Aesthetics of New Guinea Art Essay & Explanation, Oceanic Art Theory Explained Aesthetics of 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. Most are decent examples that adequately served their cultural function. But there are also a few great pieces that are so finely wrought and so ingeniously conceived as to become inspired works of art. Thus, while understanding the cultural context behind the piece is important, it may not get you very far in appreciating the artifact as a work of art. For example, one can easily read a stack of ethnographic texts and still not develop a passion for the art. This is a shame. The art of New Guinea is some of the most powerful and expressive in the world. It can be entirely abstract or highly realistic. Often it is raw and archaic or delicate and refined. It can be highly complex or sublimely simple. Some of the best examples have the unusual ability to combine the graceful line with a haunting presence--that is at once elegant but with menace. This section is my attempt at enumerating some of these varied and seemingly contradictory aesthetic qualities. One could argue that the appreciation of art is so subjective as to negate the need for a generalized guide. I would disagree. Just as one's appreciation for the art is heightened by understanding the cultural context that produced it, so does understanding the aesthetic qualities aid in one's assessment and enjoyment of the piece. While the names of the great artists of New Guinea's past may have been lost, the work of some still survives. The proper appreciation of their artistic genius does not solely rest in reading some ethnographic account but in looking at the art and being able to recognize how the artist, through the fineness of line or an ingenious composition, created a masterpiece. As noted, the qualities of New Guinea art outlined here are by their nature subjective. Unfortunately, they are thought to be so subjective that few have attempted to contemplate or write about them in any comprehensive manner. The ideas I set forth here were developed through my work as both a dealer and a field collector who has handled thousands of pieces of New Guinea art over the past 25 years. As a field collector who jumped quickly from village to village and culture to culture within a single field trip, I did not have the benefit of developing significant local relationships nor a deep understanding of any particular culture. However, I had the opportunity to see thousands of objects and spend time with hundreds of people in dozens of different cultures throughout Papua New Guinea. Over time, I've learned to recognize that there are common themes and relationships to objects across the many varied cultures. And my exposure to these many cultures and separate viewpoints has established a particular perspective that looks beyond the specifics to the deeper, more universal, responses to the art. As a dealer I have learned to quickly assess a piece with respect to its age, authenticity and its potential marketability as an art object. By having a direct interest in how people, collectors or otherwise, respond to the art I have developed a keen sense of which pieces literally draw people to them. With hundreds of cultures within New Guinea that produced thousands of different types of artifacts, one must have an aesthetic point of view that is open and accommodating. You must be able to find art where others see only artifact. To do this one must have a comprehensible set of aesthetic guidelines to bring into service when looking at objects. It is this set of personal aesthetic criteria that I have developed both as a field collector and as a dealer that I present here. The first of seven of these criteria will be Age—why the almost fanatical insistence on older objects?