieces of clarity. The mark of a true artist is the ability to do much with less...read more.
It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of color in virtually all areas of New Guinea art. For the Abelam, paint was the animating power of sculpture; without it, the carving was just a piece of dead wood. Paint was often ritually produced and magically empowered with pigments gathered from spiritually important places or plants. Sometimes the water used to mix the pigments was gathered from the subterranean holes of large land spiders, as these were thought to be conduits between the land of mortals living above ground and that of the ancestors abiding underground...read more.
An often-overlooked quality of great New Guinea art is its ability to provide the unexpected. While we find pleasure in symmetry and the careful execution of form, what often really excites us is encountering something different. A gifted artist comfortable and confident with the existing canon will often try to expand or deviate from traditional conventions to create something extraordinary. Astonishment and surprise can be an aesthetic experience when encountering an object that cleverly defeats our expectations...read more.